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Roast pork and sauerkraut
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Roast pork and sauerkraut

One of the recurring themes in this series, it seems, has to do with foods that we despise as children but come to enjoy as adults. Cauliflower, liver, brussels sprouts, even the modest mushroom fall into this category for many of us.

But the one childhood food aversion that lingers most vividly in my memory is sauerkraut. We were never served this German confection at home, but I'll never forget those long winter mornings when grade-school corridors filled with that acrid aroma that made me think of decaying things and did not inspire fond hopes for lunch.

Happily, with a little encouragement from a dear wife who loves the stuff, I have overcome this phobia and now look forward to a bowl of steaming kraut at least once or twice a year. Preferably when it's cooked with, and served around, a tender roast of pork. This hearty, simple fare has become one of the sure signs of autumn around our house, and I actually look forward to it.

"MOIST AND TENDER"? Before I get to the recipe, though, please indulge a short rant: I have not learned to enjoy the recent trend toward "enhanced" pork, often sold under brand names like "Moist and Tender." This is industrial pork that is injected with a slimy solution of water, sodium phosphate and lord knows what. In the past couple of years - at least around here - it has become difficult to find pork at most major grocers that hasn't been abused in this way. For this dish, I went out of my way to acquire fresh pork from a local small-farm producer, and it was well worth the extra effort. I had almost forgotten how good untampered pork can be.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

Pork loin, bone-in, 3 to 4 pounds
2 or 3 large garlic cloves
16 ounces sauerkraut
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Black pepper
8 ounces dark beer


1. Preheat oven to 425F. Slice the garlic cloves into slivers and stick them into slits all over the pork roast. Place the roast in a small roasting pan, fatty side up at first (no need for a rack) and put it into the oven, allowing about 30 minutes per pound, roughly two hours for a 4-pound roast.

2. After you start the roast, put the sauerkraut into a large bowl. (I like the kind that comes in a bag best, followed by name-brand bottled varieties. Canned kraut still reminds me a little too much of those grade-school corridors.) Rinse the kraut in fresh water and drain. Then stir in the caraway seeds, black pepper to taste, and the dark beer. (I particularly like a dark wheat beer, German Dunkel Weizen or equivalent, but this is mainly because the chef gets to sip the few ounces that don't go in the recipe. There's no need to get too worked up about the specifics, as any dark beer will do.)

3. Turn the roast over after about 30 minutes. Then, halfway through the cooking period, take the roast out of the oven and pour off any fat that has accumulated in the pan, taking care not to discard the tasty crunchy bits. Turn the pork again, pour the kraut-beer mixture around it, and return it to the oven until the pork is done. It's OK, but probably not strictly necessary, to take it out once or twice and stir the kraut around. Let the roast rest outside the oven for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

ABOUT PORK COOKING TEMPERATURE: Most of us were brought up with firm rules about never under-cooking pork, and many respectable cookbooks insist that it be cooked to at least 160F internal temperature. Nowadays, though, even regulations as strict as the California Uniform Retail Food Facilities Law require only that pork be cooked to "a minimum internal temperature of at least 145 F." A bit of rosy pink in the middle of a pork roast is all right, and signals a juicier, more tender slice than you'll get if you take your roast all the way to well-done. But it's still prudent to use a meat thermometer to ensure that it's not under-cooked.

WINE MATCH: Even without the sauerkraut to add a Germanic element, it's hard to come up with a better match for roast pork than Riesling. With this particular dinner I served two: Graff 2001 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett from Germany and Salmon Run 2001 Johannisberg Riesling from New York State.

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Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Porcini-rubbed mini-roast (Nov. 14)

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Thursday, Nov. 21, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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