Sunday, March 18, 2012

A German Specialty: Sauerbraten

One of Germany's specialties known around the world is Sauerbraten.  I'm sure most people do not need a translation, as when it comes to Sauterbraten that is what it is called everywhere, in English as in Deutsch.  Nearly every German cookbook with recipes for meat dishes has a recipe for it as do many English-language cookbooks.  As with any dish, the recipes can vary, especially here in Germany from one part of the country to another.

Sauerbraten is not a regular menu item in Baden-Württemberg but is mostly offered as a specialty of the day.  One can sometimes find it on a Sunday menu, for example.  I have seen it served at Fests as well.

Sauerbraten  is a specialty of the northern state of Nordrhein-Westfalen--known in English as the Rhineland.  That dish found its way across the country (and the world), with housewives everywhere preparing it for a Sunday dinner or other special occasion.  In the Rhineland, it is often their Christmas Day dinner.  Most recipes maintain the original ingredients, but with some variations from housewife to housewife, area to area.

The page opposite is from my cookbook Culinaria Deutschland, with the recipe following.

Lebkuchen cookies in the box below.  Many German women, of course, make their own.  

Many North American cookbooks call for using crushed gingersnaps.  The classic Rhineland recipe calls for Lebkuchen crumbs--the latter from those cookies Germans love at Christmas.  (There is no ginger in Lebkuchen.)  Also classic is the addition of raisins.  Sauerbraten is marinated in red wine vinegar and usually also in red wine for two to three days ahead of the actual cooking.  In one of my cookbooks they state that four to five days is even better!  The longer you leave it, the more sour it will be.  The important thing to remember is that this dish needs time so one must plan ahead.

Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker in their cookbook The Joy of Cooking do not call for any wine, just mild vinegar or wine vinegar.  Perhaps the reason wine was not called for was because at the time of the writing of their cookbook (1931), wine was seldom used in North American home cooking.  In Europe, it has been used for likely a few hundred years at least--in the early times by those who could afford to do so.

My German cookbooks all call for wine.  Some recipes (not German ones!) call for ketchup.  The Gourmet Cookbook, Vol. I calls for stewed tomatoes and 2 slices of lemon, a little sugar and paprika.  It does not call for wine or wine vinegar, just water with a little vinegar added.  It also says that gingersnap crumbs may be added.  From all of these variations--additions and deletions--one can see how the recipe has changed from place to place.

Rheinischer Sauerbraten:  Makes 6 servings.  This recipe, which I have translated into English in my own style, is from the cookbook Culinaria Deutchland.  It calls for 1 kilo of beef (without bone). 

1/4 liter red wine
1/4 liter wine vinegar (red)
1/2 liter water
2 bay leaves
8 juniper berries
4 red peppercorns
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 kilo beef (rump)
Salt and pepper
30 grams Butterschmalz (a mixture of butter and fat)
1 bunch Suppengrün, cut into pieces*
60 grams Lebkuchen crumbs**
1 tablespoon apple kraut***
Sour cream****
1 apple, peeled and diced
100 grams raisins

*In German supermarkets, Suppengrün usually consists of a carrot or two, an onion, leek, parsley root and celery root tied together in a bundle, much like bouquet garni is tied together.

**Lebkuchen crumbs--or the Lebkuchen cookies and crumbled into crumbs--can perhaps be found at a German deli or in a large supermarket in North America.  You can also leave them out.  Otherwise, use crumbled honey cake or gingersnap crumbs; the taste will be somewhat different but should work well.

***Apple kraut is a type of syrup and likely difficult to find in North America.  You can substitute some honey or a little sugar if wished--or leave it out.

****Sour cream in Germany is naturally soured by bacteria, whereas in North America it is artificially soured.  That makes quite a difference to the flavour.  Hans recommends using whipping cream or creme fraiche instead.

Method:  Place the red wine, vinegar and water along with the bay leaves, juniper berries, red and black peppercorns in a pot; bring those ingredients to a boil.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  When cooled, pour over the beef in a pot that holds it all well, but isn't too large.  The liquid will not completely cover the beef.  Turn the beef over in the marinade on all sides.  Then, cover the pot tightly and put in a cool place to marinate for at least two days, turning the beef once a day.

Remove the beef from the marinade and dry it well.  Sprinkle it with salt and pepper.  In the Butterschmalz (or butter and oil), brown the beef well on all sides; you want it well browned as that will add to the flavour of the beef and the gravy.  Add the cut-up Suppengrün vegetables to the pot and brown briefly.

