Going Dutch with Sauerbraten

About 8 months ago my wife and I moved from Brooklyn to Southeast Pennsylvania.  It’s been a hugely successful move for us; We’ve got more space, I work in a great new shop, and the bounty of Pennsylvania agriculture is open to us everywhere we go – you can’t throw a long john in this town without hitting a farmer’s market bursting with locally raised produce and meat.  But for all the easy aspects of this transition, the one thing about this area that still remains wonderfully perplexing to us is the local food culture; handed down generation to generation from the original settlers of this area, the food stylings and culture is collectively known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.

This area was populated in the late 17th and early 18th century by an influx of german immigrants.  They brought along their leather pants, incredible alcohol tolerance, and some amazing german meat recipes. (The term PA Dutch, like so much else in life, results from a local bastardization.  The Germans described themselves as Deutsch – the locals heard “Dutch” and figured “Eh, close enough.”)  Over time this German culture evolved until it became something incredibly unique. In an area only a couple hours from where I grew up, learning about the way the locals historically cut and prepared meat has me feeling like I’m on an entirely different planet.

All this boils down to one thing, the food here is really, really good.  PA Dutch cooking takes traditional German food, and filters it through the lens of the bountiful fields and forests of Pennsylvania.  The PA dutch were serving foraged mushrooms and wild caught game way before it was cool.  Being extremely frugal people they also had a particular aptitude for taking tougher cuts of meat and making them into something delicious.  Enter one of my new found favorite meat dishes: Sauerbraten.

Using vinegar to tenderize a tough cut of meat is pretty much the nuclear option when it comes to marinades.  Used improperly vinegar can denature the proteins in the meat to such an extent that they lose any ability to hold water and the meat becomes inedibly dry. Plus, there’s the whole issue with your meat being permeated with the face-puckering essence of vinegar.  What the PA Dutch did with their recipes was to carefully time the marinade so as to not go too far, and to cut the vinegar (somewhat) with wine.  After all that, using the brine/braising liquid as the gravy was made possible by the addition of some sweetness.  What you’re left with is nothing short of German style Sweet and Sour Beef.  And that, friends, is a good thing.

PA Dutch Style Sauerbraten

For the Marinade:
1 Whole Tri-tip or ~5 pound bottom round roast
2 Cups Red wine vinegar
2 Cups Dry red wine
2 onion chopped
6 cloves garlic crushed
3 bay leaves
1Tsp Juniper berries
1.5Tsp Whole black peppercorns
1 Stick cinnamon
1 Stalk celery chopped
3 Sprigs thyme
Kosher salt

For the Sauce:
3Tbl of butter
6 Gingersnaps, all crushed up
1tsp Molasses

Season beef with salt, and bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil.  Remove from heat and let cool before adding the meat.  Keep fully submerged, preferably in a zip lock bag (get out of here with that Glad crap).  Marinate for 4 days, turning twice a day.

At the end of your agonizing 4 day wait, remove the meat and pat dry.  Strain the marinade through a fine strainer and put one cup in a covered pot with the meat; cover and cook in a preheated 325 degree oven.  Let that go until it’s tender, probably 2-3 hours depending on how big your meat is (ha!).  With about an hour to go put the rest of the marinade on the stove to reduce. Once it coats the back of a spoon whisk in the butter, molasses, and gingersnaps.  Slice the meat, drizzle the sauce and go to town.  If you want to really get Dutchy put it all over spaetzle.

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