Sunday, July 22, 2012

Slovenian Dinner Week 19: Roast Sauerkraut to Knock Your Socks Off

Roast Sauerkraut
Grilled Kielbasa (a klobase substitute, in a pinch!)

My husband had picked up a jar of organic sauerkraut at a local market.  So I decided to make it the centerpiece of this week's dinner.

I had enjoyed the sauerkraut many times at the Slovenian Hall in San Francisco.  I'd even been the official sauerkraut server in the buffet line at a recent dinner.  It was always rich and brown, and it appeared to be oven-baked.  I wondered if there was a special trick to it.

My vintage cookbooks had plenty of references to sausage and pork dishes served with sauerkraut, boiled or roasted.  But not one of them bothered to give a recipe.  It was probably one of those things a Slovenian cook just knew.

The Slovenian government's tourist website had a recipe for roast sauerkraut that looked intriguing.  The seasonings (caraway seeds, juniper berries, and white wine) sounded lovely.  But the recipe seemed pretty heavy on meat and fat. About four ounces each of bacon and ham, plus four tablespoons of zaseka, a bacon-and-lard mix, for less than eight ounces of sauerkraut!

So I skipped the ham and forgot about trying to duplicate the zaseka.  To boost the flavor, I added an onion.  For the seasonings, I had to guess at the quantities.

So here is what I came up with:

1 large onion, diced
4 oz. thick bacon, cut up (I used Applewood)
8 oz 16 oz (2+ cups) good quality sauerkraut, drained
5 juniper berries
1 t. caraway seeds
1/2 t. peppercorns, whole
1/4 c. white wine
olive oil

Brown bacon and onion in heavy frying pan, adding a little olive oil if needed.  Add sauerkraut and continue to brown.  Add remaining ingredients and cook for a few minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt if needed.  Put sauerkraut in an earthenware dish and bake in 350 degree oven for 30-60 minutes, or until sufficiently browned.

While I watched over the sauerkraut, my husband grilled up some sausage on the trusty Le Creuset grill.  We didn't have any Slovenian klobase on hand, so we used the next best thing.  Polish kielbasa.

Since you never can have too much cabbage, at least in a Slovenian meal, we added some coleslaw to round out the dinner:

The verdict:  The best sauerkraut I have ever had, with a robust, complex flavor that you have to taste to appreciate.  And it was plenty rich, even with my trimmed-down approach.  Next time, I might even add a little more sauerkraut.  (And I would probably crack those peppercorns.)

Slovenia might have the world's best take on sauerkraut.  It could even rival potica as the national dish.

2022 UPDATE:  No wonder I noted that the dish was so rich I could have used more sauerkraut! I may have miscalculated and used too little the first time. A one pound container of sauerkraut comes out to 2 cups. The correction is noted above. This time, I topped the sauerkraut with a tasty local garlic chicken sausage and baked it all in the same pan. Still delicious and even easier! 

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