Claudia's German Sauerbraten

I happen to work in an office next door to Claudia, who is from Germany by way of the rest of the world. When she gets homesick one of the things she misses most is the sauerbraten, which I’ve determined to be like pot roast but even better, and naturally one day while we were talking I had her write ingredients (zutaten – isn’t that a great word?) down for me.
The list has been on my refrigerator since last July, and I have had very good intentions of making it, but was not fully spurred on until the recent influx of ridiculously cold weather, which all but demands some warm and rich comfort food, and Claudia’s return after the holidays. Because she knows I adore these sorts of things, I have a lovely little box of tea from her and also a package of actual authentic German-as-it-gets pickling spice. Just look at that – she is so Charlie’s Angel turned gherkin-making domestic.

Sauerbraten was in the long list of things I’ve heard of but never made, and the spice package was a perfect incentive – so I had Claudia iron out proportions with her mum and gave it a go. Claudia’s version uses red wine and balsamic vinegar, which gives almost anything a really, really good start. I improvised slightly on her directions for use of a crock-pot because I’m lazy – I think mine could’ve used more braising time to tenderize, but the flavor is absolutely there and yummy. The meat is slightly sweet, slightly sour, a bit peppery, and is even better the next day. Your kitchen may smell like vinegar and onions for a night, but these things happen.
Claudia was very particular on a few points, so I’ll pass them on to you as well: Liquid for the brine should be 3 parts plain to 1 part vinegar (red wine and balsamic, water and plain white vinegar, broth and cider vinegar, etc), and sweetened with 1 Tbsp to about 250 mL/about 1 cup of total liquid. Taste the brine before you put the meat in. The longer you brine the beef, the better. Whether cooking it on the stove, in the oven or in the slow cooker, you must absolutely brown the meat on all sides first. And finally, don’t go overboard and make sauerkraut with it, because there will be too much sauer for one meal.


1 pickling spice package or about 1/2 jar pickling spice*
1 large bay leaf
1 medium onion, cut in large dice
6 cloves garlic, cut in thin slices
½ c balsamic vinegar
1 ½ c red wine
2 ½ Tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
2 ¼ lb untrimmed meat suitable for pot roast, such as bottom round, eye of round or brisket

1 Tbsp olive oil or bacon grease
1 ½ - 2 onions, thinly sliced
about 1/3 – ½ c juice (any juice you like – apple, orange, etc will work. Claudia likes mango nectar because then you don’t have to thicken the sauce. I couldn’t find any, so I used the white cranberry peach in my fridge.)
2-3 Tbsp flour mixed in a slurry with 2-3 Tbsp water
small amount (1/4 c or so) light sour cream

In a nonreactive saucepan, mix together the brine ingredients. Bring to a boil to dissolve the salt and sugar and stir. Let simmer for three minutes. Remove from heat and let cool, about fifteen to twenty minutes.
Pickling spice in brine looks like this:

Place the meat roast in a large Ziploc bag set in a bowl. When the brine has cooled, carefully pour the brine over the roast into the bag. Turn to coat. Seal the bag, pressing out the air. Place in the refrigerator and turn the bag over every 12 hours or so. Let the meat brine for two-four days.
Remove the meat from the bag and place on a doubled paper towel; pat the meat dry with paper towels. Strain the brine through a sieve and reserve about 1 cup of the brine.
In a medium skillet, heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil on medium – medium-high heat until hot. Brown the meat well on all sides and ends, about 2 minutes per.
Place the onions in the bottom of a slow cooker. When the meat is browned, place the meat on top of the onions. Pour in the reserved brine and the juice. Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours or until fork-tender.
Remove the meat from the slow cooker and tent with foil to keep warm. Stir in the flour mixed with water. Cover the cooker again and cook on high for about 15 minutes. Remove sauce from the slow cooker and stir in small amount of light sour cream to thicken and to taste.
Cut the beef in long thin slices with the grain and serve hot with the sauce. Store leftovers in the sauce.

*If you use a jarred pickling spice, try to get one that does not contain cinnamon. You can also mix together your own spices for pickling. The package Claudia gave me contains mustard seed, peppercorns, dillseed, crumbled bay leaf, ginger, cloves, allspice, and two small dried red chilies.