She called the stew Krauts. I remember wrinkling my nose because I was no fan of sauerkraut, which I associated with hot dogs. But I always gave my grandmother the benefit of the doubt when it came to the kitchen. I had so much trust in her I was willing to (at least) taste everything she made.
My grandparents were poor. They cut corners wherever they could. My grandfather foraged for mushrooms that my grandmother sauteed as a topping for her delicious polenta, when polenta wasn’t a nouvelle cuisine appetizer but a simple peasant meal. He hunted for the rabbit in her stew. He fished for the perch she’d coat in cornmeal and fry without a trace of greasiness.
But this sauerkraut thing…I wasn’t sure. My mouth puckered just thinking about the vinegary taste I’d never liked. She explained that the krauts absorbed the flavor of the meat and tenderized it, and the sharp taste I was used to was tempered by the juices.
I thought this was a recipe she created, but when I became an adult, I realized it was most likely an adaptation of the Alsatian dish called Choucroute. My grandmother was French Canadian, so it made sense. [Kathie Lee Gifford shared her father’s favorite meal when she was still co-hosting the TODAY Show and I was surprised to see it was a version of my grandmother’s dish. Here’s a link to that recipe: http://www.today.com/food/kathie-lee-shares-her-dads-favorite-recipe-pork-sauerkraut-t26451]
I make this hearty stew in the winter. It tastes even better reheated. It might not be for everyone, but for me, if I close my eyes before I take a bite, I can see my grandmother in her worn homemade apron standing in front of the stove, stirring the krauts, my only special request any time I visited. I miss her, but the taste of this dish brings her close.
1 large can or jar or package of sauerkraut (32 ounces)
32 ounces of water (see recipe)
1/2 lb. of bacon, chopped into small pieces
1 package of pork chops (thicker works better)
3-4 sweet Italian sausages or the equivalent in bulk (or, less to taste)
FOR THE ROUX:
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2-3 tablespoons of Wondra or flour, dissolved in hot water
Brown half-pound cut up bacon (small pieces) in a large soup pot or dutch oven. Once the bacon is rendered, add 1 package of pork chops [bone-in adds flavor, but it doesn’t matter. NOTE: Thinner, boneless pork chops may dry out over the two hour cooking time, so be careful], 3 or 4 sweet Italian sausages or loose sausage (your call), black pepper to taste (don’t need salt because of the bacon) and brown the meat in bacon fat.
Once meat is browned, add one jar of sauerkraut to pot (don’t have to drain), then fill jar with water, and add to pot. Cook sauerkraut and meat for 2 hours (apprx.) on low heat or till meat is fork tender. Remove pork chops and sausage, cut into small bite-size pieces; remove bones, return to pot. If you use bulk sausage, no cutting necessary. The pork chops will be fork tender so you will probably be able to cut them without removing from pot.
In a small frying pan, simmer 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add half stick butter, melt. Then add 2-3 tablespoons of Wondra (or flour dissolved in hot water) and simmer till the mixture turns golden brown (you’re making a roux). Add mixture to sauerkraut to thicken; this might take an additional 5-10 minutes of simmering, then serve like a stew. (if it doesn’t thicken satisfactorily, make more roux and add again)
An option is to serve the sauerkraut over mashed potatoes — I don’t, but you can.
When leftovers cool, you may want to skim off some of the fat.
This will probably serve four to six people.
This is one of those dishes that tastes great reheated.
[Full disclosure…you might want to open a window or use your stove’s exhaust fan while you are cooking this because sauerkraut is cabbage, and there’s nothing you can do to change how it smells when it cooks]
Here’s a recipe for Choucroute: https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2017/01/choucroute-garnie-alsatian-braised-sauerkraut-meat-sausage-recipe.html