The Food Maven Diary
Braised Pork in Sauerkraut, Coffee Crunch Cake
Zarela Martinez and I have been friends since she first came to New York nearly 20 years ago. I have known her sons, Rodrigo and Aaron Sanchez, since they were five years old. They are twins, but you couldn't find two young men who are more different. Rodrigo is slight, fair and scholarly. His undergraduate degree is in comparative religion and he now goes to law school. Aaron, who was always the mischievous one, is tall, dark and still has a mischievous eye. You can see that on the Food Network, where he is one of the hosts of The Melting Pot. He is a chef, now cooking at a hip downtown restaurant (on Ludlow St.) called Paladar, where he creates Nuevo Latino food.
Zarela also has a daugheter, Marissa Sanchez, who is somewhat older than the boys and has helped her manage Zarela restaurant on Second Ave. for the last 11 years.
I am telling you about this wonderful family because it is my adopted family. I adore Zarela's octogenarian mother, Aida, who lives in Mexico. Over the years, I've met all the sisters. The boys call me Uncle Arthur. I am included in all family festivities.
On Christmas Eve, Zarela's immediate family gathers. On the evening of Christmas day, Zarela always has the extended family around her big dining room table. We usually number 14. The food is always the same, too. Or it used to be.
The main course used to be a fresh ham and sauerkraut recipe from her friend Mary Jo Gitler. Mary Jo and Ira Gitler used to host the Martinez-Sanchez clan years ago, and Zarela liked Mary Jo's tradition so much she continued it.
This year, however, we were in for a slightly different treat. Instead of the ham, Zarela braised marinated well-spiced pork butts in a blend of sauerkraut, cabbage, carrots, onions, and leeks. Mary Jo and Ira come to Zarela for Christmas these days and even Mary Jo thought this new recipe was worth deviating from longstanding custom.
It ends up she'd used a recipe – more or less – from the most recent edition of the Joy of Cooking. I checked. It's not in the previous editions. Instead of using sweet paprika, Zarela used hot paprika. She is Mexican, after all. She made a point of letting the meat marinate a full 24 hours with its spice rub, and instead of olive oil or bacon fat to brown the meat, she used her own home-rendered lard. Otherwise, this is the recipe.
Braised Pork with Sauerkraut
Makes 8 servings
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
4 pound Boston-style pork shoulder, but or blade roast excess fat trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil or bacon fat
4 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups thinly sliced onions
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced leeks (white part only)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 pound sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1 cup chicken stock
12 ounces dark beer
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon dried savory
2 bay leaves
In a small bowl, mix together the sweet paprika, salt, black pepper, sage, thyme, and dry mustard with a fork. Pat the meat dry and rub with the spice mixture. Allow to "marinate" in the refrigerator for 2 to 24 hours.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.
In a large heavy Dutch oven, brown the meat over medium heat on all side in the bacon fat or olive oil.
Remove the meat to a plate temporarily.
Pour off the rendered fat, leaving 2 tablespoons in the pan. Add the cabbage, onions, carrots, and leeks. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the vegetables are softened and the cabbage is wilted, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another minute. Add the sauerkraut, chicken stock, beer, caraway seeds, dried savory, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil.
Return the meat to the pan, nestling it into the cabbage mixture. Cover and braise in the oven for 2 hours. Check the meat. It should be fork tender. If not, cook for 30 to 60 minutes more. Remove the meat from the pan and skim off any fat from the pan juices. Slice the meat and serve with the vegetables and pan juices.
Another one of Zarela's Christmas traditions is an amazing coffee crunch cake. This year, however, she made it for Christmas Eve and when I arrived on Christmas day, there was no more left. Just another reason that I thought I should finally get the recipe and learn how to make it myself. I haven't had a chance to bake it yet, but it's very high on my list of priorities. In the meantime, check out her website where she includes a recipe for this delicious cake.
Coffee Crunch Cake