Sauerbraten has been the only Christmas dinner I have ever had (except for one year when I went with my husband to visit his family for Christmas down east and it just didn’t feel like Christmas that year).
This is one of those recipes I was actually able to get before my Oma passed away. When she first started getting sick, we actually had to miss Christmas one year as she was in the hospital. We weren’t really prepared for that, and had absolutely no food in the house, as we were all prepared for Christmas dinner. Now, we load up on food “just in case”.
Well the next year, I decided I was going to learn how to make the Sauerbraten. This did not go over well with my Oma. She tried in vain to just bring me a recipe from a book and told me it’s “similar” to hers. Nope. I told her no way, I’m coming to your house and I’m gonna watch you make it, from start to finish. She hated when I did this. But at 8:00 AM I quietly drove over to her house to watch from start to finish the entire marinating process.
She obviously did a few things differently than I do now. You know, being “Old School”, when she took the roast out of the marinade, she would just let it sit in the colander over night in the sink (gross!!!). I put it in the fridge, I’m not really into poisoning anyone. And I know, I never died from her doing it that way, but I’m not taking any chances. She also would, while the roast was in the colander, just pour the cognac or brandy over the roast and rub it in, but let it run down the drain. That stuff is expensive, it is not going down the drain as far as I’m concerned. So I put it in a ziploc bag or bowl with the roast and let it soak in over night.
She also tried telling me I needed to brown the roast first, in the roasting pan, and then leave the roast in there while browning the onions, but “try not to burn the roast”. Yeah. I don’t do that either.
Over the past few of years I have been the one solely making the sauerbraten and I have to say I am very glad that I know how to make this, or it would be one of those things that is just gone, now that my Oma has passed away. It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year.
Now, there are hundreds, if not thousands of versions of sauerbraten on the internet and I have yet to find one like ours. So I am really glad that I’m a completely stubborn person and forced her to show me how she makes this, otherwise we would be going without every year and well, turkey at Christmas just isn’t right as far as I’m concerned.
First off, you need to know what size of roast you need. For 12 people, we usually go with an 8 lbs. roast. This gives enough for Christmas dinner, as well as leftovers. Although I have only 4 in my household and I always get a 4 lbs. roast (but we have friends that just love it and so we tend to give a lot away as well). It’s up to you the size of roast you want. I’m also of the opinion that you should always get more than you need, rather than “just enough”.
There are two different types of roasts you can use for this – inside round or eye of round. The recipe calls for inside round, though I tend to prefer eye of round. Well, this year the butcher didn’t have any eye of round, so he gave us a deal on the inside round roasts. But both work equally as good.
We always marinate the roast for at least 7 days, although I tend to go for 10 days, turning the roast every day. (Most recipes on the internet say 3 days – this is not, I repeat not long enough). For a true sauerbraten, you need at least 7 days. Trust me on this. Make room in the fridge or cool room if you have one and let it sit for 7 days.
First off, find a container that can fit your marinade and roast into it with a lid on top. This is essential. Find a container large enough. I cannot stress this enough. I’ve purchased containers that I thought were large enough in the past and well, they weren’t. My sister can attest to this, as she had to pick up their sauerbraten one year and well, the lid didn’t fit right and the marinade spilled in the back of her Jeep. She could never get that smell out.
For the marinade it’s the same quantities for a smaller roast as it is for a larger roast, 6 cups of water, 6 cups of white vinegar (good vinegar not the no-name brand here please), 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (packed), 1/2 cup white sugar plus 3 Tbsp., 2 Tbsp. whole peppercorns (I can only ever find black peppercorns, but if by some miracle you can find green ones use those), 1 heaped tsp. whole cloves, 1 big and 4 small (or equivalent) bay leaves (you know, 5 of them), 1 large yellow onion sliced thinly (now you can use a red onion here if you want to, but I wouldn’t use a white onion they are just too pungent and over powering – I tend to use a sweet onion – Walla Walla, Maui Wowee, Vidalia), 1 Tbsp salt, plus 1 tsp. salt.
