Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pork and Sauerkraut

Every year for as long as I can remember, New Year's Day dinner was pork and sauerkraut. Every year for a very long time, I whined about having to eat the stuff, even though I usually had to endure it only once a year. Then, as happens with so many things as you get older, I realized that I missed it, and maybe even kinda liked it, and decided to introduce one of my friends here in New Jersey to the concept that sauerkraut is not merely a condiment for hot dogs, but can serve as, very nearly, a meal in and of itself.

I don't even remember who made it for me first--Grandma, or maybe even Sweetie, though mostly I remember Mom cooking it in the crock pot each year. It's such a longstanding tradition in the family, and in York County/PA Dutch areas on the whole, that it almost defies definition in terms of time. It was always there. It will always be there. It's what you eat on New Year's Day to bring good luck throughout the year. Why would you even consider anything else? (You may scoff at the idea that a meal will bring you good luck, but last year was the first time in several years that I did not make pork and sauerkraut for New Year's, because I was traveling and didn't feel like dealing with it when I got home. Three months later, I found out my job was being eliminated. I suppose it could be a coincidence, but I am no longer willing to take the chance!)

New Year's Day is past, but you might still be able to appease the gods of PA Dutch New Year's luck if you act fast! Here's what you need to know to make authentic York County pork and sauerkraut, one of the easiest meals ever made.

You'll need:

Center cut pork chops
Sauerkraut (we always use Silver Floss; I now buy their fresh stuff that's usually in the fridge near the hot dogs, because it's somewhat less processed than the canned sauerkraut and has a nice crunch to it)

I'm not including quantities here because it really depends on how many people you want to feed. I will, however, tell you that 1.75 pounds of pork, 4 pounds of kraut, and 7(!) good-size Russet potatoes was more than enough for three of us last night, with probably about four servings of leftovers. I've never frozen the leftovers myself, but my mother says they freeze well, so I wouldn't be afraid to have some extra.

I always use my crock pot, but I imagine you could cook the pork and kraut over a low heat on the stove if you want results more quickly. The two go into the crock pot together at least six hours before you want to eat. If your crock pot has a shift feature that automatically switches between high and low, you might want to start it there, especially if your time is limited. Low probably won't cook the meat on its own, at least not for a while. Because you are putting raw meat in there, you want to check it and give things a stir every so often so you know how it's progressing. It will get pretty juicy as the kraut cooks (and the kraut will lighten in color somewhat as it heats, too). A few strands of sauerkraut will stick to the sides of the crock pot and brown, but there's no need to worry about them--though you will want to soak the stoneware overnight before you clean it.

About half an hour before dinnertime, cook the potatoes and mash them according to your own taste. Nothing elaborate is necessary here, since the potatoes traditionally go under the pork/kraut.

To serve, use large soup bowls. Potatoes go on the bottom, and the pork and sauerkraut on top. You can include the juice from the kraut or not as you see fit. Don't forget the bones--it should be pretty easy to get the meat off the bone, but I have many memories of chomping down on a small one that had missed notice.

That's all there is to it. Happy New Year!


Lulu--Back in Town said...

Hey, glad to see this up and running!!

I definitely understand about the missed-dishes of childhood. I couldn't stand my dad's clam chowder (or Polish sausage and sauerkraut, incidentally), but I can remember the taste vividly, and love it in retrospect, if that makes any sense. Wish there were recipes to go back to! I think this is a fabulous project.

- Lauren (blindswandive)

Nancy said...

Hey! ::waves:: Thanks for commenting! Polish sausage and kraut, yeah, that makes sense to me. A lot of people do hot dogs and kraut (I mean cooked together like my recipe, not at a hot dog stand), too.

Oh, I wish you had recipes, too! I'm so glad I have these. There are things that I am remembering and having trouble finding, but hopefully someone has them or they'll turn up. Dealing with an actual recipe box, especially one that's full of newspaper clippings as well as recipe cards, is not as neat and easy as I might hope. Blogging has the side benefit of getting them into electronic format for the future, too.

Anonymous said...

There was a second reason that we Dutch ate kraut on New Year's Day. Kraut has some properties-shall we say "cleansing"- that empty the gut and give the body a fresh start to the new year.

My Grandmother would serve pork and kraut with mashed potatoes and a side of stewed tomatoes.

York, PA

Nancy said...

Yes, my mother always calls sauerkraut “a thousand little scrub brushes"! I can't imagine it with stewed tomatoes, though. This is how we always had it, on its own.

Anonymous said...

Oops, it was served separately. The tomatoes were a basic stewed tomato topped with homemade croutons.

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