My German co-worker Timo mentioned that his grandmother prepares the best Sauerbraten using a family recipe that she in turn got from her own mother. I am always interested in traditional family recipes, and luckily he was willing to share it with me. Sauerbraten is beef that is first marinated for a long time in vinegar and then stewed in the same marinade. Sauer means sour. The acidity of the vinegar tenderizes the meat, so it requires a shorter time to cook than a regular stew. There are many regional variations in Germany of this recipe. The version from Frau Marianne Marquardt (that is her picture on the right) is Rheinischer Sauerbraten. It includes cloves, onions, and Kräuterprinten. Those are German spiced cookies, for which I will provide a recipe soon. Sauerbraten is traditionally served with Rotkohl (red cabbage) and Klöße (large potato dumplings). I will provide recipes for those as well over the next few days.
This is the handwritten recipe. It translates as follows: “For 4 persons. About 1 kilo (2.2 lbs) lean beef (from the shoulder or hip). Cut 2 large onions in half. Stick 2 to 3 cloves and 1 bay leaf into each onion half. Mix all of this with 1/2 litre (2 cups) of 5% vinegar and 1/2 litre (2 cups) of water. Add a teaspoon of pepper and 5 tablespoons of sugar. Put the beef in this marinade, cover, and allow to marinate for 1 week in a cool spot. Pat the meat dry after this. Remove the bay leaves and cloves. Sear the beef on all sides over medium heat. Then add the marinade, the onions, and 4 Kräuterprinten, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes. Thicken the sauce a little and serve with Rotkohl and Klöße. Guten Appetit.”
As you can see the recipe assumes you know how to cook, so I took the liberty to fill in some details. It turned out great. The texture and flavor of the meat are really good. The sauce is original and quite acidic, but nice.
The combination with the Rotkohl and Klöße is excellent. I brought some to work for Timo the next day. He tasted it and proclaimed it to be the real deal. So without further ado, here is my take on Frau Marquardt’s Rheinischer Sauerbraten.
For 4 servings
1 kilo (2.2 lbs) stewing beef (I used a flat iron/blade roast from the shoulder, sukade in Dutch)
2 large onions, peeled and halved
4 bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 litre (2 cups) vinegar, 5% strength (see note below)
5 Tbsp sugar
125 grams (4.4 oz) Kräuterprinten (recipe to follow)
1 Tbsp cornstarch
4 Tbsp butter
Sticking cloves and bay leaves in onions is a traditional trick to make it easy to remove the ingredients from the marinade. I had decided to use a sieve for that purpose, so I just put the beef, cloves, halved onions, peppercorns, and bay leaves in a container in which it all fit quite snugly.
Mix vinegar with water. You should end up with 1 litre of 2.5% vinegar, which you can get by mixing 500 ml of 5% vinegar with 500 ml of water, or 416 ml of 6% vinegar with 584 ml of water, or 357 ml of 7% vinegar with 643 ml of water (you get the point).
Add the sugar.
Stir to dissolve the sugar.
Cover the beef with the liquid. You can make more of the same mixture if needed to cover the beef, or use a container into everything fits more snugly.
Now cover the container, put it in a cool place, and forget about it for a week. Traditionally this cool place is a cellar, and I used my wine fridge as a proxy. You could also put it in the refrigerator, but then the marinating process will be slower. I noticed that the vinegar had not penetrated all the way into the meat, so next time I will probably leave it for 10 days.
After a week, take the beef out of the marinade. Reserve the marinade and onions, but discard the bay leaves, cloves, and peppercorns.
Pat the meat dry with paper towels.
Heat butter in a casserole over medium heat, and add the beef.
Brown it on all sides over medium heat.
Take the beef out of the pan.
Put the onions into the casserole, and add the marinade (I used a sieve to remove the peppercorns and cloves).
The recipe did not specify to cut the onions, but you could chop them before adding them back in if you’d like the texture of the chopped onions in the sauce. I thought it would be nice to make a smooth sauce, so I kept the onions whole at this point and blended them later.
Break the Kräuterprinten into pieces and add them to the casserole.
Bring the marinade to a boil. Now for the traditional approach, return the beef to the casserole and lower the heat. Cook over very low heat until the beef is tender. The cooking time depends on the type of beef you use. The cooking time will be shorter than usual because the meat has already been tenderized by the vinegar. Frau Marquardt mentioned 30 to 40 minutes, but it could also take longer.
For regular readers of this blog it can’t be much of a surprise that I opted to cook the beef sous-vide. And so I simmered the onions in the marinade for half an hour to cook the onions (which would stay raw at the temperature used to cook the beef sous-vide) and reduce the sauce.
I then used an immersion blender to create a smooth sauce.
To this sauce I added salt to taste.
I then put the sauce and the meat into a bag, using a large cylindrical container to make it easier to do so.
I vacuum sealed the meat with the sauce using a chamber vacuum sealer, for which the meat and sauce should be cooled down first. Instead you could also a ziploc bag and the water displacement method, for which no cooling is needed.
Then I cooked the meat sous-vide for 6 hours at 74C/165F. This is a shorter time than I would normally use for this cut, but it was enough thanks to the vinegar marinade.
I thickened the sauce by bringing it to a boil in a saucepan and adding a slurry of a tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with a tablespoon of cold water.
I tasted the sauce and adjusted the seasoning with salt. You could also use some more sugar if you think it is needed. The flavor of the sauce will depend on the type of vinegar that you used (even with the same acidity one can be more harsh than the other) and by how much you reduced the sauce.
Slice the beef and serve it with plenty of sauce, Rotkohl and Klöße.
Two years ago I blogged about goose breast with sauerkraut and pear.