There are few things that invoke the thoughts about German food like mentioning sauerkraut. It literally translates to “sour cabbage”, which I’m sure is already causing some folks to make a face. I feel like sometimes it gets a bad wrap. Trust me when I say that German sauerkraut is not supposed to taste like what you get on your Reuben sandwiches or from the hot dog vendor. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that flavour, it’s just different and usually crunchier. Warm sauerkraut shouldn’t really crunch.
Within my immediate family, when we say we’re making sauerkraut, what we actually mean is we’re making a meal that consists of this Bavarian style sauerkraut, mashed potatoes with German sausages or some pork. What I’m going to highlight with this post is how to doctor up the sauerkraut so that it tastes more like what you’d get in Germany. If you don’t like the sauerkraut you’ve had stateside, I’d almost be willing to bet you’ll like it this way. I say almost because I’m not a betting girl when it comes to trying to get people to try new flavours. I’ve know too many people that are extremely picky about food (myself included when I was little).
I feel like I must warn you that this is a very “yellow” meal, which isn’t that easy to make look appetizing through pictures. But I promise you, it’s darn tasty.
A Little Bit of History
Despite what most people think, sauerkraut wasn’t invent by the Germans. According to Wikipedia, folks have been pickling cabbage with salt since the Roman times. It is believed that the Chinese were fermenting cabbage with rice wine over 2,000 years ago and it was later brought over to Europe by a Mr. Ghenghis Khan. It became extremely popular in Germany and Eastern Europe. Also, seagoing men, like Captain James Cook, were all about sauerkraut because it kept away scurvy.
The Healthy Kraut
Did you know that sauerkraut is said to be really quite good for you? It’s low in calories, high in vitamin C, B, K, calcium and magnesium. It’s also a great source of dietary fiber and iron. If you eat it raw, it’s full of wonderful probiotics and enzymes that are ever so good for your digestive tract. My mother has always touted that drinking the juice as a great way to keep your kidneys clean.
Still, keep in mind that it’s pretty high in sodium because it’s pickled with salt.
Zum Wohl! (To your health!)
This is all that’s required for making a simple Bavarian sauerkraut – A jar of sauerkraut (preferably with white wine), a medium to large yellow onion, an apple and some bacon fat.
Yes, I specifically keep a jar of bacon fat in my fridge just for this purpose. You don’t have to use bacon fat, but I think as most meat eaters will agree, bacon is delicious (apologies since that might be a little over used but’s still true). I have used olive oil in lieu of the grease when making it for a vegetarian friend of mine and it worked great. If you wanted the thicker consistency (and weren’t being fat conscious) of bacon fat, you could also use a vegetable shortening, like Crisco.
You might be wondering why add all this extra stuff to the sauerkraut? Trust me. It makes a HUGE difference in the taste. Don’t like the “sour” in sauerkraut? This will knock most of that right out.
I’m also guessing that some of you are wondering where the heck you’re going to find that brand of sauerkraut. The Hengstenberg brand is quite popular in Southern Germany and incredibly easy to find in the Seattle area at the local German delicatessens or World Market. It’s my favourite brand (and the best tasting in my humble opinion) but it certainly isn’t the only kind. If you want to make the effort, check your local European food store or anywhere they sell more cultural foods. Look for one with white wine, if you can. Though, honestly, you should be able to use any jar of sauerkraut for this recipe and just add a cup of dry (or semi-sweet) wine white to get a similar result. Just try to stay away from the canned stuff, okay? Okay.
In the future, I plan on experimenting with some popular, American brands (like Claussen) to compare it to Hengstenberg. I’ll be sure to let you know the results.
Okay, on to the Bavarian style sauerkraut cooking!
First, we thinly slice the onions. I’m not a super pro at this like my Dad yet but I’m working on it. Whether you slice the onion in rings, halves or vertically, like I am, doesn’t really matter. Just about making them as thin as you can. Think about making the onion slices mimic the strands of cabbage in the sauerkraut.
All sliced and ready to be set aside for now.
