There's been a trend emerging in my Shiftwork Bites cooking, as of late. As the weather turns colder, I turn to heartier, simpler, more soul-satisfying meals. I'm sure you are all doing the same. For Shiftwork Bites, this is a good thing. Typically, it means meat and potatoes, frequently cooked in one pot. When your kitchen is roughly the size of the average bathroom stall and contains about as much cooking equipment, it helps to provide yourself some easy-outs.
When I was growing up, sausage and sauerkraut featured heavily on the weeknight menu rotation in my house. It was an inexpensive way to feed four ravenous boys, simple and hearty. It was also favored by my picky older brother, who inexplicably labeled himself a vegetarian despite his love of bacon and various sausages.
I knew it was a gamble making this dish at work, as one of my shift partners, whose surname is filled with strangely positioned Cs and Zs, grew up on the stuff, as well. The difference: his was made by his Polish aunt, using sauerkraut his uncles had put up by the drum themselves, over beer-lubricated weekends of fermenting and feasting. As it braised slowly in the kitchenette, my colleague began to rhapsodize about the Polish feasts of his childhood. Apparently, it smelled right. It tasted right, too, as he pronounced it nearly as good as his ciotka's when we finally dug in.
Simple Braised Sausage and Sauerkraut
- 2 lbs. smoked sausage, your choice (I used a pork and venison sausage this time)
- 3-4 shallots or 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 apple, peeled and diced
- 1 32-ounce jar sauerkraut, drained (reserve ½-1 cup packing liquid)
- 1 cup unsweetened apple juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
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Slice the sausage as desired; I simply cut the links into smaller sections. Brown in a hot pan barely coated with oil and remove.
In the same pan, sweat the shallots or onions over medium heat until just softened. Add the diced apples and cook for a few minutes, just until the apples are heated through. Deglaze the pan with the apple juice and the reserved packing liquid from the sauerkraut. Vary the ratio based on your preferred level of acidity. Add the drained sauerkraut and stir to combine.
Nestle the sausages into the sauerkraut and put the lid on. Braise on medium-low for as long as you like.
The key to this dish is the braise. The longer the braise, the more the flavors of pork, apple, and fermented cabbage will meld together, each lending its character to the dish, while absorbing flavor from the other ingredients. It is porky and rich, subtly sweet, just a bit tangy, and utterly satisfying. We always paired it with mashed potatoes, growing up. I did the same, adding some baby carrots that had been abandoned by the previous shift, and mashing with a prodigious amount of butter and heavy cream. It was the perfect dish for weather just beginning to turn cold.