~Beer & Brown-Sugar Braised Kielbasa Sandwiches~
I don't crave kielbasa. I just don't. That said, if it's put in front of me, I won't turn my nose up at it. It was a bigger part of my life as a kid. If you are born into an Eastern European family, standing around watching your dad or one of your uncles make kielbasa is a form of entertainment. Each has their own special blend but all turn out a really tasty end product -- some are coarse-textured and on the dryer side, others are fine-textured and moister, but none are like the mass-manufactured, vacuum-packed bologna-textured products found in the grocery chains.
"Kielbasa" is the Polish word for "sausage" and it's commonly called Polish sausage. Just like its German cousin the "wurst", it can come to you in many forms. Don't ever meander into a Polish, mom-and-pop owned butcher shop and order "a ring of kielbasa" because you will be asked "what kind", and after that, you'll most likely have ten or more types to choose from.
Each type has a second Polish name attached to it (Example: kielbasa krakowska, seasoned with allspice, is bologna-looking in appearance and served in the same manner). Today, I'm focusing on the one most folks are familiar with -- the one our immigrant ancestors brought to America: Polska kielbasa wedzona. While its makers can take limited liberties with the meat/spice blend, the basic recipe and the method have been well-defined for centuries:
~ It's made with all pork or a mixture of pork and beef (80/20).
~ It's seasoned with salt, black pepper, sugar, garlic and marjoram.
~ The meat is cured before it is mixed with the spices.
~ The meat gets stuffed into all-natural hog casings.
~ Traditionally, it is cold-smoked for 1-2 days.
Because I come from a long-line of kielbasa makers, I never buy the name-brand "stuff" sold in most grocery stores. Call me elitist, but I demand real-deal kielbasa, which can only be found in butcher shops or at specialty markets. Manufacturers can and do put anything they want into their sausage (and my blood boils when I see "turkey" on the ingredients list). If you taste theirs side-by-side real Polish-butcher-made kielbasa, you'll walk away from their "stuff" too.
3 pounds "coal-region kielbasa" + 3 ingredients + 1 crockpot =
An Eastern European version of an Oktoberfest sandwich!
I prefer "coal-region kielbasa". The kielbasa made in the coal mining regions of states like my own Pennsylvania is some the best you'll taste. When our son Eliot stopped by unexpectedly yesterday (passing through Centre county on his way from the Scranton area to Pittsburgh) and handed me some kielbasa grillers, which he bought at Kutsop's Olde World Market in Blakely, PA, my appetite for kielbasa was whet. Pressed for time, I did something I rarely do:
I Googled "crockpot kielbasi & sauerkraut", and, this recipe, on the Brown Eyed Baker's blog, came up. Trust me when I tell you, like my own Kitchen Encounters, Michelle Lettrich's blog is one you can depend upon for tested and tasty recipes that work. After reading all the glowing comments her recipe received, it was a very safe bet I would have little risk of ruining my "coal-region kielbasa" by trying it!
1 cup lightly-packed light or dark brown sugar
3 pounds Polish kielbasa, cut into bun-sized lengths (I'm using 12, 6" coal-region kielbasa grillers which amounted to 3 1/2 pounds of kielbasa)*
1 32-ounce bag sauerkraut, rinsed and well-drained
*Note: My coal-region grillers are FAR SUPERIOR to generic kielbasa rings cut into pieces.
~ Step 4. Drizzle the beer mixture over the top of the sauerkraut.
Alternatively, cook on high for 3 hours and low for 3 hours. Four hours on high worked great for me!
Sweet 'n savory sauerkraut & melt-in-your-mouth kielbasa:
Special Equipment List: 2-quart saucepan; large spoon; colander; crockpot
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)