Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kitchen Reader: Kielbasa and Sauerkraut

I'm happy to announce I've joined the wonderful bloggers at Kitchen Reader, an online book club for bloggers who enjoy reading and writing about (and eating!) food. For December, instead of reading a new book, we were tasked with sharing a holiday recipe. 

Coming from a Polish family, Christmas Eve dinner has always been a bigger deal than Christmas dinner.  Growing up, it was the one time each year when the traditional Polish favorites were guaranteed to be on the menu: kielbasa and sauerkraut (and sometimes pierogi, potato pancakes, nalesniki, if we were lucky).

When I moved to the South and married Daddy Moose, I was in for some culture shock!  Not only were kielbasa and kraut not part of the vocabulary, the Moose Family (Motto: "If it doesn't come baked in a 9x13 dish, it is probably not worth eating.") was, sadly, not particularly open to any new dishes at the Christmas table (although they swear this is not true).

Finally, after many years (and admittedly a few tears), I won Daddy Moose over on the merits of kielbasa and kraut and this year I resumed the tradition of serving it for Christmas Eve dinner. 

My way of making kielbasa and sauerkraut was my maternal grandmother's, and then my mom's.  My recipe card reads:
"Kraut, bacon, apple, brown sugar"
Although my mom, when I call with a question while cooking (which still happens weekly, I think), will say unhelpful things like "cook it until it is done" or "how much? well, add enough," I endeavored to make detailed notes to be able to pass along here.

Christmas Eve Kielbasa and Sauerkraut

Serves 4

1 pound bacon slices (yes, really, a whole pound)
1 baking apple (I used Rome), peeled and diced
2 pounds packaged sauerkraut
1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar
4 links FRESH kielbasa

1. Cook bacon in batches in a frying pan, skillet, or Dutch oven over medium heat until crispy (about 6 minutes total per batch, turning frequently).  Reserve bacon grease as you go.  Remove each batch and drain on paper towels.

 2. Fry diced apple in ~ 3-4 Tablespoons of the reserved bacon grease over medium heat for 5 minutes.  You can use butter if you're really opposed to the bacon grease, but I think the flavor using the bacon grease is incomparable.

3. While your apple is frying, drain and rinse sauerkraut in a wire mesh strainer to your desired sour-ness and wring out as much moisture as you can.  This will vary by your family's tastes.  My dad likes his completely rinsed.  Given the choice, my mom and I would have it completely unrinsed.  This time around, I drained (but did not rise) half and rinsed the other half.

4. Add the sauerkraut and brown sugar to the apple and continue to cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.  The amount of brown sugar you need depends on personal preference as well as how much you rinsed your kraut.  This time, I used 1/2 cup of brown sugar since half of my kraut was unrinsed.  When I make it for my dad and rinse all the kraut, I only use 1/4 cup brown sugar.  Taste as you go until you get a flavor that makes your tastebuds smile!

5. After 10 minutes, reduce heat to low, crumble the bacon back into the kraut mixture and cover until you plan to serve.  This is one of those recipes that gets better as the flavors blend.  I let mine sit for 2 hours this time around.  I've been known to cook it in the morning and put it in the crock pot on the "serve" setting for the whole day. 

6. While your kraut is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and gently add your FRESH* kielbasa.  Reduce heat until the water is barely boiling and cook 15-20 minutes per side.  They will float at the top throughout, which is why it is necessary to turn them over in the water.  You can either cook your kielbasa at mealtime or make a few hours in advance.  If you do the latter, once the sausages are cooked, drain and put them in with the kraut (be sure to cover them up with some kraut, too).

*(Yes, fresh is much harder to find than smoked, but SO much better.  When you do find it, don't be afraid to hoard and freeze some for later!)

When you are ready to eat, serve as is, or with a starchy Polish side - mashed potatoes, potato pancakes, or pierogi.

Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia and Szczesliwego Nowego Roku!
(Merry Christmas and  Happy New Year!)


  1. oh my gosh mouth watering!
    we are PA dutch here and my norwegian swede husband had to convert to our eating styles for new years, it's pork and sauerkraut here all the way... with applesauce, mashed giant white
    oh happy new years... you will be eating so well.

  2. This sounds delicious. My mother is from a Mennonite background and so Christmeas Eve is always much more important that Christmas Day. We open all our presents on Christmas Eve after a big dinner of everyone's favourite foods.

    Thanks for joining the Kitchen Reader! It's great to have you on board.