Once your done mixing all of this together, taste it. Is it too sour, add a tsp. more of brown sugar. Is it too sweet, add a splash more vinegar. You want a nice balance between the two. You don’t want it too sour or too sweet it needs to be somewhere in the middle. So taste it before you put the roast in (you know, not like my Oma who tasted it after she put the roast in – again, this is something I don’t do cause its gross). If you like the balance then it’s perfect. Put your roast in.
The night before cooking the roast, remove it from the marinade (save the marinade – do not throw this out). Pat the roast dry and place in a ziploc bag or a large bowl, depending on the size of your roast and pour over the cognac or brandy. You may not need a full cup, I always use more than I need, just to be on the safe side. Cover the roast with plastic wrap or close the ziploc bag and place in the fridge over night to let it soak up the alcohol.
You also want to strain the liquid from the onions and spices. Save the liquid in a separate container in the fridge. Remove the onions (you don’t have to get all of them, but try and get as many as possible) and place these in a ziploc bag or bowl, back in the fridge for the next day when it’s time to cook the roast.
The day you go to cook the roast, start by heating some oil in a frying pan (this is how I do things differently than my Oma) and sear the roast (which has been removed from the cognac and patted dry) on all sides to get it nice and brown. Remove from the frying pan and place in the roasting pan. Next up is the onions. You can do this two different ways, you can leave them as long thin strips (which is what is normally done) or you can do it my way and puree them (mostly because I cannot stand big pieces of onion). If you need to add a little more oil to your frying pan go ahead and then add in the onions and start browning them. Towards the end of the browning of the onions, start adding in about 1/4 cup at a time of the marinade alternately with water, letting the liquid cook down, to start breaking down the onions. (If you puree the onions like I do, I only add in a 1/4 cup of the marinade just at the end before I put it in the roasting pan with the roast, as I don’t need to let the onions break down like you would if they are left in strips).
The best part – you do not need to preheat your oven. Once you have put the liquid into the roasting pan with the roast and onions, put a lid on it and put it into the oven and turn it on to 350°F. The time you cook the roast depends on the size of the roast. For a 4 lbs. roast I usually go 2 hours, but for a larger roast you may have to go up to 3 hours. After the first hour check to make sure there is still sufficient liquid in the roasting pan (remember this is going to be your gravy, so you want a lot of liquid in there – we are essentially braising the roast in the oven). It is at this point that you are going to crumble 2 or 3 Speculaas (ginger cookies) into the liquid. After the 2nd hour, check on the roast. For me the best way to tell when the roast is done is by seeing if it starts to “flake” from the side of the roast. For a larger roast it may take longer to get to this stage, but don’t go longer than 3 hours. You still want to be able to eat the roast and not have a shrivelled up piece of meat.
Now I suppose you could eat this right away, but we have never done it that way. Ever! The roast gets prepared on Christmas Eve and we eat it Christmas Day. So once it comes out of the oven, let it cool, and then I remove the roast from the liquid and put it on a plate and cover it up and put it in the fridge. I pour all the liquid into a container and cover it up and put it in the fridge for the next day to make gravy. (You also want to save at least 1 cup of the marinade – just in case you need to add more liquid to your gravy – you are going to boil this so it will be okay).
Now if you eat the roast right away, remove it to a cutting board, cover with foil and let it rest while you make the gravy. Pour your liquid into a sauce pot and bring it to a boil. Remember if you need more liquid in the gravy, add more marinade. If the gravy needs to be thickened, use a slurry of cornstarch and water (50/50 mix – 2 Tbsp/2 Tbsp.) and go from there. If you think it needs more, use more. Taste the gravy to make sure it’s not too sour or too sweet. If it’s too sour, add a bit of sugar, if it’s too sweet, add a bit of the marinade. It’s an easy fix.
