Sauerkraut For Luck, and Because It Is Good
We always ate sauerkraut and pork on New Year’s Day. This probably has something to do with folks from Germany settling in Ohio (where I was raised) and Pennsylvania (where my parents grew up).
The sauerkraut symbolizes luck and prosperity for the year to come. The pork is served because pigs root forward for their food, indicating forward motion into the new year. Apparently it’s bad luck to eat poultry on January 1st, and especially chicken, because chickens scratch backward for their food, and who wants to be doing that?
I don’t really buy into any of this (though I find myself wondering if the year we had turkey kielbasa with our sauerkraut had anything to do with the outcome of that particular year). But each year, I make sure we have a can of sauerkraut on the shelf.
My sauerkraut success has been varied. Depending on the shenanigans of the previous night, sometimes we’ve opened the can around 10:00 p.m. I’ve eaten it cold. I’ve cooked it in the crock pot with pork, and on the stove top with various types of sausage. I’ve never hated sauerkraut, but I’ve never loved it either. Until now.
New Year’s is one of my favorite holidays, but I try not to take it too seriously. I understand that’s why many people hate the thought of New Year’s Eve. There is a certain amount of pressure, if you allow yourself to go there, to be in just the right place, and the right time, wearing the right thing, with the right people (or person), especially at midnight. But though I do like to dress up a little (even if we’re staying in), I’ve learned to embrace the evening with minimal fuss.
Here are my favorite things about New Year’s Eve:
- It’s an excuse to dress up, even if that just means throwing on a pair of stilettos with my best (read, $17 from Target) jeans.
- It’s the only time I drink champagne, and I always have fun. Sometimes, in our Chicago years, when we were feeling flush, we’d buy Veuve Clicquot and pretend we were rich. This year, new to Cleveland and awaiting my first paycheck, we bought a couple of cheap bottles (we’re talking under $10) from Trader Joe’s and recognized that we weren’t rich, at least in the financial sense. It doesn’t matter. It’s bubbly.
- No matter where we go, or what we do, we end up at home listening to records into the wee hours of the morning. This year, inspired by a trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the soundtrack was Elvis, Carl Perkins, Billboard’s best of the ’50s, and Bee Gees Greatest Hits (BEFORE Saturday Night Fever days – it’s a great album, trust me!). I never get tired of dancing under the disco ball to great music, even if it’s just the two of us.
- And the #1 reason…It’s a new start, meaning that ANYTHING is possible. Maybe this year I’ll finally start exercising, lose weight, achieve the perfect work-life balance, be kind to myself and others, stop worrying, run a 5K, learn how to make gravy, remember to play with the cats every day, quit smoking, reduce my alcohol consumption, slow down, visit my family more, be less of a slob, keep in touch with old friends, believe in random acts of kindness, and remember wash my face every night before I crash. It’s not about the expectations, and it’s not about pressure. It’s the fact that, on January 1st, these things could happen. And maybe some of them actually will.
But back to sauerkraut.
This is an adaptation of a recipe I found a few years ago on epicurious.com. It’s a stovetop version, and after my tweaks, can be made in one pot. Though caramelizing the onions definitely adds some time to the overall effort, I think it’s well worth it.
I firmly believe you could make this with pork kielbasa, beef kielbasa (which is what we used this year), turkey kielbasa (if you can get past the New Years Poultry issue) or veggie dogs. If you go the vegetarian route especially, you’ll just need to add some olive oil and butter to your pot before you cook the onions.
The Recipe: Sauerkraut and Kielbasa (adapted from a recipe on epicurious.com)
Other Menu Items: Mashed Potatoes and chunky applesauce (Chris made the potatoes…for 7 large taters, he added about 2 TB butter, 2 TB cream cheese and 2 TB heavy cream, plus a bunch of secret seasonings that I can’t remember. They were to die for.) I’d love to add a green salad and some sourdough bread for the perfect meal, but I just ran out of time.
Cooking It Up:
If you have a cast iron dutch oven, it works beautifully for this recipe. If not, that’s ok too…a large pot will work as well.
Slice 1 to 2 pounds of your favorite kielbasa or vegetarian sausage links. In a large pot, brown the slices in two batches so you don’t crowd the meat. If you’re using turkey or veggie kielbasa, you might need to heat a little olive oil first, since it won’t have as much fat. Remove the slices to a bowl and set aside.
The next step is to caramelize the onions in the fat from the kielbasa. You want somewhere between 2 and 3 TB of fat, so depending on what’s in your pot, you might need to pour some out, or add some butter and olive oil. Thinly slice 2 large onions and add them to the pot over low heat, along with 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard, 1 1/2 tsp dill and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook over low heat until soft, stirring periodically so the onions don’t stick. Increase the heat slightly and cover the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are very tender and nicely browned, about 15 minutes more. If the onions stick, lower the heat a bit. Add 1 tart apple, peeled and chopped, 8 peppercorns and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Stir and cook for another couple of minutes.
Add one 27-oz can sauerkraut, drained (and rinsed, if you prefer). I use the regular variety, not the Bavarian, because caraway seeds aren’t a huge favorite in my house. In fact, this particular batch was made with a can that cost $1 at Dave’s Market. But I’m sure the Bavarian would work nicely, if you like that kind of thing. Stir in 1 cup dark beer and 3 bay leaves. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Add the browned kielbasa slices. Cover and simmer another 20 minutes. Taste, and adjust seasonings if necessary. You want it to taste like a melding of all the flavors, with no specific ingredient dominating. Discard bay leaves and serve hot.
I’m looking forward to the leftovers. And, for the first time, sauerkraut may have a regular place on my winter table. After all, good luck doesn’t have to be reserved for New Year’s, does it?
Until next time,