Between the Turkey and the Big Green "C"
Probably most of you dear readers will be having turkey this Thanksgiving. And many of you might opt for a savory, if pricey, roast beef as the centerpiece of your Christmas dinner. Lucky devils.
Thus you might be searching for something you can cook for family and company before or after these two big feeds. How about something different and one with a warming “winter-is- coming” feel—a meal that doesn’t cost the earth, is easy to produce, can (and should) be made ahead, and also doesn’t include the two items I mentioned in the first line?
A Humble Suggestion
Here’s a dish that combines one-pot easy with distinctive flavors. One thing I’d advise right up front: if you don’t have them, scout out some inexpensive shallow soup plates (eight- to ten-inch) for serving. You’ll use them ever after for all kinds of chili, spaghetti, stews, composed salads, and the like, and they are so much more elegant than cereal bowls. (You need the slightly rounded coupe shape to hold the liquid.)
This is a variation on a recipe from that towering culinary genius the late James Beard. I have made a version of this winner countless times. Yes, it is a type of goulash, but I hope I’ve lifted it out of the ordinary. (Beard loved the idea of a warming goulash-style dish. Another favorite of mine from Jim is his layered casserole of ham, kielbasa, canned white and cannellini beans topped with bacon strips and bread crumbs and laced with cognac. It’s a snap to put together and perhaps I’ll include it in a future column.) Anyway, here’s a good recipe to have on hand now.
Pork and Sauerkraut Goulash
Sauerkraut was one of Jim Beard’s favorite ingredients—and mine, too. Since my dad loved pork in all its forms, mom featured kraut a lot to accompany the chops or roasts.
I vaguely knew that cabbage was a major crop up north of the Twin Tiers somewhere, and then I came face to face with the extensive farms several years ago. I was reconnoitering the back roads of the area to the east of Rochester along the shore of Lake Ontario to enjoy the beauty of the orchards during apple blossom season; then I headed south to the area around Phelps, New York, where I found myself passing farmland lushly planted with cabbage. Those little leaves would soon get a “head.” (Sorry, can’t help myself.)
You can still see these sights, although both the Silver Floss and the Seneca brand canners of kraut are just a fairly recent memory; Silver Floss has moved west to become Great Lakes Kraut (part of Birdseye) and Seneca was eventually sold to Comstock foods and canning stopped north of us in the 1980s.
Gone but not forgotten is the watchword in Phelps as, each year around the first of August, the town throws a Sauerkraut Festival. It started in the heyday of the canning plants in 1967 as a one-day affair. Now it has blossomed into a four-day event. If you Google “Phelps” you can easily find out more. Meanwhile, let’s get cooking.
Dutch Oven at the Ready?
Here is my version of Beard’s Goulash recipe:
- 4 to 5 slices thick-cut bacon cut in 1-inch pieces
- 3 pounds lean pork shoulder, cut in 11⁄2 to 2-inch cubes
- 3 large onions (yellow or white), chopped
- 1 Tbsp. sweet or hot (or a little of each) imported Hungarian paprika (make sure it is still potent)
- 2 green (yes, green) bell peppers, peeled with a sharp peeler, then seeded and cut in thin strips
- 1⁄2 large (or 1 small) bay leaf
- 1 c. dry white wine or chicken stock or water
- 11⁄2 c. canned Italian plum tomatoes
- 2 lbs. sauerkraut (I prefer the bagged variety [fresh kraut is best], well-rinsed and drained [wring out in a tea towel or your impeccably clean hands])
- 1⁄4 c. gin or a teaspoon of juniper berries (optional)
- A few caraway seeds (optional)
- Salt, freshly ground pepper
- 1 c. sour cream or yogurt
- Buttered noodles for serving
Add the bacon to a 5-quart oven-safe Dutch oven or large seasoned cast-iron skillet, and sauté until most of the fat is rendered. Remove cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towel.
Dry the cubes of pork with more paper towels and add to the hot fat a few pieces at a time (don’t crowd the pan). Turn the pieces with tongs as you cook, until the meat is lightly brown. Remove to a bowl and brown the rest of the pork in the same way.
Add the onion to the now empty pan and sauté, tossing, until limp (the onions, not you). Mix the paprika with the wine and stir this into the onions, scraping up the residue in the bottom of the pan to dissolve it. Then add the green peppers and bay leaf. Coarsely crush the tomatoes with your hand and add to the pot. Lastly, add the rinsed and drained sauerkraut, the optional gin, and caraway seed, if using.
Stir the pan contents and taste for salt. You may not need much, as the kraut will still be salty. Add a good sprinkle of fresh ground pepper, cover the pan, and bring to the simmer on the stovetop. (You could pop the pan in a preheated 325-degree oven or at a temperature that will just maintain a simmer—ovens vary.) Let this purr away for about an hour or until the meat is very tender.
Serve it forth or...cool the pan to room temperature with the lid askew and then refrigerate for a day or two. Remove to a heat-resistant bowl if using an uncoated cast-iron pan. (With an enamel-coated pan it’s okay to pop the covered pan in the fridge.) The flavors will blend nicely.
Next day—or later on the same day—reheat in a low oven set at about 275-degrees. When the goulash reaches serving temperature, spoon it over hot buttered noodles and daub the sour cream or yogurt over the top of the goulash or, alternatively, fold the cream into the goulash and make sure it doesn’t boil.
Use a bit of the reserved crisp bacon to top each serving.
Beard rightly called this dish “Middle European.” I call it delicious and warming. And a good local craft beer is the ideal accompaniment.