This dish may not be much to look at, but the depth of flavor is astonishing. While I think the best way to eat it is simply with some crusty rye bread, I've brought it to parties and seen people go at it with tortilla chips like it's seven-layer bean dip. I also think it would be AMAZING (not to mention incredibly decadent) atop a hot dog or half-smoke. —Chris Hagan
sauerkraut (use bagged or jarred--NOT canned)
white rice (dealer's choice--Basmati is good, though)
bacon fat, or sunflower or vegetable oil
small onion or 1/2 a medium one, chopped
garlic cloves, chopped (remove any green shoots)
sweet Hungarian paprika
hot Hungarian paprika
banana or wax peppers (sweet, hot, or a combination), seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch rings, divided
smoked slab bacon (double-smoked if possible), 1/2-inch dice
smoked Polish kielbasa, quarted lengthwise and cut crosswise so the pieces are roughly the same size as the bacon
salt and pepper, to taste
a big loaf of rye bread, for serving
In This Recipe
Heat oven to 325 F. Drain, rinse, and squeeze of excessive moisture each pound of sauerkraut individually. Put aside but keep separate, as each will form a layer of the casserole. (Or you can just do them all together, then eyeball it when it comes time to divide them.)
Toast and grind whole spices; set aside. Parboil the rice for 10 minutes; drain and set aside. Thin the sour cream with enough buttermilk to achieve a consistency similar to that of Mexican crema; set aside.
Heat the bacon fat or oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion until it starts to wilt and get translucent. Add the garlic and half the banana peppers and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then stir in the fennel, caraway, dill seeds, thyme and marjoram.
Remove the pan from heat. Sprinkle over the sweet and hot paprikas, splash in a little cold water, and whip to integrate (you want to avoid scorching the paprika, hence taking the pan off heat and adding the cold water). Return the pan to heat and add the ground pork. You want it to brown, not steam, so if the pork releases a lot of juice, pour it off and reserve it for later use--you can use it during casserole assembly. Once the pork has browned, remove the pan from heat and set aside.
In a separate skillet, cook the bacon until it starts to render fat, then add the sausage to the pan. Cook 5 minutes, or until the meat gets nice and browned.
Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish. Layer 1/3 (or 1 lb) of the sauerkraut on the bottom. Top with the bacon and sausage mixture, including the drippings in the pan. (I never said this was a light recipe.) Cover with another 1/3 of the kraut. Drizzle with about half the sour cream mixture. Sprinkle the rice over. Cover with the ground pork mixture, including any reserved pan juices.Spread the remaining 1/3 of kraut on top. Return the pan the ground pork cooked in to high heat and deglaze with 1 cup of water or broth, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Pour this over the casserole. Finally, spread the rest of the sour cream mixture as evenly as possible on top of the casserole. Dot with the remaining banana peppers, then bake, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and let stand for 20 minutes. At this point, you can dig right in, but it's equally good, if not better, the next day. And while it's ideally eaten hot, it's fine to eat cold or at room temperature, too.