In honor of Germany’s World Cup win last Sunday, we’re featuring a truly German food: sauerkraut! The recipe this week is Never Enough Pork Beer-Braised Sauerkraut and it is perfect for a hearty, German feast. You might be surprised to find however, that sauerkraut did not originate in Germany or anywhere in Europe. Its roots grow out of the East.
As we discussed in our blog about the adzuki bean, ancient fare often comprised some of the healthiest and most nutrient-packed foods. Raw and fermented foods, full of healing probiotics, were common in ancient civilizations. Sauerkraut is one such dish and was a staple item in the diet of an unlikely civilization. The exact date is unknown, but it is said that around 300 BCE, horsemen from China and Mongolia discovered how to preserve cabbage in brine. This recipe spread throughout China and rice wine became the preferred method of fermentation. The fermented cabbage was nutritious and could be stored for long periods of time. It was even used to feed the workers on the Great Wall.
Over 1,000 years later in the 13th century CE, Genghis Kahn’s sons and grandsons carried his empire into Europe, invading and conquering much of Eastern Europe and even attempting to capture Germany and Poland. They brought with them their customs and traditions that would leave lasting impacts on the cultures they ruled. Sauerkraut was perhaps one of their most successful transplants, taking hold throughout much of their European Empire. Interestingly, it became most popular in Germany and Poland, which the Mongols never actually conquered.
Today, sauerkraut is enjoyed throughout the world in various forms, but the Germans have truly perfected the dish as well as the recipes in which it is an integral part. The Never Enough Pork Beer-Braised Sauerkraut pairs sauerkraut with some of the most mouth-watering German meats including kielbasa, bratwurst and knockwurst to create a meal steeped in German flavor, but hearkening all the way back to ancient China.
Emeril’s Never Enough Pork Beer-Braised Sauerkraut
*Recipe courtesy of The Food Network.
- 2 pounds of fresh or jarred sauerkraut
- 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter or duck, chicken or goose fat
- 1/4 pound of apple-cured bacon, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
- 3 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of black peppercorns
- 8 juniper berries, lightly crushed
- 1 head of garlic, split in 1/2 crosswise
- 2 ham hocks, scored
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 2 cups of dark or amber beer
- 1 pound of Andouille or garlic sausage, kielbasa or knockwurst, cut into 3-inch lengths
- 1 pound of bratwurst or veal sausage, cut into 3-inch lengths
- 4 thin boneless smoked pork chops (or 8 very small boneless smoked pork chops)
- Creole, whole-grain or Dijon mustard, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Place the sauerkraut in a colander and rinse briefly to remove some of the salt from the brine—don’t rinse it too much, or you will lose a lot of the flavor. (Alternatively, if the sauerkraut is not excessively salty, use as is.)
- Press to release most of the excess liquid and set aside.
- In a large nonreactive skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat and add the bacon. Cook until most of the fat is rendered, about 4 minutes.
- Add the onions and continue to cook until they are soft but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Transfer the bacon-onion mixture to a nonreactive roasting pan or large ovenproof Dutch oven.
- Add the drained sauerkraut and toss to combine.
- Using a small piece of cheesecloth, make a bouquet garni with the thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, juniper berries and garlic and place in the baking dish.
- Add the ham hocks, chicken stock and beer and stir to combine.
- Cover the casserole and bake, undisturbed, until ham hocks are mostly tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Meanwhile, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over high heat and brown the sausages on both sides. Set aside. Brown the pork chops and set aside.
- When the hocks are mostly tender, remove the casserole from the oven.
- Place the sausages on top of the sauerkraut. If the liquid has reduced to less than 2/3, add a bit more water.
- Cover the casserole and return it to the oven. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the sausages are tender and heated through.
- Add the pork chops and press them into the sauerkraut. Cover and return to the oven and cook until pork chops are heated through and tender, about 30 minutes longer.
- Remove the casserole from the oven and discard the bouquet garni.
- Serve immediately, with each person receiving some of each of the sausages, part of a hock, part of a pork chop and some of the sauerkraut. Pass the mustard at the table.