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

  1. 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.


More recipes at FountainAvenueKitchen.com