So, as you may have already guessed, I’ve been busy. Really, really busy. Which shouldn’t be a surprise since the last few posts I have posted have expounded on this very fact, and you may have guessed it already in that those posts have been few and far between. Long story short, career business has been expanding, we just bought a house, and we’ll be moving… Again. See- at least I have reasons for my (much lamented?) absence.
In all of the hullabaloo of my own private little world I forgot to send a birthday card to someone I really care about. Today is his birthday and I’m not going to plaster his vital statistics all over the internet, but you know who you are. Happy birthday! Please accept this post as a sign that I’m actually paying attention to all the other people in my life, even if it doesn’t always look like it. (All of you non-birthday people can wish Mr. Anonymous a happy birthday in the comments. That is, after all, what they’re for. Don’t believe differently.)
Since this is still a food blog and not just a place to ramble on about my private life (although that might not be too far from the truth), I thought I’d tell you about sauerbraten. It’s good. It’s easy. It’s super tasty, melting, falling apart tender, juicy but still tangy, piquant and balanced. It can sock you in the face with acidic punch or persuade you gently with nuanced debate. There is such complexity and so many subtle layers intermingled with a certain boldness of flavor that I find it incomparable to any other dish. For goodness sake, it’s pretty much pickled, then seared, braised, and served in a rich gravy. I can’t say I know of any other dish that calls for all those techniques together. (If you do, please let me know in the comments! I’d love to learn more.)
Marinade/ Pickling Brine:
1 big lump o’ meat (beef chuck, rump or bottom round are best, although it’s pretty awesome with pork shoulder or venison)
4 parts apple cider vinegar
1 part mustard (spicy brown or equivalent is my preference)
1-2 Tbl. juniper berries, ground
1 onion, sliced
1-2 Tbl. garlic powder
salt as you usually would for the piece of meat you have (don’t add extra)
bay leaf (optional)
So, first things first: do not attempt this if you are an impatient person. You absolutely must plan ahead. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Since you’re still with me, you should mix up the marinade, which I have conveniently given to you in relative measures. This is due to the fact that your lump o’ meat will be differently shaped and sized than mine, as will your brining dish. I, as usual, used one of my Pyrex casserole dishes. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: they are cheap, plentiful, easily cleaned and generally exceedingly useful. Make sure that your dish is non-reactive (not aluminum, not cast iron, etc.) as the marinade is rather obviously acidic. It should also be just a bit larger than your meat. Your goal is to almost cover the meat with liquid without having a lot of extra space to fill. It should look kind of like this:
Now for the easy part- put it in the refrigerator and do nothing- for three whole days and nights. I’m being serious here. Yes, really, three days (and three nights). If you absolutely don’t want to wait that long,
don’t tell me about it just deal with it. Your patience will be rewarded. Alternatively, you could let it sit for about a week if you’re that fond of delaying your dinner.
For those of you who aren’t fond of the acidic pungency of cider vinegar, some German recipes call for red wine. I’m not going to say you can’t do that; I’m just saying I will silently judge you if you do. Don’t fear the vinegar! Most of the acetic acid will cook out anyway. Your house may smell like a pickle factory but your mouth won’t pucker when you eat the fruits of your patience (since labor isn’t really that accurate for a recipe this easy).
Oh, yeah, and you should be turning the meat twice a day to keep it evenly pickling. So I guess you don’t actually do nothing- that extra 20 seconds of work each day has to count for something, I suppose. I like to sing “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof when I do that. Because yes, I do frequently burst into song. Life is better as a musical, anyway.
So time passes….
Yes, I am going to make you scroll all the way down. It’s called realism in writing, or reader engagement, or some such thing. Feel the weightiness of time!
My right little finger is worn out from hitting ‘Enter’ so many times, so that had better be enough of the passage of time. Onward, to the future!
Three days have passed. You are now going to get out your lovely enameled cast iron dutch oven (because they’re awesome and everyone should have one) and brown your lump o’ meat in it. Done? On all sides? Excellent- now throw in the remaining marinade/brine and move the whole darn thing into your preheated 275 degree oven. You did preheat it, right? Leave it in there for three hours at the very least (up to 5 or 6 if you want) and go do something else. I’d warn the impatient people again, but I think we’ve already lost them. They’ve already all gone off to chase butterflies or something. At the end of the cook time, remove the meat carefully (it is now as soft and mushy as a romantic comedy starring kittens, puppies, and fluffy bunnies), leaving the much reduced cooking/marinating/brining liquid. Put that on medium low heat to reduce a little more, and add:
brown sugar (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup works for me, but taste and adjust to your preferences)
freshly grated ginger
freshly grated nutmeg
flour for thickening (optional)
I usually find that the liquid has reduced so much that it doesn’t really need any extra thickening. If, however, you skimp on the cooking time (yes, I’m silently judging you too), the flour may be needed to make the gravy a proper consistency. You may strain the gravy; I usually don’t bother (which is why I grind my spices at the outset) but it will look prettier and more restaurant-like if you do. As for serving suggestions, I would totally go for rotkohl and spaetzle, but I was out of time and served egg noodles and parsnips instead.
Intrigued? Still reading? Congratulations! You officially have the patience and stamina needed to create this dish. Go forth and cook!