Photo by Kankana Saxena
If you grew up in parts of Pennsylvania or the Midwest, you may have experienced this tradition firsthand. According to Casey Barber, author of the forthcoming Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats (Ulysses Press), pork with sauerkraut is a staple in any community with a historically prominent Eastern European or German immigrant population. Pork and cabbage symbolize riches and prosperity for a New Year. “The pig,” she adds, “does double duty to stand for progress as a forward-rooting and forward-thinking animal.”
Chef Rebecca Newell, executive chef of The Beehive in Boston, Massachusetts, and a Food Network Chopped champion, makes a pork and sauerkraut stew at her restaurant in line with the tradition of serving it on New Year’s Day. Pigs are a symbol of good luck in Germany, she says. “A family owning a pig meant the family had wealth or at the very least could feed their family, and cabbage is a symbol of good luck, too, with the leaves symbolizing money.”
And if you are craving something sweet to go with the pork and sauerkraut, think marzipan! Austrians consider little pigs made of marzipan lucky and will decorate their dinner tables with the sweet little creatures—and even use them as stocking stuffers at Christmas!
Good Luck Pork and Sauerkraut
By Casey Barber, author of the forthcoming Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats (Ulysses Press)
Total time 4 hours 10 minutes to 6 hours 10 minutes
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 4 to 6 hours
Yield Serves a crowd of revelers
Vegetable oil (optional)
2 pounds pork (shoulder, loin roast, kielbasa, or a combination)
2 pounds sauerkraut, undrained (I use the bagged kind, usually found near the hot dogs in the grocery store)
1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced
1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and diced (Macintosh, Honeycrisp, or any firm variety is excellent)
Mashed potatoes, for serving (optional)
Applesauce, for serving (optional)
Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a skillet (if you’ll be using a slow cooker) or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown the shoulder or loin on all sides. If using kielbasa, cut the sausages in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1-inch-wide half-moons. No need to brown them, just put in the Dutch oven or slow cooker.
Add the sauerkraut, including the brine, onion, and apple to the meat in the Dutch oven. You may need to add up to 2 cups water if your kraut is fairly dry. Bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook low and slow for 3 to 4 hours, checking occasionally and adding water if it starts to dry out.
If using a slow cooker, combine the meat, sauerkraut and brine, onion, and apple in the cooker, cover, and cook on high for 6 hours. (You shouldn’t have to add any liquid.)
When done, the kielbasa will have darkened significantly and the pork will be fork-tender and falling off the bone or separating from the fat. Using two forks, shred the pork into bite-sized pieces and discard any bones and large chunks of fat.
Serve in bowls over mashed potatoes, or with applesauce on the side, if desired.
Monica Bhide is the author of “Modern Spice” (Simon & Schuster, 2009).