Braised Sauerkraut with Porkchops (a.k.a. Podvarak)

My grandma (from the former Yugoslavia) used to make this dish; we call it podvarak. I loved it so much but unfortunately never learned to make it before she died. I used a hybrid of what I remember her doing and a Julia Child recipe for Choucroute Braisée and was actually very pleased with the result. My grandma most definitely did not use gin or wine- that is Julia Child’s delightful contribution. Don’t shy away from this dish because of the sauerkraut- you’d be surprised how mild and flavorful it is once it is prepared correctly.

2 jars Bubbie’s Sauerkraut (it’s much less sour)
4 slices bacon
1 small carrot, fine diced
1 small onion, diced
2 T gin (or 5 juniper berries)
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
4 or 5 peppercorns
1 T sweet paprika
2 bone-in pork chops (thick or thin)

Preheat oven to 325º
Soak the sauerkraut in cold water for 20 minutes and drain well. Cut the bacon into small pieces and brown in a cast-iron pot. Leave a generous tablespoon or two of the bacon fat and then brown the onion and carrot over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the paprika and stir for about a minute. Add the sauerkraut and cook for 10 minutes or so, stirring to make sure it gets covered in the fat and paprika; season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf, wine, gin and water and bring to a boil. Put the lid onto the cast iron pot and place in the oven; cook for a total of 4 to 4 1/2 hours.
While the sauerkraut is braising (around the 3 hour mark or so), season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Brown them in a small amount of olive oil, a few minutes on each side. Take the sauerkraut out of the oven and bury the pork chops under the kraut, adding a little more water if necessary. You want it to be moist but not soupy or watery. Finish off the pork chops with an hour to go in the oven.
Serve with beer. Yum yum… takes me back to my roots!

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