I grew up in Pennsylvania where food traditions are embedded in a serious and delicious way. I wrote more about it here.
The Pennsylvania Dutch food influence is so strong that you can guarantee that every single household in the area I’m from will be cooking the same exact dish. Pork and sauerkraut will either be on top of the stove, in the oven or in a crock pot. And, mashed potatoes will be somewhere in the kitchen often with apple sauce. It’s all so perfect together. It was the best way to start the new year on a cold day and it is served for good luck because cabbage represents prosperity (money) and pigs dig forward not backwards.
I’m not German or Swiss, but having been raised on this kind of food (next to my own Italian heritage), I feel a kindred spirit to the many dishes that make Pennsylvania one of the best food states in America, especially for delicious farm food.
If you have never had pork and sauerkraut, I hope I can open up your taste buds to a true delight of comfort food. Sauerkraut is good for the gut, as is all fermented food. Did you know that sauerkraut is considered a SUPER food with numerous health benefits. It’s perfect companion might be the hot dog for some, but I love it with pork that falls off the bone.
We always baked our sauerkraut in the oven with apples and onions and a little garlic, which gives sauerkraut a distinctive and balanced flavor. And my secret ingredient is fennel pollen. Many of the recipes I’ve read regard cloves as an important ingredient, but I find cloves a bit too overpowering. The fennel pollen, however, is quite complimentary to the pork. Fennel pollen is a special ingredient and a good substitute is the more easily available fennel seed which can be toasted in a frying pan and then ground in a magic bullet or with pestle and mortar.
The SKINNY here is the cut of lean pork used yields very little fat and calories and sauerkraut itself is almost calorie free. Using boneless country ribs, and a dutch oven, this is a guilt free, yet hearty enough dish to start the new year off on the right foot.
I used bags of silver floss sauerkraut which is what I had growing up. Avoid the canned.
To make it leaner than usual, I used lean, boneless country ribs. If I was going for more flavor, I would use a pork butt. The fat in a pork butt yields a more tender roast, but with a lot more calories. I built my flavors with garlic, onion, shallots, and fennel pollen.
After the meat was browned on top of the stove, it was put in a dutch oven with sauerkraut, apples, shallots, onions and garlic and chicken broth. It was placed in the oven at 325 for four hours.
Once the pork was tender (in this case a slow cook of four hours), I placed it under the broiler for 5 minutes topped with a few thinly sliced apples.
Serve with homemade mashed potatoes and applesauce. This is a much leaner version that what I grew up with. Our pork and sauerkraut usually came with dumplings, but I’ll leave that to the farm folks that deserve to eat that way because they work so hard. This is the meal for New Year’s Day that rings in luck in the community. Tell me what foods do you have to eat on New Year’s Day to ensure a good year.
Pennsylvania Dutch Pork and Sauerkraut, A Lighter Version
- 2 pounds lean boneless country ribs
- 6 garlic cloves
- fennel pollen to sprinkle on meat or 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds divided.
- olive oil
- 2 bags silver floss sauerkraut
- 1 large or 2 small apples
- 1 medium onion
- 2 shallots
- apple cider vinegar
- chicken broth
- sea salt pepper
- Fry garlic cloves in enough olive oil to cover large dutch oven or frying pan. Remove garlic.
- Sprinkle pork with salt, pepper and fennel pollen or ground fennel seed. If you can't find fennel pollen, take fennel seeds and toast in a frying pan, and then grind in magic bullet or use a pestle and mortar. Use just enough to sprinkle meat to season.
- Brown on both sides. Put into the oven at 325 and bake for 30 minutes. Rinse sauerkraut in cold water and quickly drain. This removes some of the sodium and is an option.
- Add in two tablespoons apple cider vinegar, chopped apples, onions, shallots, remaining garlic cut in half only, salt and pepper.
- Cover pork with sauerkraut and add one cup chicken broth.
- Cover and bake for 3 hours or until pork is fork tender. Don't let the pot get dry. You might need to add in a little more water or broth. I used a good dutch oven with lid on and didn't need to add in any water.
- You can serve right from the pot with the juice or remove to baking pan or cast iron skillet and place under broiler for five minutes along with slices of fresh apple.
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