Sumptuous Sauerbraten – or the Tale of the Swamp Thing
“This is going to be so good. You’ll love it!” my sister enthused over the phone, and my mouth watered just thinking about it. A succulent, juicy rump roast marinated to its peak flavor and tenderness, roasted, and then glazed with brown sugar and served with a smooth and rich sour cream sauce. I’d never tried my sister’s Sauerbraten before, and I had reservations about making it myself, but the passion in her voice was infectious. If she could get this excited over a dinner that she wasn’t even coming to, well, it must really be something special.
For years now, my sister had been perfecting her Sauerbraten recipe, and we received periodic updates and raves regarding its increasing state of superbness. It was a legend in the making.
“Have you ever tried it?” I would ask my mother.
“I was at her house once when it was cooking,” she boasted.
“Ahh,” we’d exclaim, awed at Mom’s apparent good fortune at having been in such close proximity to The Sauerbraten.
“What was it like?” We were hanging on Mom’s every word.
“Well, I didn’t actually get to see it or taste it,” she admitted. “But it smelled wonderful.”
“Ahh,” we’d nod, smiling at the thought of inhaling its delectable scent.
On holidays, after enjoying a meal of turkey or ham, we would telephone my sister to wish her well and see how she was enjoying the day.
“We’re having a great time,” she would say. “We’re just waiting for The Sauerbraten to come out of the oven.”
“Ahh.” I could almost smell the aroma wafting through the telephone wires. We’d get off the phone and I’d dump the leftovers from our lowly turkey into the cat’s dish.
Being a non-cooking person, any recipe that calls for more than three ingredients (or four, if one of them is water), is usually beyond my capabilities. But my curiosity and my sister’s raves finally compelled me to give The Sauerbraten recipe a try.
Normally, I plan a meal five minutes ahead of time. I open the cupboard and whatever falls out is what I cook. For The Sauerbraten, I had to begin preparations four days in advance.
First I had to heat the marinade: apple cider vinegar, water, red onion, bay leaves, peppercorns and caraway seeds. The vinegar’s malodorous stench permeated the house, and my daughters came running with watery eyes and hands clamped over their noses to ask, “What stinks?”
“Your special holiday feast,” I informed them with a stiff smile, trying to muster even a fraction of the enthusiasm my sister had evinced.
As soon as the marinade heated sufficiently, I poured it over the beef in a crock and clamped the lid on tight. Then I placed some whole cloves in water and simmered them on the stove. This was not in the recipe, but it was the only way I could eradicate the acrid smell and keep my family from evacuating the house.
For the next three days I religiously tended the beef, turning it over in the marinade. It became a ritual, with the children standing solemnly, hands over their noses, watching with big eyes as the meat was pulled dripping from the vinegary marsh. Rings of onion clung to it like viny tendrils, garlic slices floated on the liquid like pale lily pads, and peppercorns protruded from the solution like bulging eyes of submerged amphibians.
“Playing with the Swamp Thing again?” my husband would inquire.
The glorious day finally arrived when I popped the Swam—I mean, The Sauerbraten—in the oven, and once again the house took on a fermented tinge. Four hours later, I turned the meat onto a platter and my husband sliced into it, sampling a forkful.
“How’s it taste? I asked.
“It tastes like sour meat,” he responded dully.
And so the Legend of The Sauerbraten died, in our household anyway. I’m just glad I didn’t throw away my turkey roasting pan.
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