Pour the marinade, Lebkuchen crumbs and apple kraut (if using) over the beef in the pot.  Cover it well and over medium heat simmer it for 1-1/2 to 2 hours (or until very tender).  Remove the beef from the liquid and keep it warm.  Put the sauce through a sieve and stir in the sour cream (or sweet cream), simmering it, adding salt, pepper and sugar to taste (sweet-sour flavour).  Add the diced apple and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Shortly before it is ready, add the raisins and simmer a couple of minutes longer.  Slice the beef and place on a pre-warmed platter.  Serve with the sauce, applesauce and Klösse (dumplings).

Gertrud's Sauerbraten:  My friend Gertrud Binder grew up in the State of Hessen, in a picturesque town not far from Darmstadt and Frankfurt.  She does not use red wine or wine vinegar; instead, she uses white vinegar with water.  The reason, she says, is that after she married and was living in Hollywood, California, wine vinegars were difficult or impossible to find.  That has changed now, of course, as wine vinegars can be found everywhere.  Even though she later moved back to Germany, she still uses vinegar only.  (She uses Essig essence, which is a concentrated form of white vinegar.  She uses one part white vinegar essence to five parts water.)  

Gertrud also adds Lebkuchen crumbs--without any icing, chocolate or topping on them if using those cookies; you must cut it all off first.  See three types at left.  You can also buy the cookies without any topping. She also uses raisins.  Her marinade includes:  2 cloves (no more, she says), a bay leaf, black peppercorns, juniper berries, onion, carrot, white vinegar and water.

Gertrud's method (similar--but not quite the same--to most Rheinland recipes in German cookbooks, although she is not from the Rhineland):  Bring marinade to the boil.  (Most Rheinland recipes cool the marinade first.)  Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper.  Place it in a casserole or pot and pour the hot marinade over it (it will not be totally covered).  Top with a lid and marinate for three days, turning it each day.  After the three days, remove the beef and dry it.  Brown it well in a pan on the stove in butter and oil, adding the Lebkuchen crumbs to it (she says the crumbs added at this time add a stronger flavour to the dish).  Heat the marinade if it has cooled and pour it over the beef, including all the spices and vegetables in the marinade.  Top it with a lid and simmer it on top of the stove or in the oven for about two hours.

Remove beef from the casserole.  Pour the marinade through a sieve, pushing the vegetables hard through the strainer, and then pour the strained marinade into the empty casserole again; add the raisins and taste for seasoning and flavour.  Add some Bratenfond or part of a dry package of beef gravy as without it there will not be enough flavour from the marinade.  
Slice the meat and either serve it separately on a platter or place it back into the casserole dish with some of the gravy (traditional).  Serve it with red cabbage and apple sauce.  Klösse (dumplings) are traditional also, but Gertrud's mother accompanied Sauerbraten with spaghetti noodles (unusual) and Gertrud has continued that custom.  In our area of Baden-Württemberg many serve Spätzle--a specialty here--instead of Klösse.

Spätzle, a specialty in our area, is shown at right next to the pear filled with cranberry sauce.

Hans' Sauerbraten: Hans uses red wine and red wine vinegar in his marinade; also 3 to 4 bay leaves, peppercorns, 2 cloves, 10 juniper berries and 2 to 3 whole peeled garlic cloves, cut in half.  He also adds carrot, some leek, and onion as well as parsley root and celery root.  He does not use either Lebkuchen crumbs or raisins (his preference).  Place all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil.  Pour it over the beef in a pot that fits it well, cover it tightly, and marinate it for three to four days, turning it once a day.

He removes the beef and dries it well and then browns it in Butterschmalz (butter and oil).  You want it very well browned.  He covers it with the marinade (including all the vegetables) and lets it simmer for two to three hours or until very tender.  

He removes the beef from the pan, slices it and keeps it warm.  He then pours the marinade through a sieve and pushes hard on the vegetables to get as much through as possible, as that will help thicken the sauce.  To the sieved sauce, he adds a little Bratenfond, creme fraiche (not sour cream) and a teaspoon or so of sugar and a little red currant jelly.  Add additional seasoning, if needed, to taste.  He usually serves the meat in some sauce, with additional sauce in a gravy boat, kept over a candle.  We always accompany Sauerbraten with red cabbage and Klösse and boiled or mashed potatoes (the latter, my favourite).

Picture top left:  Sauerbraten with potato croquettes, Spätzle and green beans.  We had this meal at one of our regular Gasthäuser, the Gasthaus Engel in Dörlinbach.  My wine of choice:  Weissherbst, as shown.

 The dinner at right was at home.  The picture shows a dumpling (Klösse), topped with some buttered breadcrumbs, along with red cabbage and mashed potatoes.  I also like cranberry sauce, which is shown as well.

There are many other variations to Sauerbraten:  all from Grandma and Oma's kitchens, passed down through the years and across the world.  With everyone who prepares this recipe, changes will continue to be made.  That is how food dishes continue to evolve.

Guten Appetit!


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