If you do like we do and eat the roast the next day, take the roast out and put it on a baking sheet, cover with foil and place in a preheated oven (350°F) and reheat the roast just until hot (I would say 30 minutes – you know, long enough to get the gravy made and all of your side dishes on the table).
My family serves this with Spaetzel, red cabbage, brussel spouts, corn and of course, Pillsbury crescent rolls (I know those last two aren’t really German, but what can I say, not everything we do is German). Okay, in my household, with my picky eaters and myself included in that, we have Spaetzel, but also corn, honey glazed carrots, cornbread muffins, mashed potatoes (for the ones that don’t eat Spaetzel) and hot dogs (for the ones that don’t eat sauerbraten).
I hope you enjoy our recipe. I know my Oma is rolling over in her grave knowing that I’m sharing this with everyone when she didn’t even want me to have this recipe, but it’s so completely different from all the other sauerbraten recipes out there that I had to share this.
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year Everyone!
Part One – Marinating:
Inside Round Roast or Eye of Round Roast (4 to 8 lbs., depending on how many people you are serving)
6 cups water
6 cups white vinegar (good – Heinz)
1/2 cup of white sugar plus 3 Tbsp.
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. whole peppercorns (black, or green if you can find them)
1 heaped tsp. whole cloves
1 big and 4 small (or equivalent) bay leaves
1 large yellow onion sliced – I use a sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia) or you could use a red onion
1 Tbsp. salt plus 1 tsp.
Mix together all ingredients for the marinade and taste to make sure it has a good balance of sweet and sour. If it’s too sour, add more sugar, if it’s too sweet, add more vinegar. Place roast in the marinate and place in fridge – turn daily if not completely immersed in marinate. **Marinate the roast for 7 to 10 days – do not go less than 7 days, it needs at least that long**
Part Two – Cooking:
1 cup Brandy or Cognac (you may not need a full cup, start with 1/2 a cup)
The night before, remove the roast from the marinate (save the marinade – DO NOT THROW IT AWAY YOU NEED THIS) – place roast in bowl and pour Brandy or Cognac over roast and rub it in. Cover with plastic wrap and let it soak overnight in the fridge.
**Morning of cooking:
In a frying pan large enough to hold the roast, brown the roast on all sides. We’re not cooking it here, just giving a “crust”.
Remove meat from frying pan.
Remove onions, bay leaves, cloves and peppercorns from marinade. Discard the bay leaves, cloves and peppercorns.
Saute (cook down) the onions in the frying pan, until they are brown. (If you don’t like large strings of onions in your “gravy” puree the onions before doing this part, which is what I do). Slowly add, alternatively, some of the marinade and water while cooking down the onions. This will also help them to break down.
Once the onions have browned and cooked down, pour these into a roasting pan. Place browned roast on top of the onions. Pour and equal amount of marinade and water into the roasting pan. (This will depend on the size of your roasting pan and roast, but I would say 2 cups of marinate and an equal portion of water – as this is going to be the gravy). You can save the remaining marinade in the fridge to add to the gravy, should there not be enough liquid and you want it to still be sour.
Place in the oven at 350°F for about 2 to 3 hours (place in a cold oven and then turn the oven on – no need to preheat)
Towards the end before the meat comes out of the oven, (approx. 1 hour before) crumble 2-3 Speculaas or 2-3 slices of Honey cake into the gravy around the meat. Keep adding either water or marinade to the roast during cooking, if you notice the liquid is cooking down too much.
Reserve at least 2 cups of marinade, just in case for the gravy.
Once it is done, remove from oven and let cool. I remove the roast from the liquid and place on a platter and cover with saran and put in the fridge for the next day to be reheated. The liquid gets put into a pot and placed in the fridge for the next day as well, to be cooked down and thickened. Or, you can eat it right away.
**the best way to tell when the roast is done, is if you can flake the sides away from the roast. That is the best way to tell it has cooked long enough.**