At every major holiday or event in Istria—whatever else may be on the menu—there must be a pot of sauerkraut with big cuts of cured and fresh pork buried inside. “Sauerkraut” as we call this dish at home, belongs in the category of treasured one-pot meals that are filled with flavor, can feed a crowd, yet require little or no attention from the cook. It is enjoyed for days—it is even better reheated—and if the pot yields any leftovers, they are turned into Jota, the delicious bean and sauerkraut soup. If the taste weren’t enough, fermented cabbage sauerkraut has lately been hailed as one of the important health foods.
It is essential that cured meats be of the best quality, so visit a real Eastern European style butcher if you can. Good sauerkraut is also essential. If you can’t find genuine fresh sauerkraut, sold in bulk, I recommend buying bagged sauerkraut, in the refrigerator cases of most supermarkets, rather than canned.
- 4 pounds sauerkraut
- 4 cups fresh cold water
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 fresh bay leaves
- 3 fat cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 1½ teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt as needed
- 1 pound solid chunk fresh pork shoulder (butt)
- ½ pound solid chunk smoked pork loin or Canadian bacon
- ½-pound slab of bacon
- 1 pound smoked pork sausages
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Drain the sauerkraut in a colander—set in the sink for convenience. Dump the sauerkraut into a big pot or bowl, cover it with fresh water, stir and rinse well then drain again through the colander. Repeat the rinsing and draining. Taste the sauerkraut and if it is still very salty or acidic, rinse and drain it a third time.
Put the sauerkraut in the big saucepan and pour in the 4 cups water. Drizzle the olive oil over the top, drop in the bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns and salt. Toss the sauerkraut with the seasonings. Rinse the chunks of pork butt, smoked pork loin and the bacon slab and nestle them into the sauerkraut.
Cover the saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer, covered, for about an hour and a half. Occasionally, stir up all the sauerkraut and turn the meat over. The liquid should gradually reduce but don’t let the pan get dry.
Rinse the sausages, stir up the sauerkraut, then tuck the sausages in with the pork chunks. Simmer for another 30 minutes, or until the meats are all tender and the liquid is almost completely absorbed. Cook uncovered to evaporate the liquid if necessary.
Turn off the heat and season with freshly ground black pepper to taste and more salt if needed. Let the sauerkraut sit for 15 minutes. Slice the meats and arrange on a platter, surrounding the sauerkraut, and serve.