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~ Happy New Year Pork Blade Steak and Sauerkraut ~

IMG_7214Throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and into the Midwest, some form of porcine and sauerkraut is the traditional meal to properly ring in the New Year in order to receive a years worth of good luck, health and prosperity.  In my grandmothers' and mother's kitchens, they roasted a pork loin or braised a pork butt to serve with the briny sauerkraut my grandfathers' or father fermented in their 'kraut crocks for 6-8 weeks.  I never questioned why we ate this meal.  I simply assumed that Santa  dropped by everyones home with presents on Christmas Eve, and, everyone ate pork and sauerkraut (plus  leftover Christmas cookies) on New Year's Day -- both rituals were fine by me.

Why do we ring in the New Year eating pork & sauerkraut?

Anywhere you find a gathering of Pennsylvania Dutch (Dutch=Deutsch=German) or Eastern Europeans, you'll find them eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day -- it's a combination of tradition steeped in superstition backed up by practical purpose.  Where I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, we had a large population of both.  My family was Eastern European, we knew many PA Deutsch folks, and, both cuisines intersected in numerous ways, starting with:  both are porcine-raising cabbage-growing cultures who wrote the book on pork and cabbage recipes.

It's a combination of PA Dutch & Eastern European tradition...

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0b81e8f970cPractical purpose turned into tradition.  Pork and sauerkraut didn't start out as a dish associated with New Year's Day -- it evolved into one.  It was common for individuals in farming communities to raise a backyard pig or three, or raise pigs for a living.  Those who raised pigs slaughtered them in the Fall, because the time-consuming task of butchering a large animal is considerably more food-safe during cold weather months.  In turn, this meant that cuts of pork (hams, sausages, roasts, etc.) were more plentiful in the weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year (so, if one didn't raise a pig, one could purchase or barter for a choice cut).  As for sauerkraut, the cool weather months are prime cabbage-harvesting time, which resulted in pickling vats of it in order to preserve it -- timing is everything, and, after fermenting, the 'kraut was done just in the nick of time for the holidays.

... steeped in superstition & backed by a dose of practical purpose.

IMG_0840Tradition steeped in superstition.  As any PA Deutsch person will be quick to tell you, "the pig roots forward as it eats", which is a symbol of forward progress (the direction people hope to go in the new year), and, raising a big, fat pig, fed a family for a long time, a symbol of prosperity (which people hope to achieve in the new year) -- this is opposed to "the chicken and turkey scratches backward as it eats", which is a symbol of a year no better, or worse than, the previous one (undesirable to say the least).  As any Eastern European person will tell you, "the long shredded-strands of sauerkraut  symbolize a long, healthy life", and, "freshly-picked cabbage is green, which is the color of cash money, which symbolizes prosperity".  The moral of the story: Place a beautiful, well-seasoned pork roast surrounded by mounds of briny sauerkraut or cooked cabbage on your New Year Day table and you're walking on sunshine until next year.

My family's Slovak-style butter bean & mushroom sauerkraut:

IMG_7226While this is quick to make (5-10 minutes of prep and 45-50 minutes of stovetop time), it can be simmering while the pork blade steaks are broiling for 22-minutes, so, prepare it first or a day ahead.  In my family, my father picked mushrooms in the Spring, then my mother blanched and froze them. Amongst other things, she always added mushrooms to the sauerkraut along with a can of butter beans, which cut the acid from sauerkraut.  It is a very filling and stick-to-the-ribs combination, and it might even sound a bit odd a first too, but, it is sigh-oh-my delicious.  Served with some PA Deutsch-style buttered noodles and some pork, the complete meal is fit for a king.

IMG_70942  pounds fresh sauerkraut, thoroughly drained for about 10 minutes

2  15-ounce cans butter beans, well-drained, liquid reserved (about 2 generous cups)

8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 2 cups)

3  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, well-drained (about 2 cups)

6  ounces salted butter (1 1/2 sticks)

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Pepper

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097~Step 1.  Drain the sauerkraut, beans and mushrooms as directed, then dice the onion.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in Jane's seasonings and the black pepper.  Add the onion and increase heat to medium-, medium-high, and sauté/simmer until softened, about 5-6 minutes.

IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114~Step 2.  Add sauerkraut, beans and mushrooms.  Stir.  Add about half the reserved sauce/liquid from the beans and stir again.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, stirring regularly, 20-25 minutes.  Add and stir in the remainder of the sauce/liquid from the beans, stir, and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, 20-25 more minutes -- the point of adding the liquid in two increments is to sauté the mixture in a scant amount sauce, not boil it in a lot of liquid, which gives the beans the time they need to absorb the excess moisture.  Remove pan from heat, cover and allow to sauerkraut time to steep, so flavors can marry, about 30-60+ minutes, while broiling the blade steaks as directed below and preparing (optional, but recommended) the buttered noodles.

The pork blade steak -- a German-Midwest invention & staple.    

IMG_7201A few things did rock my food world in 2018, and, the pork blade steak was one of them. It quickly became my new-to-me muse -- in my own words, it's a bone-fide kick-butt man-sized pork chop.  Known as pork steak, pork butt steak or pork blade steak, these bone-in steaks are cut from the shoulder of the pig -- the same part of the porcine used to make pulled pork.  Similar in taste and texture to close-kin country-style spareribs, they were invented in St. Louis, MO, and are a Midwest staple.  As a country-style spare-rib lover living in central Pennsylvania, I ask the Sam's Club butcher to custom-cut these inexpensive, lesser-to-unknown-to-our-locale steaks for me.  Perhaps this post will help them to catch on "out here in the counties".  Trust me when I tell you, this cut of porcine makes short work out of serving pork and sauerkraut for New Year's Day, especially if you are short on time and/or neither want or need a lot of leftovers.

6a0120a8551282970b0224df30e276200b"Pork butt" or "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog. Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butchers in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork 6a0120a8551282970b0223c84936d8200cshoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200cSteaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-1" thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from the fat-cap-side.

The four steaks pictured above, weighing a total of 6.48 pounds, cost $10.87.  That's a whole lot of economical porcine wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family with big appetites. Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate these steaks, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to pork blade steaks, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Please know: these steaks are super-tender with zero marination.

* Note:  I have electric ovens and none of mine have a hi or low setting for the broiler.  With the door cracked (which is how broiling, a from-the-top-down dry-heat-method of cooking, is done in an electric oven), an oven-thermometer reads 325-ishº throughout the cooking process.

IMG_7401 IMG_7401~ Step 1.  Place 2, 3/4"-1"-thick, bone-in pork butt blade steaks, about 1 1/2-1 3/4-pounds each on a corrugated broiler pan -- allow to come to room temperature, 20-30 minutes.  Season tops with freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend.

IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430~Step 2.  Place steaks 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 11 minutes -- 5 1/2"-6" is a key measurement when broiling pork blade steaks.  Remove steaks from oven, flip steaks over, season the second sides with a bit (not too much) more sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Return to oven and broil for exactly 11 more minutes.  Remove from oven, set aside, and allow steaks to rest, in pan, for 10-12 minutes.

IMG_7454 IMG_7456 IMG_7456Step 3.  To slice steaks, slice each rested-but-warm blade steak, on a diagonal, in half lengthwise -- half bone-in, the other boneless.  If desired, thinly-slice the boneless half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips.  If desired, strips can be diced and tossed into the sauerkraut. Carve meat away from bone on the second half, then slice and/or dice that meat too.

Serve pork steak atop a bed of sauerkraut & buttered noodles:

IMG_7211Happy New Year Pork Blake Steak and Sauerkraut:  Recipe yields 8 generous servings.

Special Equipment List:  colander; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2"-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcafef88970bCook's Note: I am here to make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist", and, oh boy, they knew how to cook!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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