As a kid growing up, I lusted for the fall months to arrive because that's when Mom would make sauerbraten. I don't know exactly what I liked best about it, but the gingersnaps in the gravy added a sweetness to the bitter of the red vinegar that I just loved. Served on top of buttered Kluski noodles with fresh parsley, this is "comfort food" kicked up a notch to the next level...yes, you will think you have died and gone to heaven!
Once I was finally able to pry this recipe out of my Mom's hands and began to experiment with it, I found the recipe becoming increasingly less foreboding than the recipe suggests. In the "olden" days, the marinade and meat (a very cheap cut of beef, remember this originally was "po' folk" food) disappeared to the basement for several days in a ceramic pickle jar with a wooden top so that the sinews of the beef would become tenderized by the marinade. Today, slightly better cuts can be substituted and the marinade and meat can be marinated in the refrigerator for a minimum of twenty four hours. But, making Mom's sauerbraten is somewhat time intensive; so, planning ahead is critical.
Making the marinade is
simple. It begins with good juniper berries and fresh whole black
peppercorns. (I purchase juniper berries online from Penzy's Spices. They
stay fresh for a long time, that is, if you keep them in a cool, dark place.
I keep all of my dry spices in airtight containers placed in one of those large
plastic containers with handles and I store the container on the concrete floor
in the closet beneath the basement stairs.) I use a mortar and pestle to
crush the spices, but I also have an electric coffee grinder reserved for the
same purpose. For this recipe, I prefer the more "gritty" than "fine"
texture produced by the mortar and pestle Besides, by the time the gravy
is made, all of the ingredients will be sieved out.
Once the spices are ground,
slice the onions, and place all of the ingredients into a large sauce pot.
Bring to a boil and let the mixture simmer until the onions are limp.
Then, turn the stove off and let the marinade cool naturally.
Now it's time to prepare the
meat selected for the sauerbraten and to place it into a Ziploc bag. Once
the marinade has cooled, pour it over the meat, seal the Ziploc bag, press the
meat and marinade together so that everything mixes nicely, and place into a
rimmed container before putting the Ziploc bag into the refrigerator.
Don't ever forget to use that container because sometimes nature has dictated
leaks...and, over the years, I've had a few! Cleaning the refrigerator of
marinade that has dried onto the shelves, walls, and bins as well as the sides
and backs of the bins (requiring disassembling at HIH II) is no easy chore,
especially when you have other things you need to get done.
After the meat has marinated, it needs to be dried before roasting. I suggest using paper towels. If using a round of beef or brisket, all that's required is to brown the beef before roasting. If using chuck roast, the pieces need to be dusted in seasoned flour (flour, salt, and pepper) and browned before roasting.
While the beef roasts,
strain the marinade into a large sauce pot. Bring to a boil and ladle off
the scum that comes to the top. Meanwhile, prepare the holy trinity
(celery, onions, and carrots) and follow the recipe for making the gravy.
Crucial for the sauerbraten
is the correct balance of gingersnaps to vinegar. Add the crushed
gingersnaps bit by bit until the correct balance of sweetness to acidity is
achieved. Much of this depends upon taste but is also influenced by the
type of gingersnap used. Some gingersnaps have a sugar coating. So,
in this instance, caveat emptor! The easiest way to crush the
gingersnaps is to used a plastic sandwich bag and a kitchen mallet. Stir
the gingersnaps into the gravy so they get all incorporated and bring the
sauerbraten to a simmer so that the flour in the gingersnaps works its magic!
Should the sauerbraten get too sweet and overpowered by the gingersnaps, all's not lost! Just add a touch of red wine vinegar and everything will come out fine.
Also, feel free to
experiment with different cuts of meat. Today, for example, I had three pounds of
"chipped beef" in the
freezer (it's similar to the beef used for a Philly cheesesteak or an Italian beef hoagie), so I used it rather than roast,
brisket, or chuck. Instead of
roasting, I slow cooked the beef in the gravy and added the gingersnaps last.
Like the idea? Here's the recipe:
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