We enjoyed a weekend of Polish cooking and eating over Memorial Day at the cottage. While the weather left something to be desired, there was no shortage of good times as family and friends came up to celebrate the long weekend. In preparing for company, the question is always what to make. I thought some Polish fare might be in order, since there would be some fellow Poles in the mix over the weekend.
The first dish we made was kapusta - Polish sauerkraut. It always amazes me when I go into a Polish restaurant or have a Polish cook prepare a meal that includes sauerkraut. Typically, what I see on the plate is something that involved no more than a can opener. Yes, this is technically sauerkraut, but in the great tradition of Polish cooking it simply will not do! Kapusta is something that is long-simmered, and while it requires brined or pickled cabbage, there is so much more to it. I've made hundred of pounds (maybe more) of kapusta for church dinners, big parties, etc. I make it as my mom made it, and she got the recipe from my dad's mother. It's something, like soup, that is difficult to make a small quantity of - but that's alright because if there is any left over, it freezes beautifully.
So, when you have a little time and really want to make something special for a Polish (or any other) meal - especially if you are serving pork or poultry - don't just open a can. Make something special that you and your guests will really enjoy!
4 large cans sauerkraut (rinsed and drained)
4-5 medium onions, diced
1 stick of butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 1/2 - 2 tsp. caraway seeds
1 1/2 lbs. pork neck bones
salt and pepper (to taste)
In a small electric roaster or 8 quart pot, melt butter and add onions. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook onions until translucent. Once onions are done, add the sauerkraut, brown sugar, bouillon, onion soup mix, caraway seeds and enough water to come up to the top of the sauerkraut. Mix ingredients well, making sure the onions on the bottom are well incorporated into the cabbage. Lay neck bones on the top, cover and bring to a simmer. Keep cover on and continue simmer for six hours. Check water level periodically and add more if necessary - do not stir! After the cooking time carefully remove neck bones from top. Using a fork, pull meat off bones and discard bones and any remaining cartilage. Return meat to kapusta and mix it in. You can serve immediately or transfer to small containers and place in refrigerator or freezer. Freezes up to six months.
Once the kapusta was made, I thought it would be good to serve it with kielbasa. There are lots of options for Polish sausage out there, and most of what is sold in the supermarkets are a far cry from the real deal. Sausage also gets a bad rap because most of what is made commercially is not very good for you. Load with salt, nitrates and preservatives, these fatty tubes are heart attacks in the making. But it doesn't have to be that way. When you make your own sausage you know exactly what goes into in, and you can control the amount of fat, salt and other ingredients. Once you've had homemade kielbasa, you'll understand why it is well worth the effort to make.
5 1/2 lbs. pork shoulder (boneless, excess fat trimmed)
3 cloves garlic - finely chopped
3 TBSP salt
2 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/2 cup water
natural casing (most butchers will be able to supply you with this)
You need to have a food/meat grinder for this job. There are the old-school types that are hand-powered (like I use), but there are also electric ones and attachments that can be added to your stand mixer (like Kitchen Aid).
Insert the course die on your grinder. Cut the pork into cubes (maybe an inch to an inch 1/2), trimming off any excess fat. You don't want to remove all the fat - fat provides moisture and flavor, but depending on the cut of your pork, you will probably have more fat on the meat than you want going into your sausage. Run the cubed pork through the grinder. In a shallow pan or bowl, combine the garlic, salt, pepper, marjoram and water with the ground pork. Mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator overnight. The next day, put the sausage stuffer attachment on your grinder. Prepare casing (it may be packed in salt - if so, soak in water for a few minutes, this will make it easier to handle) and fit casing over stuffing tube. Run meat through the machine taking care not to allow air into the casing a filling the casing so that it is snug around the meat but not overstuffed. You don't want the casing to break. Make sausages to desired length. You can tie off the ends with string, or tie knots in the casing itself. Once sausage is made, you can grill it, boil it or bake it. I prefer to boil/bake it in the oven in a covered pan of water at 375 degrees for about an hour. This will render some of the fat out of the sausage and keep it moist. Serve with horseradish and your homemade kapusta!