Sauerbraten – Classic, Classy and Controversial – The Sweet Side of Sour Roast

The how’s, the why’s and the wherefore’s of sauerbraten; what’s controversial and what’s taboo; a tribute to a victorious nation and their eternal food; two recipes, one salute, one offer

I don’t think nearly enough attention is paid to German food outside of Germany and it’s a pity. German food suits German climate and modern innovation has turned it into world class cuisine and something we should all see a lot more of.

I love Sauerbraten even though, on my last trip to Germany, I never had it once! There is little to beat the sweet sour taste of biting into a juicy slice of well marinated meat and become hopelessly seduced by the taste of raisins, cognac, apple and spices from the crushed lebkuchen. The insanely velvety sauce immediately banishes all negative thoughts and you know you are exactly where you want to be and that the weather is exactly how you want it.   There are many variations to the theme but today’s recipe is based on the one commonly used in and around the Rhein, albeit with a quite a few adaptations.

Sauerbraten is made all over Germany and every region boasts it’s own special recipe – one more delicious than the other. Saarland, Silesia and Swabia all have their own special versions but all agree on the basics.  Except for one thing – the matter of the meat.  Beef is used, but traditionalists insist on using horse meat which is why I include a very brief discussion to bring reason to this very touchy subject.

About 9000 years ago (when harpoons were first discovered in Europe) wild horses were commonly hunted as a vital source of food. In the Northern part of Europe the Teutons ate horse meat and revered the cow. That was just the way it was and as far as I’m concerned, emotional commentry serves no purpose anymore. The sacrifice and eating of horse meat formed part of religious ceremonies associated with Odin, (below image of him arriving in Valhalla on his horse).


Jews form no part of this discussion since they were forbidden to eat horse meat because of the cloven foot and they have never eaten it.
The first time it was forbidden was in the 900′s AD when Pope Gregory told the missionary Boniface, working in Germany at the time, to forbid the eating of the meat for a variety of reasons. It has been suggested, however, that he only did that because the Arabs were invading Europe at the time and there was a serious threat of victory. The Pope was really only concerned about the eating of horses because he needed them for the warring warriors. To the Catholic Church of the day, the horse was of more value for the waging of war than as a source of food for the barbaric tribes up north. (It has since been discovered that the Teutons were a hugely sophisticated people). The Church was on the verge of losing it’s entire power and financial base and facing a very real threat, so one could understand their sense of urgency. The French started eating horse meat in 1807 when starving troops ate the flesh of dead battlefield horses upon advice of their surgeon-in-chief and frankly, I think it was good advice. The troops used their breastplates as cooking pans and gunpowder as flavouring and it saved their lives. Horse and donkey meat was eaten in Britain, more notably Yorkshire, until the 1930′s and in France, Scandinavia and Germany people still eat it. In the United States of America more than 80,000 horses are slaughtered every year for export to Europe, Mexico or Japan.

So before we judge others, let’s rather pray we are never put into a position where we have to eat our pets – or our dead as was done in the Andes – in order to save our own lives.

My recipe for sauerbraten is, essentially, from Nordrhein-Westfahlen, my favourite place in Germany.  Apart from the fact that my daughter lives there, I love Köln. It is a beautiful city of hard working people that built a magnificent city out of the ashes of war in an unbelievably short space of time by simply getting on with it. I love the Rhein, the river that symbolically caught all my tears during the darkest time of my life and brought me back to normality again under the watchful eyes of two exceptional people.  It brought me peace and calm and revived that part of me that had died.  It is a kind city with extremely kind people who all have a gentleness about them and I miss them. They are reserved and they are dignified and they are joyful and they are very special and for now, they all take care of that most precious of beings, my granddaughter Martha. So in honour of the city and it’s people I created my version of sauerbraten for them.

Sauerbraten is not something to be made in a hurry. It requires time and love and is the perfect Sunday lunchtime meal to be started on Friday evening so that anticipation can mount over the weekend. It is not sour as the name implies rather, sweet and sour and spicy and fruity and salty and absolutely, utterly delicious.

SAUERBRATEN FOR KÖLN

Ingredients

1 kg Beef (use a blade roast, it lies next to the ribs and is less pricy)
2 medium carrots
2 medium sticks of celery
2 medium leeks
1 handful parsley, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 bayleaves
10 juniper berries
5 allspice berries (pimento)
5 black pepper corns
80 g lebkuchen biscuits, crushed
200 seeded raisins
2 tablespoons grated granny smith apples
2 granny smith apples, peeled and cut into cubes
250 ml sour cream
100 ml oyster sauce
Ground black pepper to taste
Malden sea salt to taste
Olive oil for frying – traditionally ‘butterschmalz‘ is used, but this is my recipe
1 very large Ziploc bag – make sure that your meat will fit into it.

