Sauerbraten is “sour roast,” a traditional German recipe made by marinating then braising a big hunk of meat in vinegar and spices. The vinegar isn’t just used for a sour zing; it also tenderizes the meat.
Bottom round is commonly used for sauerbraten, but any less-expensive cut of meat, including wild game like venison, can be tenderized by a soak in vinegar. Sauerbraten takes this to an extreme, soaking the meat for 3 to 5 days. It takes this long for vinegar to tenderize a large roast all the way through and give the meat sauerbraten’s signature vinegary flavor. Be warned: If you marinate a steak that long it’ll turn to mush. For smaller cuts, the meat doesn’t need more than a few hours in a vinegar marinade.
A tablespoon or two of vinegar can also be added to any braising liquid (or soup broth) during the cooking process to make meat extra-tender. Again, sauerbraten takes this to an extreme, using vinegar as the sole braising liquid. Traditionally, sugar or even gingersnap cookies are whisked in at the end, turning the sauerbraten braising liquid into a sweet and sour sauce.
This less-sweet but still tasty version throws in a few dates for sweetness, leaving the option of additional sugar (or some sour cream) up to you.
As tender as it is, this meat holds together in slices, especially after the cooked roast has been refrigerated overnight. Sauerbraten is great the first day but even better as leftovers.
Time in the Kitchen: 1 hour of hands-on cooking, plus 72 hours to marinate and 3 hours of roasting
4 pounds of boneless beef roast, bottom round or chuck (1.8 kg)
2 cups red wine vinegar (or 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup red wine) (475 ml)
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot sliced
2 bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon whole allspice (5 ml)
1 teaspoon peppercorns (5 ml)
2 tablespoons tallow, lard, butter or coconut oil (15 ml)
6 pitted dates, roughly chopped
Bring 2 cups (475 ml) of water plus the vinegar, onion, carrot, bay leaves, thyme, allspice, peppercorns and cloves to a boil. Let cool. Place the meat in a glass bowl or stainless steel pot (avoid plastic, aluminum and cast iron) and pour the marinade over the meat. Cover the container and refrigerate for at least 72 hours and up to 5 days. The meat won’t be completely submerged, so you’ll need to turn the roast several times while it marinates in the refrigerator.
Take the meat out of the marinade and pat it dry. Generously season the roast with salt and pepper.
Strain the marinade and discard the solids. Set the liquid aside.
Heat oven to 325 °F (190 °C).
Heat the lard/butter/coconut oil over medium heat in an ovenproof pot. Brown all sides of the meat. This will take a total of 15 minutes or so.
Pour the marinade in the pot, scraping up any browned bits of meat on bottom. Add the dates.
Bring the liquid to a simmer. Cover and put in the oven. Check the roast after 30 minutes. The braising liquid should be at a very gently simmer; if the liquid is bubbling really rapidly, then turn the oven heat down to 300 °F.
Braise the meat for 1 hour more, use tongs and a spatula to turn the roast over, and braise for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, for a total braising time of around 3 hours. The meat should be very tender.
Remove the meat from the braising liquid.
Skim excess fat off the top of the braising liquid. Pour the liquid into a blender and puree until the dates are smooth. Return what is now the sauerbraten sauce to the pot and simmer on the stove for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, to reduce and thicken the sauce. If you find the sauce to be unpleasantly acidic, a teaspoon or two of sugar can be added. Or, once the sauce is off the heat then stir in a few large spoonfuls of sour cream to give the sauce a smoother, richer flavor and texture.