Daylight Saving Time starts today. The time change used to be a better marker of spring weather. Not so much with the new date. There will be the cold blasts of winter yet, and still time to enjoy those incredible flavors of a good braise, the rootiness of winter vegetables, and the hearty warmth they provide. The process is easy when a slow cooker is involved. While maybe not gourmet fashionable, the slow cooker gets a lot of use in my kitchen from November to May.
I love cabbage in any form my aunts slowly cooked cabbage with ham hocks, a well-made slaw, spicy kim chee and the boldness of sauerkraut. Pair cabbage with pork and cook it ever so slowly together and magic happens.
We tend to overlook pork ribs in the colder months, accustomed to them as a summertime treat slathered with barbecue sauce. Spareribs are the perfect braising protein, especially when paired with cabbage and apples. And spareribs seem to be cheap this time of year. Europeans have been combining pork and cabbage for centuries.
This recipe is not pretty in the normal sense of plated food. Its beauty lies in the depth and layers of flavors produced by the long cooking process.
There are two forms of cabbage here a fresh note and sauerkraut with its fermented acidity, each adding greatly to the whole. The sweetness of apples, a natural with pork, heightens the pot. Caraway seeds are nutty and add a faint anise flavor. (By the way, if the caraway seeds in your cabinet have been there more than six months, throw them out and start with fresh for the best result.)
Spareribs come from the lower portion of the ribs, and are pretty fatty. Thats why they make such good barbecued ribs. That fat contributes heavily to the mouth feel of the final dish. To reduce the fat you can do what I do without loss of flavor. First, I always make this a day in advance, because the flavors become more intense and pleasant. I also do it so I can drain and reserve the liquid from the ribs, apples and veggies and refrigerate it.In a short time, the fat will rise to the top and solidify. Remove the solids and you have greatly reduced the fat but this isnt diet food! Then recombine the liquid and the pork mixture and gently reheat.
How you brown the pork is up to you. If the weather is nice, I will grill the ribs, but pan searing or broiling works just as well.
Next Sunday is St. Patricks Day, and this braise would be a welcome change from corned beef. The ACC tournament cranks up this week and this is a hearty dish to serve as crowds gather to root for their favorite teams.
Heres the important part: Once you try it, this dish will become a favorite.
Fred Thopson is author of Fred Thompsons Southern Sides and publisher of Edible Piedmont. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:
SPRINKLE spareribs with salt and pepper. Brown the ribs. You can use a heavy skillet over medium heat, grill them for 10 minutes or broil for about 10 to 15 minutes.
PLACE alternating layers of spareribs, sauerkraut, cabbage, onion and apple in your slow cooker. Add the caraway seeds to the water and pour over the ribs and cabbage.
COVER and cook on low for 7 to 9 hours. Let cool slightly before serving. Yield:
Serve with: Mashed white or sweet potatoes with fresh chopped chives stirred in. I always want a piece of cheesecake for dessert with this dish.
To drink: This is beer food. Try a porter.