Dissecting a recipe to improve flavors

Joined Jan 12, 2010
To the experts out there, how do I dissect a recipe to find out what I didn’t like about it? I understand about trial and error but is there a way to narrow down what to adjust, delete or add to get the flavor you want?

For example, I made a Sauerbraten this weekend. 3 days with the beef marinating in wine, vinegar, juniper berries, cloves, mustard seeds, carrots, onions, etc. etc. etc and then four hours in the oven. The beef had a decent flavor but had a slight bitterness. The sauce had a stronger bitterness that didn’t work at all for me. There was also a deepness of flavors that was missing. With 3 days marinating and a 4 hour covered cook, I expected more.  

IMO the marinade is where the bitterness started (maybe the red wine more than the vinegar) as the sauce and the meat had it. Juniper berries have a nice gin sweetness to them but not bitter. Not sure about mustard seeds or whole cloves when marinating for a week and then four hours in the oven.

Do spices go bitter in a long marinade? Where do I start? Thanks in advance!
Joined Apr 3, 2008
Okay please don't take this wrong, Juniper berries DO NOT have sweetness to them, at least IMO. they have a dry bitter taste not unfamiliar to pine needles or raw acorns IN MY OPINION.  (sorry i feel I have to make this qualifier these days). Anyway, the easiest way to breakdown a recipe is to isolate the "exotic" ingredients.

Using the above recipe, i would say the "exotics" are Juniper, Clove and Mustard Seed. While not exactly outlandish singularly, together they are a complex blend of flavors that may require extra managment. Unfortunately once you have isolated the renegades you will probably have to try them in a variety of combinations to get the flavors you are looking for. best of luck.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Besides above, have you made a sauerbraten you did like? If so, compare the ingredients and techniques to start.

It is also helpful to taste food as you go. You won't like everything you taste this way but you learn how ingredients change flavor over time as they cook and mix  and how to use them in ways that please you more.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
In terms of the larger question, one way to look at identifying problems is something like uisng a database.  That is, there a lot of "filters" to use for "sorting." One of the most important filters is "balance."  In the case of your sauerbraten the balance was apparently tilted to far towards acid/bitter without any offset.  The most common balance to sour is sweet.

Sauerbraten, although tilted towards the sour is indeed a "sweet and sour," and absolutely needs an assertive sweet component. Insofar as you've described your recipe, it's lack may well have been the problem.

One of the more common sweeteners in sauerbraten is crushed gingersnaps.  They also serve to thicken the sauce.  I wonder what you used to sweeten yours.

Another technique you might want to think about is a utilizing a tool called a "jaccard" to speed up the marinating process and tenderize the meat as well.  You can cut the marinade time to less than a day using one.  If nothing else, it will make it somewhat easier to perfect the recipe.  Once you've established an attractive flavor profile you can go back to the traditional long marination.

BTW, let me know if you want a recipe.

Hope this helps,
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Joined Jan 9, 2008
 Seeing how the marinade is just a concotion with a specific flavour profile, could you not make the marinade before you introduce the meat, take a sample for tasting and keep it with the meat marinading.  as the profile develops under the same conditions you could taste the control and make adjustments to the working marinade.

 Definitely not fool proof but possibly it may cutdown on absolute failures.
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Joined Feb 26, 2007
Cut out the juniper - there is enough acidity and bitterness without them.  I would instead use caraway seeds.  As mentioned above - you need a sweet note in there. Some brown sugar would not hurt in the marinade.  Nor would some tomato concentrate.

Hope you find a good balance for your dish.

Joined Jan 12, 2010
Here's the recipe if it helps, and thanks for the feedback so far. BDL, I would love to have your recipe and thanks in advance.


·          3 cup dry red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon) Added more to roasting pan for sauce for more liquid   

·          2 cup red wine vinegar

·          1 large onion, chopped

·          1 large carrot, chopped

·          1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, additional for seasoning meat

·          1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

·          3 bay leaves

·          9 whole cloves

·          16 juniper berries

·          2 teaspoon mustard seeds

·          1 (6 to 61/2 pound) bottom round (I used beef eye round roast but wouldnt use again)

·          2 tablespoon vegetable oil

·          1/3 cup sugar

·          18 dark old-fashioned gingersnaps (about 5 ounces)  



1.       In saucepan over high heat combine water, vinegar, red wine, onion, carrot, salt, pepper, bay leaves, cloves, juniper, and mustard seeds. Cover and bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2.       Pat beef dry and rub with vegetable oil, salt and pepper.

3.       Heat sauté pan over high heat; add 1 tbsp oil and brown the meat on all sides, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side.

4.       Place cool marinade and cooled meat in large vacuum, seal bag, remove all air and seal.

5.       Place in refrigerator for 3 days.

6.       After marinating, remove meat and marinade from bag and place in roasting pan.

7.       Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

8.       Add sugar to meat and marinade, cover and place on middle oven rack and cook until tender, approximately 4 hours.

9.       Remove the meat from roaster and keep warm.

10. Strain liquid removing solids and return liquid to pan, placing over medium-high heat.

11. Place gingersnaps in food processor and blend until a fine meal.  

12. Whisk in the gingersnaps and cook until thickened, stirring occasionally.

13. Slice meat and serve with sauce.
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