My family has a tradition. Every New Year’s Day we serve pork, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and a side of applesauce. Both of my parents are from the Midwest and to this day we have no idea where this tradition originates. The foods sound German but we’ve been told that it’s not a German tradition. Just this week, for the first time in my life, I met someone else who eats the same meal for New Year’s dinner. His family is from Indiana and he claims it’s Irish. As far as I’m concerned, it’s Midwestern, and that’s good enough for me.
Before I go any further, I need to state that my mom is a fabulous cook and has served as my inspiration in the kitchen since I was little. That said, Midwestern cuisine is known mostly for meat and potatoes, and frequently utilizes pre-made soups as an ingredient. When I was a kid my mom served us pork chops slow-roasted in French Onion soup for our New Year’s meal. I will only say that the soup was not made from scratch, but to this day I remember the tender, salty pork chops with nostalgia and a little drool. This week was the first time I’ve eaten French Onion soup in years and I was excited to have some leftovers to prepare my family’s traditional New Year’s Day dinner.
Ben and I made plans to go to the mountains today, so I knew I couldn’t count on spending much time in the kitchen. That’s when I had the brilliant idea of using the slow-cooker. Other than my overnight steel-cut oatmeal, my slow-cooker doesn’t get a lot of use. But what made my mom’s pork chops so tender and delicious was that she roasted them at about 200 degrees for over an hour, until the meat was literally falling away from the bone. I did a quick internet search and found a slow-cooker pork chop recipe that instilled me with confidence.
As the recipe suggests, I salted and peppered the bone-in chops and browned them in some grape seed oil for three minutes per side. Then I just dropped them in the slow cooker and covered them with French Onion soup, setting the heat to low. When we came back from the mountains the house was full of the savory smell of simmering pork chops. I checked and was delighted to find the meat falling from the bone, the definition of fork-tender.
The rest of dinner took about twenty minutes to prepare. I put apot of cold, salted water on the stove to boil. I peeled five Yukon-Gold potatoes and cut them into equal sized chunks. Once they were boiling I turned the heat down to a steady low-boil. While the potatoes were cooking I cleaned and trimmed some green beans and set them in a steamer basket. I like to drizzle my steamed veggies with olive oil and salt before them steam, making it unnecessary to do much of anything once they are cooked. The potatoes took about ten minutes to soften all the way through. Once they were ready I drained them and melted ¼ cup of butter in the same pot on the stove, and started the heat on the pot of green beans. Then I added the potatoes to the butter and stirred for a minute to let any residual water burn off. I removed the pot from the stove and used my hand-masher to incorporate the melted butter. I had a little crème-fraiche in the fridge so I added it to the potatoes to make them nice and creamy, then added salt to taste.
Tradition requires serving the pork chops with sides of sauerkraut and applesauce. The sauerkraut is actually a nice, tangy flavor to complement the pork. The French Onion soup essentially acts like gravy, keeping the pork moist and serving as a nice little topping for the mashed potatoes. I ate my applesauce last—a palate cleanser after a filling meal.
It was special to begin the year with traditional dish that I haven’t been able to enjoy in years. Happy New Year!