As some of you know, I am a hunter. With a few exceptions, I have not bought meat for the home in five years—everything we eat we’ve either hunted or fished for ourselves.
So I spend a lot of time adjusting traditional recipes to suit wild game. Luckily it turns out that sauerbraten, a classic German pot roast, was, apparently, originally designed for venison.
Sauerbraten comes in as many varieties as there are cooks. I’ve seen all sorts of variations on the sauce, on the cut of meat, on the cooking temperature.
At its core, however, sauerbraten involves a large piece of meat that has been marinated and slowly cooked in a vinegar-based marinade, which is then turned into a sauce.
My use of ginger snaps in the sauce comes from the sauerbraten I ate as a child at a New York restaurant called Luchows, which was a bastion of German cooking in the NYC area until it closed in 1982.
They used gingersnaps in their sauce, and I loved it. Still do.
A word on the marinade. You must boil the marinade before using it for two reasons: First, to burn off much of the alcohol in the wine—if you don’t, the meat gets a weird metallic taste—and second, the heat extracts more flavor from all the spices you put in it. Let the marinade cool completely before submerging the venison.
Oh, and use an inexpensive wine you might think about drinking on a Wednesday night; nothing fancy. Can you use something other than wine? Yes, but then it is not a sauerbraten. It is a pot roast. Still good, though.
I offer several variants on how to cook the venison here, which mostly involve temperature and time. Ideally you cook the venison very slowly over a very long period. This keeps the meat pink and preserves more of the juices.
But if you don’t have all day to cook it, you can go up to 300 degrees, which will turn the venison gray, but it will still be tender. Sauerbraten is all about the sauce, anyway.
You can of course use beef for this recipe; brisket or a chuck roast would be good, and you could also use London broil or tri-tip.
- 3-4 pound roast of venison (or beef chuck)
- 1/4 cup melted butter or olive oil
- 8 gingersnap cookies
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1 bottle of red wine
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 cups water
- 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp juniper berries
- 1 Tbsp mustard seed
- 6-8 cloves
- 3-5 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp dried thyme
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
1 Marinate the venison: Put marinade ingredients (wine, vinegar, water, peppercorns, juniper, mustard, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, celery, carrots and onion) in a pot and bring to a boil.
Turn off heat and allow the marinade to cool.
Submerge the venison in the marinade and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, and up to 5 days. Three days is a good length of time for this.
When you are ready to cook, remove the roast from the marinade and sprinkle it all over with salt. Set it aside for 15-20 minutes or so.
2 Preheat the oven to 275°F. Actually, 225°F is a better temperature, but the roast can take up to 8 hours to properly cook then; this is what I do at home on weekends. At 275°F, the roast will probably take about 5 hours to cook. You can go up to 300°F – a typical venison roast will be ready in 3 1/2 hours at this temperature – but you will get gray, not pink, meat. It will still taste good, though.
3 Brown venison in butter or oil (optional): Now you have an optional step: You can, if you choose, brown the venison in butter or oil. I chose not to because if you then simmer the venison at a low enough temperature, it will remain pink all the way through. If you brown the outside, you will get a gray ring around the edge of the venison when you cut into it. Either way is fine.
4 Cook the venison in the marinade: Pour the marinade into a Dutch oven or other lidded, oven-proof pot and bring it to a boil. Add the venison to the pot. Cover and put in the oven.
If the venison is not submerged by the marinade, turn the roast over every hour. This is also a good way to test for doneness – you want the roast to almost be falling apart.
The roast should take between 3 1/2 to 8 hours to cook, depending on the oven temperature. At 275°F, it should take about 5 hours to cook.
5 Remove roast from oven and coat with oil or melted butter: When the roast is done (completely tender), take it out of the pot and coat it with some of the 1/4 cup olive oil or melted butter. Reserve the rest of the oil or butter for later. Wrap it in foil.
6 Make the sauerbraten sauce: Sauerbraten is all about the sauce. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl.
Take the 8 gingersnap cookies and pulverize them in a blender. You want it to look like a rough meal or coarse flour.
In a medium-sized pot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. When it is frothing and totally melted, whisk in 2 tablespoons flour. Cook the roux until it is the color of coffee-and-cream, stirring often.
Slowly whisk in the strained cooking liquid, one cup at a time. The mixture will turn to clay at first, then loosen into a silky sauce.
Taste for salt – it will probably need it – and add enough to your taste.
Whisk in 4 tablespoons of the pulverized gingersnaps. They will not dissolve completely at first, but keep stirring and they will disappear.
Taste the sauce. Add another tablespoon of gingersnaps if you want, or add a tablespoon of sugar.
The sauce should taste sour, warm (a pumpkin pie sort of spicy warm) and a little zippy and sweet.
7 To serve, slice the roast into 1/4 inch thick slices. Venison can be dry – it has zero fat – so one trick I do is to coat each slice in melted butter before I serve it. You’ll need about 1/2 stick melted to do this trick.
Serve with lots of sauce, some braised onions, and either mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or spaetzle. A hearty red wine would be an ideal match here, as would a dark, malty beer.