Venison Sauerbraten

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My father has been begging Hank Shaw for a venison recipe for months now, and Hank has delivered. It’s outstanding! Not gamey at all, just a deeply flavorful pot roast. ~Elise

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 ginger snaps 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.

Venison Sauerbraten Recipe

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  • Prep time: 5 days
  • Cook time: 5 hours
  • Yield: Serves 6-8

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.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pound roast of venison (or beef chuck)
  • 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
  • 1/4 cup melted butter or olive oil
  • 8 ginger snap cookies
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • Salt

Method

1 Bring marinade ingredients -- wine, vinegar, water, peppercorns, juniper, mustard, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, celery, carrots and onion -- to a boil and turn off the heat. Allow to cool. Submerge the venison in the marinade and let it sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours, and up to 5 days. Three days is a good length of time. When you are ready to cook, take the roast out of the marinade and salt it well. Set it aside for 15-20 minutes or so.

2 Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Actually, 225 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 degrees, the roast will probably take about 5 hours to cook. You can go up to 300 degrees – 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 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 Pour the marinade into a pot and bring it to a boil. Pour it into a Dutch oven or other lidded pot and place the venison inside. 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. When the roast is done, 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.

5 Now you make the sauerbraten sauce – and sauerbraten is all about the sauce. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. Take the 8 ginger snap cookies and pulverize them in a blender. You want it to look like a rough meal or coarse flour.

6 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 until it is the color of coffee-and-cream, stirring often. Slowly whisk in the 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.

7 Whisk in 4 tablespoons of the pulverized ginger snaps. They will not dissolve completely at first, but keep stirring and they will disappear. Taste the sauce. Add another tablespoon of ginger snaps 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.

8 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.

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Hank Shaw

A former restaurant cook and journalist, Hank Shaw is the author of three wild game cookbooks as well as the James Beard Award-winning wild foods website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. His latest cookbook is Buck, Buck, Moose, a guide to working with venison. He hunts, fishes, forages and cooks near Sacramento, CA.

More from Hank

Links:

More Venison Recipes - from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Beef Sauerbraten with Raisins - from Steffen's Dinners
Beef Sauerbraten, made without wine - from The Paupered Chef

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Showing 4 of 20 Comments

  • V.Rehberg

    My mother is European and I grew up eating venison soaked in buttermilk also.

  • Tom

    how much red wine? how many cups? will merlot be good? Thanks,
    Tom

    A bottle of wine is 3 1/4 cups. And yep, merlot would work just fine! ~Hank

  • Rev. D. Joe Dunlap, Peoria IL

    I enjoyed venison sauerbraten during years living in WI ~ luscious! Thanks for this recipe; hope I may prepare it for my deer-hunter buddies (I don’t hunt critters). ONE CAUTION: I suggest using only NON-REACTIVE pots for marinating & cooking, such as stainless steel or heavy enamel ware or stove & oven safe glass: No aluminum, no bare cast iron.

  • Cindy

    This dish turned out even better than I had hoped! The sauce is extraordinary. I highly recommend making homemade spaetzle to go with this (it’s very easy and so worth it!). I used a leg of venison, which only took 2 days to thaw in the fridge (a miracle). When I was trimming up the leg, I had intended to make stews, so some of my pieces in this dish were smaller than I would have done otherwise. I let the meat marinate for 3 days, cooked it on high in the Crock Pot for 6 hours–a little longer than necessary, I think, but I was away from the house. I think you could cook it on low for 7 to 8 hours or high for 4 or 5 and have nice, tender meat. It all depends on the size of the roast (or chunks of meat, in my case). When I went to cut the meat, it basically shredded but was still delicious. The few thinner pieces of meat (1/2 to 3/4″ thick) I cooked had a stronger flavor, which was fine, but I liked the larger pieces better.
    Thank you, Hank! This is one of the best venison dishes I’ve ever had.

  • jim austin

    On 1220, I posted a comment inquiring about length of time one may leave the venison roast in the marinade wout problems. As it worked out, I cooked it on the 8th day after putting it
    in the marinade, and it was again excellent. Now my final question deals with the sauce.After cooking for about 8 hours, there were still many cups of liquid left after straining. I made a decent sauce, but would like a little advice on how much of the liquid to use with the other ingredients listed to achieve maximum results.My sauce did not turn out as you described or pictured it.It was a bit thin and tended more toward a gray than a brown.I of course fooled around a bit, but could not achieve a sauce that was really right. A little more detailed help here would be greatly appreciated.We also hunt and fish for most of what we eat from squirrel to bluefin tuna . Our most recent, unexpected, and fantastic recipe was for concord grape pie! As good as, but slightly different than, the best cherry pie you have ever had. I hope this is not too long — thanks, Jim

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