Pork & Sauerkraut (with lots of options)

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Get ready for a New Year filled with luck and good health with this traditional dish, which can be customized in several ways to keep everyone happy!

Get ready for a New Year filled with luck and good health with this traditional dish, which can be customized in several ways to keep everyone happy!  (slow cooker and oven method)

 

 

 

There seem to be two distinct camps where pork and sauerkraut is concerned: those who love it and those who…well…tolerate it. Growing up, I was in the latter camp, but every January 1st, I forced my helping down for the promise of good luck in the coming year.

When I married and had kids, I embraced the New Year’s Day tradition, but my husband and kids did not. No assurance of good fortune was going to sell them on a meal they considered sour, dry and overly juicy at the same time.

Consequently, I spent years preparing other meals that were connected to luck-lentils, fish, noodles, greens and even a cake with hidden sauerkraut. (It was quite good and they never suspected a thing!)

As my sons grew older and their taste buds matured, I decided to revisit the traditional New Year’s Day meal with a few adjustments to hopefully address their primary objections.

I started with a pork shoulder because my family enjoys that cut in a variety of other meals. The shoulder is well marbled, which makes it more difficult to dry out than leaner chops and loin cuts. Helpful hint: trimming the shoulder cut well before cooking will alleviate much of the excess grease.

To solve the “too much sour juice” problem, I now pour off much of the sauerkraut’s excess liquid before cooking and add a smidgeon of amount of brown sugar. (Some people go a step further and rinse and drain the sauerkraut, although I have not gone that route.) I also incorporate sweeter apples instead of the tart Granny Smiths to which I was accustomed. These changes balance the tangy sauerkraut without making the dish overtly sweet.

For an additional savory component, I reached for kielbasa. If that didn’t win them over, nothing would!

I’m not sure if it’s the reworked recipe or more mature taste buds, but my family now embraces this holiday meal. (They even welcomed it on a random weekday when I needed to make it for the sake of taking photos!)

Get ready for a New Year filled with luck and good health with this traditional dish, which can be customized in several ways to keep everyone happy!
Get ready for a New Year filled with luck and good health with this traditional dish, which can be customized in several ways to keep everyone happy!

No doubt, there are as many iterations of pork and sauerkraut as there are cooks who prepare it. Since everyone’s taste buds are different, I have included a list of variations in the recipe notes that I’ve tasted or heard about over the years through family, friends and readers.

If you already have a tried-and-true method of preparing pork and sauerkraut, you may simply enjoy incorporating one or two of the extras in the following recipe, like the spice rub or my family’s favorite addition-kielbasa.

And if you think fellow readers would enjoy YOUR recipe, by all means post it in the comments section (or send to me via email and I will add it). Feel free to also comment as to how you truly feel about pork and sauerkraut. Love it—or not so much? Or do you prepare something altogether different for luck and prosperity in the New Year?

2-ingredient homemade sauerkraut is loaded with gut-healthy probiotics and incredibly easy to make. 

If you’ve never considered making your own sauerkraut, you may be surprised by how simple the process is. This recipe for Easy 2-Ingredient Fermented Sauerkraut takes between three and 14 days to ferment (depending on how tangy you’d like it) and delivers a healthy dose of gut-friendly probiotics.

Funny story

One of my friends was traveling with her family over New Year’s Day last year, so she packed a can of sauerkraut so everyone could take a bite and figured they could pick up a hot dog along the way to cover the pork. And they did!

Get ready for a New Year filled with luck and good health with this traditional dish, which can be customized in several ways to keep everyone happy!

1-1-20 Update: When I was purchasing pork and sauerkraut at Lancaster Central Market the other day, a stand holder mentioned that she enjoys her sauerkraut crunchy, so she stirs it in at the end. I loved that idea, but to reap full flavor benefits, I added half of the sauerkraut at the beginning, and the other half just before serving, letting it sit a few minutes to warm through. To add yet another layer of texture and interest, I also added half of the apples, sliced, and about 2 cups of thinly sliced green cabbage in the final hour of cooking. The results? I’ve never heard such rave reviews…even from the people who are typically ho-hum about this annual tradition! 