Now, let’s peel, core and thinly slice that apple as well. This will help the apple meld nicely into the sauerkraut to the point where it will be barely noticeable other than the fact it has imparted a great deal of sweet flavour. The type of apple you use isn’t that important. I’ve always used Fujis because they are a family favourite. However, just look for something that’s more sweet than tart.
There we go! Ready to be aside for now. (Yes, yes, I know! Still working on my constancy and knife skills. Gordon Ramsey would have kicked me out of the kitchen by now.)
Okay, so this is where I can’t give you an exact measurement because I never measure. Just take spoonful of bacon fat and melt it in a large pot over medium heat. I usually use my big, 5 quart pot so it fits all my sausages later. Just use enough for sautéing.
When it looks like this, it’s ready to sauté those thinly sliced onions.
Once the onions turn translucent and start to brown, it’s ready for that jar of sauerkraut!
Dump in that jar of kraut and stir all up. Let it cook together for about 5 – 7 minutes.
Next I add a little water to the sauerkraut so everything can cook nicely and steam the apples. I just use the empty jar for this and fill it up about half way because I like it to have some “juice”. Before I pour in the water, I swish it around in the jar to make sure it picks up any leftover pieces of sauerkraut. Heaven forbid we waste any of that kraut!
If you’re adding white wine to yours, this is when I’d add it. Leave out some of the water if you don’t want it to be too “juicy”.
It’ll should look something like this.
Lastly, we add those apple slices. Do you have to arrange them like this? No, of course not. It’s just something my Dad always does and I think it looks nice, so I follow suit. You just don’t want the apples to overlap too much.
Put the lid on the pot and let it simmer on a low heat for about 30 minutes. No stirring needed.
When it’s done, the apple slices will be fairly translucent. That’s it! If you’re just making the sauerkraut, stir it up and serve hot.
Though, if you’re going to eat it with some sausages, I’ll give you the info on how to best cook it with the sauerkraut I’m far less of a fan of the pork, so I’m not going to show that part in this post. Maybe I’ll explain that one day.
Anyway, let’s continue.
Just place the sausages on top of the sauerkraut. Here I’m using four German wieners (or frankfurters) and two knackwurst that I pick up at Liebchen Delicatessen. Close the lid and let it continue to cook for 15 minutes.
You could easily use any precooked type of sausage, like kielbasa, or yes, even hot dogs or Polish dogs. Don’t use something like bratwurst. They’re meant to be fried or grilled, not steamed, since they’re raw. I don’t think they’d cook all the way through.
Oooh, yum. Bavarian style sauerkrait all done and ready to be devoured.
Serve it with a side of potatoes (mashed, roasted or boiled) and you have a little bit of German deliciousness on your plate!
Recap of Alternatives:
- You can use olive oil instead of bacon fat. Vegetable shortening would work too.
- You can add a cup of white wine if you end up using a jar that doesn’t already have wine. Add it with the water.
- If you’re making it with meat sausages, make sure they’re precooked.
(If it matters to anyone, despite all the name dropping and linking I’m doing in this post, I’m not getting paid to do so.)
- - One jar of sauerkraut (We use Hengstenberg and it's 24oz or 1.5lbs)
- - One medium to large yellow onion
- - One apple
- - About 1 tablespoon of bacon fat.
- Thinly slice the onions (vertically, halves or whole slices) and set aside. Peel, core and cut the apple into quarters. Slice thinly and set aside.
- Melt a spoonful of bacon fat in a large pot on medium heat. Sauté the onions until translucent and are starting to brown. Add the sauerkraut, stir and let it cook for 5 - 7 mins.
- Add half a jar of water. Place the apple slices on top of the sauerkraut. Arrange so that the flat side is down and there isn't too much overlap. Cover and let it simmer on a low heat setting for 30 minutes.
- If you are adding meat sausages -
- Once the sauerkraut is done, place the sausages on top and let them steam with the lid closed for 15 minutes.
- Serve warm. Delicious with mashed potatoes.
- - You can use olive oil instead of bacon fat. Vegetable shortening would work too.
- - You can add a cup of white wine if you end up using a jar that doesn’t already have wine. Add it with the water.
- - If you’re making it with meat sausages, make sure they’re precooked.