New Years’ Day Lucky Tradition: Kielbasa and Sauerkraut

It’s almost 2014! 

I must admit I am a huge fan of almost all edible things pig. Bacon of course is in a league of its own. But ribs, chops and roasts are also all delicious and versatile to prepare. For New Year’s Day, my family has always had kielbasa and sauerkraut for good luck. You could also make a pork roast and sauerkraut. According to a Nosh blog, the reason for this good luck is because pork from a “fat” pig represents an abundant year to come, and the sauerkraut from ‘green’ cabbage represents wealth. Thinking about this tradition made me wonder what was in sauerkraut and where it comes from. This lead to hours of research into the various parts and cuts of pork. Stay tuned after the recipe if you want to know more! =)

Kielbasa & Sauerkraut Recipe

Ingredients:
1 small pork roast (2-4 lb) or 2-4 pounds kielbasa
1 bag of sauerkraut (or jar, or if you’re ambitious you can ferment your own)
1 can/bottle of beer, 12 oz
1 cup brown sugar
.
Step 1: Place roast or kielbasa in a slow cooker. Mix the beer and brown sugar. Pour over the pork, then cover with kraut. Cook on high for ~4 hours or low 6-8 hours. Enjoy on NYD! May your 2014 be full of success and joy.

Photo from Pressure Cooking With Lorna Sass
Pork roast & sauerkraut on NYE


So what about the rest of the pig?

Generally speaking, pork tends to be less expensive than beef. For reasons I won’t discuss in this post, it is always a good idea to look for humanely raised pork, or best case scenario to be part of a CSA (which stands for Community Supported Agriculture) and get part of a farm-raised pig. Find one near you here. They usually raise a set number of pigs based on how many shares are purchased, then will slaughter them and divide up the meat for you. However, I understand most people don’t have the time, space, money, or energy to commit to a half or whole pig, wait half a year, then bring home a hundred pounds of meat in various cuts and store it. Therefore, this is more of a guide to what you’ll find at a typical grocery store and what you can do with it.

This photo is from CloveGardens website and shows the various cuts of pig.

The CloveGardens site also has photos of every cut of meat, including less well-known cuts and parts you wouldn’t normally think of using like the feet, snout, and organs. If you’re feeling adventurous you can ask your butcher, or try an ethnic market. The most typical cuts you find at a North American grocery store are chops and roasts. 

Ham

This is the upper part of the thigh, and is what we think of when we think of a holiday ham. Often oven roasted and marinated or glazed. Holds up to slow cooking methods, and tastes great paired with sweet glazes like brown sugar, maple, honey and/or pineapple.
 

Pork Chops (aka pork loin end chops, center loin chops, rib chops, end cut chops, top loin chops, pork blade chops)

Many different cuts of meat can be called pork chops. They can be bone-in or boneless, in various sizes and thicknesses. Typically, thicker-cut chops with the bone still in tend to be the juiciest and most flavorful. These are great for pan-frying and grilling. Boneless chops are also great for frying or grilling, but can fall apart easier in longer methods like slow cookers or braising. Pork blade chops are from the blade roast, and tend to be fattier and tougher than chops from other cuts. They can be tenderized by marinating beforehand, and can be cooked with longer methods.

Pork Roast (aka pork tenderloins, rib roasts, pork legs, top loin roast, sirloin roast, hipbone roast, end roast, butt and shoulder-see below)

Like chops, there are many cuts that get sold as a roast. They are defined as cuts which stand up well to oven or slow cooker roasting. 

Pork Rib Roast(aka pork center loin roast, pork roast)

The ribs can still be inside or the ribs may have been removed. These cuts are extremely flavorful and juicy, but still pretty lean. If you want to cook it with the slab of attached fat for flavor, simply carve it off before serving. 

