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Sauerbraten and Spätzle

Admitedly, it took me a long time to try this traditional German dish. Everytime I looked at a sauerbraten recipe I thought "this doesn't sound like it would be very good". Jim, however, lived in Germany for a while when he was young, and had this many times -- he assured me that it was, in fact, quite good if done properly.

One day not too long ago I came across a sauerbraten recipe by Chef John. I've always found his recipes to be quite flavorful and easy to follow, so that gave me the added incentive to give this a shot. I've made it multiple times since then, and it's now a favorite on our dinner table.

Two notes about the recipes:

  1. For the most part, these recipes are Chef John's. I've made some adjustments based on personal preferences, but those adjusments have been minor. You can look at the original recipes here and here.

  2. If you prefer to skip the spätzle, this is also very good served with buttery mashed potatoes.

Sauerbraten with spätzle



3 lbs of beef short ribs or beef chuck roast
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1⁄2 cups water
2⁄3 cup cider vinegar
2⁄3 cup red wine vinegar
12 juniper berries
9 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 cup cold water
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons white sugar, or to taste
1⁄2 cup crushed gingersnaps
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Directions: - 2 to 3 days before serving:

  1. Season beef on all sides with salt and black pepper. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Cook beef (in batches if necessary), turning a few times, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove beef to a large lidded plastic tub while you make the marinade.

  2. Pour 1 1/2 cups water, cider vinegar, and red wine vinegar into the warm skillet and bring to a simmer. Cook and stir, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add juniper berries, cloves, and bay leaves, season with salt and black pepper. Remove from heat and pour in 1 cup cold water. Pour mixture over the beef and place in an ice bath until chilled, 30 to 40 minutes. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, and up to 3 days.


  1. Melt butter in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook and stir onion, celery, and carrot in the melted butter until the vegetables are sofened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Place marinated beef over the top of the onion mixture. Pour in remaining marinade from the plastic tub and stir in 1 cup water, chicken broth, and sugar.

  2. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer on low, covered, until meat is fork-tender, 3 to 4 hours. 

  3. Remove meat to a platter. Discard juniper berries, cloves, and bay leaves. Sprinkle cooked onion mixture over the top of the meat, reserving excess cooking liquid in the pan.

  4. Place pot with remaining cooking liquid over medium-high heat. Grind gingersnaps in a food processor until fine and add to the liquid in the pan. Stir in balsamic vinegar and boil until reduced and thickened, skimming fat, about 20 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Strain gravy through a fine mesh sieve, spoon over the beef and spatzle, and serve.


(serves 2)


1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

2 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 pinches cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons creme fraiche, sour cream, or plain yogurt 

6 tablespoons milk, or as needed

Butter for sauteeing


  1. Place flour, egg, salt, cayenne, cream fraiche, and milk in a mixing bowl. Whisk together until batter drips slowly off the whisk. If batter seems too thin, add a bit more flour; if too thick, add a bit more milk. You can test the thickness using the smooth side of a cheese grater with fairly large holes. If a dollop of the batter does not drip through the grating holes, it's the right consistency.

  2. Bring a pot of salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Use a spatula to push a spoonful of batter through the holes of the smooth side of the grater into the simmering water.

  3. When dumplings rise to the surface of the water, they are done. This will take just a few minutes. Remove dumplings with a slotted spoon, and repeat in batches with remaining batter.

  4. Saute spätzle in butter until it browns and even gets a little crunchy in spots.

Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.

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