Pork & Sauerkraut (with lots of options)
Yield: 6-8 servings
Traditional with a twist, this slow cooked dish boasts fork tender meat and a few extras to broaden the appeal. Serve with mashed potatoes, sweet peas, applesauce (or scalloped apples) and dinner rolls. I like to pile the sauerkraut and pork on top of the mashed potatoes and serve peas on the side.
Ingredients
  • 1 boneless pork shoulder roast* (approximately 4-5 pounds)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (see spice rub option in notes)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium to large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 apples, halved and cored**
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 4-5 sprigs)
  • ½ cup dry white wine (could use beer-or chicken broth for a non-alcoholic option)
  • 2 pounds sauerkraut, excess liquid poured off***
  • 1 tablespoon lightly packed brown sugar (dark or light as per preference)
  • 12 ounces kielbasa, sliced into thick rounds, optional
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, optional
Instructions

Lay the pork on a cutting board and using a sharp knife, trim away as much of the thick, white fat on the surface as possible. Season the pork generously with salt and pepper. (Or prep in advance using the optional spice rub listed below.)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. (Alternatively, you can do the following in a slow cooker that offers a “Sauté” option.) Add the pork and cook, turning as the sides turn golden, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the pork to a platter.

Return the pan to medium-high heat, add the onion, apples and thyme, and sauté until the onion and apples are lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer the apple mixture to a bowl. If using the optional kielbasa, you may sauté it for several minutes, too, which will brown it and render some of the fat. Or you may simply add it to the slow cooker as is. (I’ve done it both ways. It tastes good either way and is simply a matter of preference.)

Pour off the fat from the pan and then return it to medium-high heat. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits.

Slow-cooker method: Cover the bottom of a 6-quart slow cooker with the sauerkraut. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and optional caraway seeds. (Tip: Caraway seeds have an anise/licorice flavor. Some people love the taste, while others find it pervasive. If in doubt, use less or omit.) Place the pork on top and surround with the apple mixture and kielbasa, if using. Pour in the wine mixture. Cover and cook on low until the pork is fork-tender and shreds easily, 8 to 10 hours. (Note: If your go-to for pork and sauerkraut is the leaner pork loin or chops instead of the shoulder that I use, they will likely be done far sooner.)

Transfer the pork to a carving board, and allow to rest for 10 minutes. If you used thyme sprigs, pick out and discard the stems. Serving option #1: using a sharp knife, cut the pork crosswise into slices about ½-inch thick or shred it with two forks. Place the sauerkraut mixture on a large platter (I use a slotted spoon) and top with the pork. Serving option #2: I often shred the pork right in the slow cooker, mix everything  together, and serve from there over mashed potatoes-with a side of peas.

Oven method: Preheat an oven to 325°F. Cover the bottom of a large Dutch oven with the sauerkraut. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and optional caraway seeds. Place the pork on top and surround with the apple mixture. Pour in the wine mixture. Cover, transfer to the oven and cook until the pork is fork-tender and shreds easily, 4 to 5 hours.

Notes

*Pork shoulder (also referred to as pork butt) is fattier than the pork loin that some people use for pork and sauerkraut. I like the former because it becomes fork tender and is harder to dry out than the leaner loin. If you prefer to use the loin cut, do so but check it early so as not to overcook. The internal temperature of the loin shouldn’t exceed 145℉.

**We enjoy a mix of tart and sweet apples, like Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. If you like the tangy sauerkraut flavor to shine through, lean towards tart apples. Conversely, opt for sweet apples if you prefer to reduce the tang. Recently, I added half the apples, sliced, in the last hour of cooking, which provided a nice mix of texture and flavor.

***Someone recently mentioned to me that she enjoys her sauerkraut crunchy, so she stirs it in at the end. I loved that idea, but to reap full flavor benefitsI added half of the sauerkraut at the beginning, and the other half just before serving, letting it sit a few minutes to warm through. To add yet another layer of texture and interest, I also added about 2-3 cups of thinly sliced green cabbage in the final hour of cooking. The results? I’ve never heard such rave reviews…even from the people who are typically ho-hum about this annual tradition!
***Some people prefer a higher ratio of sauerkraut to pork, especially if they shred the pork and mix it into the sauerkraut for serving. In this case, feel free to use 1½ to 2 times the amount of sauerkraut specified, increasing the brown sugar proportionately.

