Sunday, January 1, 2012

Pork and Sauerkraut

About an hour ago, I just put our traditional New Year's meal of pork and sauerkraut in the slow cooker, along with some kielbasa.  My family has eaten this every New Year's Day my whole life, and since moving out I continue the tradition - although I think my mom cooks her's in the oven.

Funny, when you're a kid growing up, you never question traditions or wonder where they came from, or consider that the whole world doesn't do the same thing.  You eat pork and sauerkraut for dinner New Year's Day, end of story.  The only thing I knew was that, ideally, we would have eaten it as our very first meal right after the clock struck midnight to maximize our good luck for the upcoming year, but that would have been a logistical nightmare for my mom, and who wants to eat pork and sauerkraut right before bedtime?  Hellooo, heartburn!

Now, I obviously realize that there are different foods and traditions that other folks use to ring in the New Year.  One that my dad enjoys retelling is how, right after midnight, his mother would send the oldest boy out of the house, have him knock on the door and re-enter.  This was because it was considered good luck for the first visitor of the new year to be a tall, dark-haired man.  And while I know my uncle now to be neither particularly tall nor dark-haired, I guess he was the best they had to work with.

In any case, according to Good Food Stories (which actually looks really interesting and I think I'll explore it a little more), pork and sauerkraut is a traditional New Year's meal not just in Pennsylvania, but also across Ohio, West Virginia, and other places with a strong Eastern European and German influence.  The long threads of the sauerkraut are supposed to give you a long life.  Then, according to this website, "Pennsylvania Dutch superstition says that eating pork brings good luck because a pig roots forward to look for its food, while chickens scratch backward and cows stand still."

And, like Good Food Stories suggests, I will also dump the whole mess on a pile of mashed potatoes.

Speaking of, I thought I'd share the recipe I've sort of crafted for my slow cooker pork and sauerkraut.  And when I say crafted, I mean this is how I improvised the recipe this year based on recipes I've used in the past and what I ended up having around.  Crockpot cooking is very forgiving.  :-)

Tracie's New Year's Pork and Sauerkraut with Kielbasa

1 to 1 1/2 pounds pork loin chops
garlic pepper to taste
2 TBSP vegetable oil
2 packages kielbasa
1 small onion
1 quart sauerkraut
3 TBSP caraway seeds
12 oz (1 bottle) beer (can also use apple cider or hard apple cider)

Start off heating 2 TBSP vegetable oil in a skillet to brown the pork chops.  I use a cast iron skillet, but anything else should work fine.  Browning meat is like making pancakes - you want the skillet to be hot enough that a drop of water dances a second or two before evaporating.  Meanwhile, cut the pork chops into whatever size serving you want - I went with about 2-3 oz pieces - and season to taste with garlic pepper (or improvise with your favorite).

Brown the chops about 2 minutes on each side to sear the outside.

iPhone pictures don't always make food look appetizing.

Place the pork chops in the bottom of your slow cooker.  

I tried something new this year:  after I removed the chops from the pan, I poured in enough sauerkraut "juice" to cover the bottom of the pan, and stirred it around quickly to deglaze it.  I then poured the yummy-ness over the chops in the Crockpot.  I don't know if it will make a difference, but it will make the skillet easier to clean.

Cut the kielbasa into 1-3 inch pieces, depending on your preference, and throw those in the slow cooker, too.

Slice the onion into about half inch slices, then quarter each slice.  Toss those in slow cooker, too.

By now, things should kinda look like this:

I put in some sauerkraut before I remembered I wanted to take a picture.
Dump the sauerkraut on top, distributing it all over the mess.  
Cool, huh?  Got it at the Baltimore Food Co-Op.

Don't worry about stirring it in - you actually want the pork to sit on the bottom, since it's the only thing that really needs to cook.  Sprinkle about 3 TBSP caraway seeds over the whole mess.

Then, pour in a bottle of beer.  I prefer to use something a little sweet to cut the tartness of the sauerkraut.  Of course, this also depends on what we happen to have on hand.  This year, it was Shiner's Holiday Cheer.

We actually didn't love this beer that much - it had a lot of spice flavor without much beer flavor, which I think actually makes it perfect for the pork and sauerkraut. So, pour that on top of everything.  You don't have to stir this, either, but I did - I couldn't help myself. 

So, here you go:

Then, about 6-7 hours on low.  I started it on high for about an hour since I got a late start.  :-)

What foods do you eat for luck on New Year's?