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June 20, 2021

A century’s worth of memories with Spareribs & Sauerkraut

Many of us have wonderful memories of holidays and everything they represent. Our religious devotion, celebrating with family and friends and traditional foods are just a few things we hold in our hearts. One of my favorite Christmas food memories involves my dad when he was in college. I now share that story and the special recipe, which has been part of the Mariani family’s Christmas meal for well over a century.
We often anticipate what something will be like based on our previous experiences. When my dad discovered his roommate planned on making hot dogs and sauerkraut, he assumed it would be like a cherished Christmas dish. When it came time to eat, my dad was quite surprised—but not in a good way. His roommate’s cooking method consisted of opening a can of sauerkraut, emptying it into a pot with all its liquid, then adding hot dogs and brought to a simmer. Since the sauerkraut was not rinsed, the whole dish was salty and sour; it was nothing like my dad anticipated.
My dad’s family immigrated from what is now Croatia. Pork and its various cuts were rare, but obtainable, on their island. Since it was hard to come by, it was used for special celebrations. Christmas was one of the unique occasions where the family was able to procure pork in the form of spareribs, which were transformed into the unique dish of Spareribs & Sauerkraut. It became a traditional dish synonymous with the holiday. Even today, the dish continues to be a part of Christmas dinner for the family, but is served along side roasted turkey and beef.
When purchasing ribs for this recipe, ask the butcher to cut the ribs in half lengthwise through the bones. The ribs will be easier to stir in the pot. Make sure the cut ribs get a good rub under running water to remove any bone fragments remaining. My dad’s story serves as a reminder to make sure rinsing the sauerkraut is not skipped. Spareribs & Sauerkraut are best served with other traditional holiday side dishes, but pairs well with roasted seasonal vegetables the rest of the year.
Spareribs & Sauerkraut
From Sima Mariani
Serves 4
1 rack pork spareribs, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, minced
8 ounces tomato sauce
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
26-30 ounces sauerkraut
Salt & pepper to taste
Step 1: Cut the rib halves into individual rib portions. Salt and pepper the ribs and place in a lined baking pan. Roast the ribs for about one hour and 15 minutes at 325 degrees to begin browning and to render some fat; making sure the ribs are tossed every 15 minutes for even heating and color.
Step 2: Warm a large, heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add olive oil followed by the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and continue until garlic is soft. Add the Italian parsley and toss with the onion and garlic mixture and wilt slightly. Stir in tomato sauce, white wine and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Place the roasted ribs into the simmering sauce and add water just to cover the ribs. Stir to blend the water into the sauce; salt and pepper to taste. Bring the contents back to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 3: Meanwhile, strain the sauerkraut in a colander to remove the salty brine. Place the sauerkraut into a large bowl and fill with cold water. Agitate the sauerkraut in the water to rinse it. Pour the water and sauerkraut into the colander. Repeat two more times and allow the water to drain well after the last rinse.
Step 4: Add the sauerkraut to the rib mixture and stir, adding a little more water if necessary. Cover and continue to simmer an additional 20 minutes or until the ribs are very tender.

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