For the marinade

300 ml light red wine
200 ml of the best red wine vinegar
200 ml dark port
500 ml pure water

Method

Make the marinade from the red wine, the vinegar and the water to which you add the bayleaves, juniper berries, allspice, pepper and boil it, allowing it to simmer for about 2 minutes.  Let it cool down completely.   Place the meat carefully inside the bag and pour the marinade into the bag taking care not to spill any of the precious liquid. Once the bag is almost full, close it and with a straw extract all the air, creating a vacuum in which the liquid covers all the meat. Put in the fridge for two days.  In the course of the two days, turn the meat around occasionally to ensure that the marinade reaches all the meat. After two days remove from marinade, dry, season with salt and pepper and fry in a hot saucepan in olive oil, adding the oyster sauce so that all sides are browned well. Turn the heat down and add carrots, onion, leeks, celery and fry until the colour just changes. Pour the marinade into the saucepan, all the rest of the spices, the parsley, the crushed lebkuchen, the grated apple and braise on a low heat so that it just simmers on top of the stove for one and a half hours, checking occasionally to stir. Turn the meat around and see that it does not burn.  Should it become too dry add a little water to ensure that you have a thick sauce at all times. After two and a half hours the meat should be soft and cooked. Remove the meat onto a separate serving dish. Add the apples and the raisins to the saucepan containing the liquid and cook for a further 10 minutes. Towards the end, stir in the sour cream well, check and correct seasoning and serve with creamed potatoes, string beans and a crispy green salad.  The dish is so rich it requires little else.

My eldest recommended a Dornfelder or a Pinot Noir and I don’t know anybody in the world who not only knows as much as he does about wine, but also understands the essence of it.

For the those of you unable to get hold of lebkuchen, herewith a recipe as it could prove difficult to get hold of in some countires.

Lebkuchen or pfefferkuchen are round or heart-shaped German and Austrian cookies made from a gingerbread dough. Nowadays there are many different shapes and sizes – I prefer the flatter squares, for example. Legend tells us that they were first made by Monks in Franken around the 13th century, but the first references available are from Ulm in 1296. The most famous lebkuchen come from Nürnberg and they are very popular right around the year.  The dough was originally raised with Salt of Potash or Hartshorn (potassium carbonate) instead of baking powder and the biscuits were placed on rice paper (oblate) before being baked since they didn’t have non stick pans in those days. The traditional biscuits contained no eggs and no butter and therefore kept very well.  For my recipe, I choose to ignore the original recipe since this is the recipe that I have been carrying with me for 32 years and on top of that, I think the eggs taste better than the potassium carbonate. The word leb may have been derived from the Hebrew word lev, a heart.  Any suggestions would be gratefully accepted.  For today’s recipe I have to thank Lieselotte who gave me the original one and ask her forgiveness that I tweaked it a bit over the years!

LEBKUCHEN

Ingredients

4 eggs
130 g caster sugar
125 g honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 tablespoon cognac
140g finely chopped orange and lemon peel
1 lemon, zest only
200g ground almonds
100g ground hazelnuts
A few sheets of rice paper cut into circles (or whatever shape you like) unless you can find the proper oblaten rounds.
A few whole almonds for decoration

Method

Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together until thick and creamy using an electronic aid.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix into a thick paste
If it’s too runny, add more ground hazelnuts
Spread  a heaped teaspoon of mixture on top of each circle of rice paper and make sure that the heap is higher in the  center
Decorate some with whole almonds
Place on a non greased baking tray and bake at 125 C for 30 minutes
Leave to cool on a wire rack and decorate with almond glace or chocolate glace

Enjoy the Sunday roast and if you enjoy it, I could just do a really unusual recipe from the hunting grounds of Thüringen, which gives a completely different take on this one. If enough of you request it, I’ll include it at the bottom.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Sauerbraten – Classic, Classy and Controversial – The Sweet Side of Sour Roast

  1. Dear Sir,
    I want to prepare the Sauerbrate but here in Brazil is very dificult to buy lebenkuchen. What can I do instead of using lebenkuchen
    many thanks
    regards
    Daniel

    • That’s really why I included the recipe for Lebkuchen – but if you don’t feel like baking, please look at the ingredients on the Lebkuchen recipe and find a biscuit that contains more or less the same spices. Alternatively – try a mild ginger biscuit.

  2. Lisa/cdncowgirl

    Not sure if you are notified of comments on old posts but just in case – I stumbled across your post while looking for info on Sauerbraten.
    I found the recipe delicious sounding and appreciated the added recipe for Lebkuchen. That you included the history of the dish was also a nice surprise.
    Just one teeny thing to mention though, cows, goats, pigs etc have cloven (or split) hooves. Horse hooves however are not cloven.

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