Most of my relatives came to the US from Germany, or thereabouts. And yet, I’d never heard of Kaiserschmarrn until Tracie’s guest post from Savannah Page the other day. We also never had schnitzel or strudel or spätzle. We didn’t have huge pretzels or steins of beer. (We never even learned German swear words. I had to learn important things like scheisse from my friend’s mom!)
Yes, it was a rough upbringing.
But we did have sauerbraten (sauer meaning “sour” and braten meaning “brown lumps.” Or, no, wait - it means “roast meat”). It was one of my favorite comfort-foods, which I often requested on my birthday. It’s one of those “low-and-slow”-cooking meals where the meat ends up super tender. My mom used to always serve it over egg noodles, and the sauce is sort of gravy-esque with a slight sweet/sour taste to it.
At least, that’s what I thought it was supposed to be. Until I actually went to Germany with my friend when I was in my early 20s. One of the many towns we visited was Frankfurt, where I was excited to see sauerbraten on the menu. (We ate at the big place in the center of this photo.)
But what arrived was nothing like what my mom used to make. To my disappointment, it looked more like this:
What the heck is this? I wondered. It was okay – but nothing like my mom’s. Where were the bite-sized pieces? Where were the noodles? (Sadly, I’m old enough to have traveled during a time when people were not prone to taking food-porn pictures. So, I have a photo of the square in Frankfurt, but alas not a single shot of the plate that was served to me that day – thus the stand-in from Wikimedia Commons will have to do. It’s too bad, really, because we ate some darn fine food on that trip and the photos would have been totally post-worthy on Facebook. If it had existed way back then.)
Anyway, after many more cities and many fabulous meals on our trip, I forgot about the whole thing by the time we got back home, until one day when I had a craving for sauerbraten. I called my mom and asked for her recipe, which turned out to be called “Quick Sauerbraten”. It was basically the cheater’s version – a faux sauerbraten.
This was a common occurrence that my siblings and I discovered when we got older. All these recipes that my mom had that she would roll out only on special occasions (mainly birthdays) turned out to be super easy, quick recipes. I still remember the first time I made her birthday-celebration-worthy “Sour Cream Noodle Bake” and I was like, “Wait… that’s it?! This was ridiculously easy to make! It’s like a Wednesday night meal! This isn’t anything fancy! What the hell were we believing all those years??”
But then, my mom had six kids.
And we mostly grew up in the days before processed foods (Swanson TV Dinners aside) so I guess it’s understandable that she had a lot of super easy, one-pot meals in her repertoire.
My sis, who married a man also of German descent, got the real sauerbraten recipe from his mom. If you want to make that, check out Alton Brown’s version here. You’ll need some gingersnap cookies, a roast, and 3 days (not kidding – 3 days).
But if you’re busy (aren’t we all??) and only have a coupla hours, make the quick version like my very tired mother used to!
It involves buying a packet of gravy mix. I swear I had to hunt around the store for forever trying to figure out where those little packets are. We usually eat low-salt, healthy, home-made meals… but once in a while it’s fun to eat some good old-fashioned comfort food!
Mom’s Quick Sauerbraten
1 ½ lb. round steak (I used that pre-chunked up stew meat that you can usually find at the store)
1 T. butter
2 c. water
1 envelope brown gravy mix (yes. I know… I suppose you could make your own gravy… but I’m not good at that and it takes time!)
1 T. instant minced onion (again, I know. But 6 kids, people! I minced up a quarter of an actual onion that I had.)
2 T. vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
2 T. brown sugar
½ tsp. salt (I skipped this cuz there’s already plenty o’ salt in the gravy mix. You do what you think is right.)
¼ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. ginger
1 bay leaf
Cut meat into 1” squares (I actually cut them a little smaller than how they came from the store – nice small bite-sized). Melt butter and then brown the meat. Remove meat from the pan. [Saute the onions if you are using fresh.] Then, add gravy mix and water to the pan and whisk together. Stir while bringing to a boil. Stir in all remaining ingredients and add the meat back in. Simmer at least 1 ½ hours. (I simmered for about 3 hours, but an hour and a half works. You can also mix this up in the a.m. and then put everything in a crock pot and let it cook all day.) Stir occasionally.
If sauce is runny, thicken with a bit of flour mixed with some water. Remove bay leaf and serve over wide egg noodles.
Serves: about 4 Hantens (my maiden name) or probably more like 6 regular people.
When not writing, JACKIE BOUCHARD loves: reading, watching movies, taking her dog on long walks, watching professional cycling, blogging, drinking margaritas, and hanging out with her hubby. Jackie dislikes: writing short blurbs about her life in the third person. What the Dog Ate is her first novel. Her new novel, Rescue Me, Maybe, is due out in September.
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