Pickled Beef

Sauerbraten

Sauerbraten and sauerkraut are what most people think of when they think of German food. Beef marinated in wine, vinegar, and spices is a type of French beef à la mode, with the acid hyped to pickle the beef as well as to tenderize tough muscles. Sweetening does not appear in early recipes, such as the one for Sauerer Rindsbraten in Die geschickte Hausfrau (1848), nor does it appear in any of the marinated beef recipes in Das Algemeine Kochbuch (1891), written by Karl Kohler in Chicago “for the general German and German-American Cook.” Sugar is a twentieth-century intrusion that increases with the century. While Lizzie Kander calls for a tablespoon of sugar in her Sauerbraten gravy, Irma Rombauer calls for a full quarter cup.

As with any marinated meat, the quality of the vinegar is as important as the quality of the beef. If you use a harsh vinegar, the sauce will be harsh. If you use a gentler sour and a full-bodied wine, you’ll end with a finely flavored meat that tastes as good cold as hot. Classic seasonings such as peppercorns, juniper berries, cloves, and bay leaves are enlivened in German marinades by ginger. The Handy Housewife calls for powdered ginger, but I’ve used the livelier form of raw ginger. Since gingersnaps provide thickening as well as flavor, I’ve limited sweetening to a few snaps for the gravy.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup full-bodied red wine
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 4 slices fresh ginger
  • 6 each juniper berries and black peppercorns, crushed
  • 4 each whole cloves and bay leaves
  • 1 4-pound beef roast (top or bottom round and rump are good)
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter or pork fat
  • ½ cup each chopped onions, carrots, and celery
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 4–6 gingersnaps

Method

Bring vinegar, wine, water, sliced onion, and seasonings to a boil and then let cool. Place roast in a plastic bag and pour in the cooled marinade. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days, turning the meat over at least once a day.

Remove the meat from the marinade, pat it dry, and brown it on all sides in the butter or fat. Transfer meat to a casserole and brown the vegetables in the same fat. Sprinkle with the flour and add the marinade. Bring to a simmer, then pour the sauce over the meat. Cover casserole tightly and keep at a bare simmer on top of the stove or in the oven at 325° for 2 to 2½ hours.

When meat is tender, remove from the sauce, put on a warm platter, and cover with foil to keep warm while finishing the sauce. Add the gingersnaps to the sauce and purée in a blender. If the sauce is too thin, thicken with more snaps; if too thick, thin with red wine. Simmer a few minutes to mingle flavors, and pour over the meat.

Variation

Some like to add sour cream to the sauce after the sauce has cooked. If the vinegar taste is too strong for you, this is one way to temper it.