Happy New Year!
The holiday season is coming to a close. It’s been an exhausting, complicated, emotional and rewarding year. But as it’s the first of January, it’s time to put 2010 behind us, and in my family that means upholding a very special tradition: Roast Pork and Sauerkraut. As far back as I can remember, my mother has cooked this dish on New Year’s Day. The dish is very German, so it’s no surprise that it ended up a part of Pennsylvania Deutch tradition. Families all over Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia carry on the tradition today, the same way that cooks across the South make black-eyed peas to ring in the New Year.
The dish itself is said to be symbolic. The pork of course honors the pig, who forages forward and never looks back, reminding us to look forward into the new year and not dwell in our past. The sauerkraut represents prosperity (cabbage being an old slang word for cash) and longevity (the long, thin strips of kraut remind us of a long life line). Historically, the first kraut of the season made from the late fall harvest of cabbages would have been ready to eat around early January, making it fitting with this time of year. But most importantly its completely delicious. Like most peasant dishes, this recipe is open to wide adaptation. Most families cook this dish in a crockpot, but I think they’re missing out on the beautiful caramelization and varieties of textures that oven roasting provides. I’m fairly certain my family’s original recipe had just 4 ingredients: pork, kraut, jelly, and caraway seeds. Over the past few years mine has evolved a little bit to soften the acridness of the kraut and elevate the flavors of the dish. Ok, enough chatter, let’s get to it already!
Roast Pork Shoulder with Sauerkraut
3-4lb pork shoulder roast **
2 lbs sauerkraut, well drained
1 onion, sliced
1 golden delicious apple, peeled cored and sliced
1 asian pear, peeled cored and sliced (or swap in 2 more apples)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsps caraway seeds
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2/3 cup apricot or currant jelly (or a mix of leftover jams, ideally no sweet berries)
1/3 cup apple butter (or 1/2 cup apple sauce)
1/2 cup white wine or sparkling apple cider
1 cup chicken broth (or water, or kraut juice if you just can’t get enough of it)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Generously season your pork roast with kosher salt and pepper. Set aside on the counter for about 30 minutes to take some of the chill off it.
In a large skillet, saute the onions over medium-high heat. When the onions start to soften, add in the asian pear and apple slices and sprinkle over brown sugar and a big pinch of salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook until lightly caramelized all over.
In a large dutch oven (or a tall sided roasting pan), combine the sauteed onion mixture with the sauerkraut. Make sure the bottom of the pan is completely covered and heap the rest of the mixture along the outside to create a nest. Sprinkle the outside rim with caraway seeds, then nestle the pork roast into the center. Spread on the jam mixture, dotting some around the kraut. Pour in the wine or sparkling cider and place it uncovered into the hot oven for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes the pork should have a nice caramelized crust.
Reduce heat to 325 degrees, add in the broth just to keep the bottom of the pan from getting too dry. Place the cover on the pan, or seal off the top with a double layer of aluminum foil and return to the oven for 2-3 hours, until the pork is tender and pulls apart easily.
Allow the pork to rest for 15 minutes before slicing into 1/2 inch thick pieces. This is a very fatty cut of pork and despite the long cooking time it will not all render out. You’ll have to eat around some of this excess fat, but this is what makes the meat so succulent and tender. Serve overtop the kraut with mashed potatoes and peas on the side.
Here’s to a wonderful, healthful, prosperous and delicious New Year!
** As a leaner alternative, you can use a pork loin roast. Brown in a hot oven per the recipe, but then once covered only cook until the pork reaches 145 degrees internally, which will take about 1 hour. I’ve also made a scaled down variation of the dish using pork chops to serve 2-3 people. You’ll want to halve the entire recipe for this version. Quickly sear the porkchops in the pan before proceeding with the onions. Glaze the chops and roast them over the kraut, uncovered, in a 375 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes until the pork hits an internal temp of 145 degrees.