A few more options:
As mentioned above, some people enjoy the addition of caraway seeds, but those who don’t enjoy this flavor may omit them. Someone once told me that she adds whole peppercorns instead, although some may not like the hard peppercorns lurking in the sauerkraut.
One reader told me that her family likes it when she adds 2 tablespoons of barbecue sauce instead of brown sugar, and that it adds a nice hint of color to the sauerkraut. (If using the optional rub, however, the paprika in it lends appealing color.)
You may serve the apples as is or mash them with a fork, removing the skins, and blending them into the sauerkraut. If you prefer firmer apples, add them midway through the cooking time. If you would like slices, you could add them in the final hour.
For those who appreciate the full-on tanginess of sauerkraut, use tart apples and omit the brown sugar.
I’ve heard from readers and friends who use root beer or apple juice instead of wine or beer for the added sweetness.

Optional spice rub:
For an added layer of flavor, instead of simply salting and peppering the pork, sprinkle the trimmed pork shoulder with the following spice rub, and then cover and refrigerate the roast for up to 24 hours.

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons paprika (I use sweet, not smoked)
1 teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon each dried sage and dried thyme
¼ teaspoon mustard powder

Instructions:
Combine in a small bowl, cover and store at room temperature until ready to use.

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

 

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Comments

  1. Linda Kay Pressley

    Ann,
    Years ago, when my parents were still living, my mother tricked us all with her version of “pork” and sauerkraut. She substituted the pork with skinless, boneless turkey thighs (my father had a heart condition and she tried to lessen his “fatty” meats.) One year, she told us after dinner what she had been doing and we were all surprised! We never would have guessed. Not knowing, we virtually could not tell the difference in texture.

    Reply
  2. Bunny Post author

    Your recipe for the pork & sauerkraut dish was like an omen! Many thanks!! trying it this coming week.
    My question or suggest is how far in advance can items, in general, be prepared? We are seniors & find that an intense day the day before & day of entertaining can be exhausting. Perhaps a recipe could say something like “this dish can be prepared up to 2-3 days ahead of time …& then just heated” or something like that.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      I’m glad the timing was good! Your point is a good one. I try to mention prep ahead tips, how long things keep and when leftovers taste even better than the first time around. That said, I likely miss it sometimes and I may not have mentioned that I think pork and sauerkraut is one of those dishes that improves with age. I like to shred the leftover pork and let it steep in the sauerkraut and pan juices. In terms of how many days in advance you could make this: for best flavor and to take advantage of any leftovers following New Years Day, I’d aim for 1-2 days prior.

      I hope this helps. If you have additional questions please let me know, and I’d love to know how you make out!

      Reply
  3. Sara Bremner

    Hi Ann, do you have any recipes for grain bowls? I would like to try them.
    I hope you and your family have had a wonderful Christmas!
    Blessings to all. Say hi to your folks for me.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Sara! I make grain bowls frequently and have quite a few on this blog. If you search “bowls” or (click on this link: https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/?s=bowls&x=0&y=0), you’ll find them. They can all be mixed and matched quite easily, swapping quinoa or farro for rice, for example, or mixing up the vegetables and dressings. Once you start to make them, you’ll likely find that they are also a great way to use up assorted leftovers. If you have any questions as you look through some of the options, let me know…and I will most definitely say hi to Mom and Dad for you!

      Reply
  4. Bunny Post author

    Happy New Year Ann! Keep that good info coming.

    My store butcher boned & tied my pork shoulder. Based on the info you emailed to me about prepping ahead, I cooked it 3/4 way day before NY day, atop a small amount of the Polish store’s sauerkraut with small bits of kielbasa in it, beautifully seasoned and with 3 golden delicious apples halved. Stored it in the cold garage. Day of cooked on low for 2 hours. Meat sliced perfectly, apples blended in without a masher. Served with frozen petite peas & mashed potatoes. PERFECT.

    Many thanks for your advice & sometimes old cooking habits just click right back in. Timing was wonderful, no rushing day of, much enjoyed. AND some left over for a meal for hubby & me. My Polish family loved it (even if some don’t acknowledge it!! LOL)

    You were right there in my kitchen watching over my shoulder.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Happy New Year, Bunny!

      Thank you for taking the time to follow up. Your description is mouth-watering and I am delighted the suggestions were helpful. It’s a treat to be able to enjoy the festivities of the day and all your guests without feeling tethered to the kitchen. We were likely enjoying our meal as you and your guests were doing the same…and I was most definitely peeking over your shoulder from afar!

      Reply