Saturday, December 1, 2012

Polish Comfort Food - Sauerkraut With Mushrooms

Witamy!  Sauerkraut and mushrooms go together like...a horse and carriage...or Mom and apple pie...or baseball and hot dogs...or cookies and milk...or pierogi and anything!

We use sauerkraut that comes right from the nearest grocery store and we’re not picky.  I suppose making your own from scratch can be rewarding but we never seem to have time.  Besides, by the time we get done re-flavoring and stewing the kraut, any decent brand in the grocery stores is a great starting point.

Poles love to use dried forest mushrooms in their cooking.  They are like a gift times two - you get to use one of the richest, most savory, most complex foods there is, but you also get their “likker” which is a marvelous flavoring agent.  Their flavors are much stronger than the farm-raised fresh mushrooms common to large grocery stores.  And where they come from makes a big difference - always better from the forests of Eastern’s something about the soil.

Dried mushrooms are available in many gourmet food stores or on line.  In fact Peter’s last batch was from Bulgaria purchased on eBay – about $25 for a one-pound bag, which was very reasonable considering that a pound of dried mushrooms fills a 3-quart cereal container and that a little 4-ounce bag of mushrooms imported from Poland can cost three or four bucks. 

This classic recipe is remarkable for its hearty flavors and adaptability because it pairs really well with just about any meat.  We like it best with braised pork or kielbasa, and of course with a glass or hearty red wine, Polish beer or glass of ice-cold Polish vodka. 

• 1 ounce dried mushrooms, washed  (or 4 ounces fresh mushrooms)
• ½ cup water
• 2 pounds sauerkraut, drained, well rinsed and drained again
• 2 small onions, sliced
• 6 slices bacon, partially cooked, and the bacon drippings
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• salt & pepper to taste

Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for 45 minutes.  Drain but keep the mushroom water because it has all that good flavor.  Rinse the rehydrated mushrooms in fresh water to make sure no sand is left.  Drain well and slice thinly.  Note:  if using fresh mushrooms, they should be washed, quartered and sautéed in butter or oil.  A little mushroom bullion, available in Polish or Russian delis, can also intensify the mushroom flavor.

Bring the sauerkraut to a low boil and then simmer.  Sauté the sliced onions in butter or oil until they are just golden and add to the pot.  Cut the partially cooked bacon slices into one-inch pieces and add to the pot along with the bacon drippings.  Mix in the flour and sugar and simmer some more.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Let the mix stew for another 30 minutes or so, just making sure the pot does not go dry.  Add water or stock as needed.

This sauerkraut can be served after an hour of stewing but the flavors will be more pronounced if made a day early, cooled and reheated for at least 30 minutes.  One variation which we like a lot, is to add well browned pork chops or a small pork roast to the pot and let the meat braise until fork-tender. One-inch pork chops take about 45 minutes and a small pork roast can take up to two hours.  In either case, as the sauerkraut stews, the flavor actually becomes a bit milder.  And there’s no need to wait until tomorrow.

Consider making a double batch, freezing the left over sauerkraut for quick supper when time is short.  Defrost in the morning, add whatever meat you have handy and simmer for 30 minutes.  Wow!    Smacznego!


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