I remember the first time I ever cooked. It was in my parents’ much smaller old house and I was 6 years old. It was a cool and cloudy autumn day and my father and I pulled some carrots from the garden. I don’t recall how I peeled and cut them them, but my dad showed me how. My mom simply steamed them and then put a little salted butter on them. We ate them with dinner and I remember vividly the excitement while waiting for them to finish and I remember how incredibly fulfilling it was to eat something I’d made.
That’s the power food has over us! A little taste or scent can release a whole torrent of memories. I thought about those carrots today as I peeled the ones I used in these pork ribs and sauerkraut. The carrots are a very small component of the dish, but the rising fragrance of the earthy carrots sent me on a one-way ticket down memory lane.
I’m not expecting you to have a full-fledged Proustian moment when you make this, but I couldn’t help it with this dish. My dad has been making these pork ribs and sauerkraut for years. It’s a standard, homespun dish typical in Eastern-Europe and even into Germany. The ribs are buried in sauerkraut, bolstered by potatoes, and roasted until the meat tenderly falls off of the bone. It’s a wonderful alternative to those thickly-sauced and glazed American BBQ style ribs.
It’s a very simple dish with a big return– tender pieces of pork, flavorful sauerkraut, and luscious potatoes all at once within grasp on the table. It’s a wonderful thing to make in autumn or winter when the ambient heat from the oven makes the house a little warmer and the idea of a big-effort meal is simply not an option.
Pork Ribs and Sauerkraut
The best thing to roast this in— and it what my father always uses– is an enamel turkey-roasting pan. It is large with tall sides and a life. If you do not have one, don’t worry– any large and tall baking dish will do, a covering of aluminum foil will substitute for a lid perfectly. This is a traditional dish of Eastern Europe and there are as many different recipes for it as there are who make it; it’s good with frozen peas stirred in, mushrooms, anything! The paprika is optional, but it does add a wonderful flavor and beautiful color.
- 3-3 1/2 pound rack of pork ribs
- 1 medium onion
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 large carrot
- 1 tablespoon best-quality Hungarian paprika (optional)
- 4-6 cups of low salt/sodium chicken stock
- 22 lb. bags of sauerkraut– or, of course, 4 pounds of sauerkraut. Make sure it is an unflavored variety
- 3 lbs. of red skinned potatoes, washed and cut into quarterssalt– as needed
- 3 tbs. oil
- If you want to add the second meal, we would recommend you to make homemapde pasta (check out WannaPasta.Com)
Preheat the oven to 350. Peel the carrot. Grate the carrot, celery, and onion. You can do it by hand, but I just pop them through the grating attachment on my food processor and it takes all but two minutes. Put the oil in the largest skillet or pot you have and set it over medium heat. When the oil is heated, place the rack of ribs meaty-side down. It might look a little comical with the furthest extremes sticking out of the pan if the rack is long, but what we want is as much of it crisp and golden as we can. Once the meat is nice and seared, carefully lift it out of the pan and place it in the roasting dish. Add the grated vegetables to the hot skillet and stir around to deglaze the pan.
While the pork is frying, you’ll need to rinse the sauerkraut unless you like very sour sauerkraut. I happen to enjoy the tang as does my Aunt Trish, but most people enjoy it a little milder. Simply pour all the sauerkraut into a colander you’ve set up in the sink. Rinse it under cold running water for about 10 seconds.
Try a shred of the sauerkraut
– if you’re content with the tartness, continue on
– if you would like it milder, rinse for another ten seconds. Once the pan has been deglazed, sprinkle in a tablespoon of salt and the paprika if using and stir to combine. Pour in the freshly rinsed sauerkraut and stir to ensure the the vegetable-paprika mix is evenly dispersed. try a bite of the sauerkraut
– it should be salted enough that you would eat it like that.
This recipe takes a lot of salt between the meat and the potatoes, but to avoid oversalting you must sample it at this stage. Add more salt, if needed. Heat the sauerkraut through, but do not fry it. Place half the sauerkraut in the roasting dish around the rack of ribs. Add in the potatoes around the ribs and on top of the sauerkraut. Use the rest of the sauerkraut to cover the potatoes and the ribs. Pour in the chicken stock. You should pour in just enough that the liquid level is just below the surface, but not above. Cover with a lid (or a layer of foil) and carefully (it’s heavy!) place the whole thing in the oven. Reduce the heat to 300 and let it roast for about 3-4 hours.
The meat should cook relatively quickly, but don’t be tempted to eat it until it’s tender. it’s done with a butter knife can slice through the meat of the ribs easily and a fork effortlessly remove the meat from the bone.