Pork Blade Roast (aka pork rib end roast, rib end pork loin, 7-rib or 5-rib roast)

The blade roast comes from the back/shoulder areas, and is fattier than most other cuts. This makes it less expensive but very flavorful. If the bone is still in, you can ask the butcher to crack it between the ribs to carve it easier.

 

Pork Loin (aka tenderloin, loin chop)

Cuts from the loin come from along the back and sides of the spine and are the leanest, most tender cuts. This makes them easy to overcook, so try to avoid long cooking times. There are three sections, the Blade end, Center portion and Sirloin end. The Blade end is closest to the shoulders and like the Blade Roast tends to be fatty. The Center portion is in the middle, it is the leanest and most tender, which makes it usually the most expensive. The Sirloin end is nearest the rump, and is typically bony and lean. All can be pan-fried, braised, or slow cooked.

Hocks and Shanks

This is the shin area of the pig’s legs. A hock with skin removed is called a shank. They are often smoked, and make good additions to soups to add flavor. 

Pork Ribs 

The ribs are generally cut into three seperate sections, all of which are great for smoking, braising, oven roasting, or grilling. And all are great slathered in BBQ sauce. Country-style ribs or pork blade end ribs are the meatiest and fattiest of cuts, but they aren’t as easy to eat with your fingers. They can be bone-in or boneless. Pork back, or baby back ribs are the middle ground of meatiness and easier to pick up. Pork spareribes are the least meaty, but have the most popular texture for finger foods. They are tender-chewy, and are the least fatty cut.

Pork Shoulders & Butts

Though named differently, both cuts are from the shoulder of the pig. Technically they are different cuts. The “butt” (aka Boston butt or shoulder) comes from a thicker section with more marbling. This makes it ideal for pulled pork or other barbecue styles. The “shoulder” is usually the triangular piece of meat attached to the butt. Both are great braised, slow roasted, BBQ-ed, slow cooker style, or in stew. They can essentially be used interchangeably.  

Bacon and Sausage

Ahhh the longtime favorite, bacon is unique in taste and is revered worldwide for it meaty, smoky deliciousness. Used to flavor all types of dishes and soups, as a centerpiece of breakfasts, and wrapped around just about anything, bacon is a versatile meat. It does not come off the hog looking like bacon. First the ribs and belly are removed from the loin. The belly here does not refer to the actual stomach but rather the fatty underside of the pig. The spare ribs are cut away, then the pork belly is sent through the long process of curing, smoking and eventual slicing up into bacon. Sausage on the other hand, can be made from just about any part of the pig that is not used elsewhere. Anything that was left from de-boning other cuts, high quality meat that can’t be turned into a roast or chop, or pieces that didn’t end up elsewhere all get mixed together. They are seasoned in various ways and ground, sometimes multiple times. This is then sold as bulk sausage, patties, or put into casing for links, most often the pig’s own intestines. (Seriously).

For a great, thorough article on the various parts of the pig and how to use lesser known cuts see this website for Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont, which has its own USDA approved butcher site on the farm. They use as much of the whole pig, nose-to-tail, as they can, which I totally approve of!

For an article which sub-divides these types of cuts even further and includes photos, see here. They also have pages for cuts from beef, lamb, and veal if you’re curious and I don’t cover them soon enough. 

If you have a solid stomach and want to see photos and a description of each step in the pork processing process (redundancy, check), check out this blog post from Chico Locker & Sausage Co.


Nutrition information such as calories, protein and fat content will vary greatly depending on the type of cut and how it was prepared. According to Nutritioninfo.com the average nutrition data from one pound of raw meat cooked is:

Pork contains plenty of protein, iron and selenium and no gluten. However it is high in cholesterol, so you should try to control portion sizes to 3-6 oz per serving, and as in all things use moderation. Pork is safe to eat when cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F, so use a meat thermometer if you have one. Generally speaking, when oven roasting you should cook it at least a half hour per pound of meat. 

Do you have any New Year’s Eve or Day traditions?
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