Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pork Spare-Rib Soup with Sauerkraut and Vegetables (Kapusta) in the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

When one thinks of spare ribs, pork or beef, one ordinarily thinks of barbecue with the meat slathered in rubs and tangy, peppery tomato-based sauces. I do not.  My heritage hails from Eastern Europe and Russia where pork ribs would be slowed cooked with onions, sauerkraut, and potatoes until the meat was unctuous and fall-off-the-bone.

I can still see my grandmother on Sunday family gatherings opening her oven door to inspect two slabs or pork ribs tied with string, one on top of the other and filled with sauerkraut and onions and then served with a side of mashed potatoes and that delicious gravy it rendered. Food is always best served with a large side or two of good memories!

Last winter, pork ribs were on sale, so I grabbed a slab intent to make a soup of which I had no recipe. My goal was to try to duplicate a wonderful tomato-based pork soup I enjoyed in a small Michigan town. After some googling, I really did not find any. They are rare. But, lo and behold, I found many pork and sauerkraut recipes. In Poland, it is called Kapusniak. In Lithuania, it called Kapusta.

I spent a good week pouring over different recipes taking note after note. Below is the recipe I created. It capitalizes on the most common of ingredients to be "authentic." And then the not so common ingredients, such as fennel, caraway and allspice berries. I have also suited it to more American tastes, hence it does not use straight sauerkraut. Instead, the sauerkraut is rinsed and squeezed so it is not so acidic or briny. I know many people only use fresh sauerkraut, not canned; actually, it should be the opposite. Fresh is laden with preservatives to keep it "fresh" in its plastic bag. My choice is Libby's or Eden's.

My associate at work, who is skeptical about sauerkraut, deemed it lick-the-bowl delicious.

I made this in my small, 12-cup Instant Pot pressure cooker. If you do not have a pressure cooker, just simmer on the stove, covered, for a good two hours or so. In the pressure cooker, it is done in 30 minutes!

Many recipes also use Kielbasa, but I only recommend that if you have access to authentic smoked Kielbasa that is not sold in sealed plastic. Some use mushrooms, fresh or dried, but I find mushrooms in the pressure cooker come out rubbery. If you do use mushrooms, cut them in large chunks.

At any rate, do not omit the spices--and that includes the dill! Sour cream could be an option---but when is the opportunity of sour cream ever an option!

And do garnish with the bones! If you have children, they will love the novelty.

  • 2 lbs. pork spare ribs
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 cups diced potatoes (I used baby golden, some left whole, others cut in half)
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 small head of cabbage, shredded (optional)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup fresh sauerkraut after it has been rinsed and squeezed dry
  • 1, 10.5 ounce can beef broth
  • 1, 10.5 can chicken stock
  • 2, 10.5 cans water or more to just cover meat
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, lightly crushed
  • 2-3 whole allspice berries, lightly crushed
  • Dried dill
  • Sour cream 

Rinse the spare ribs. Pat dry. Using a sharp paring knife, make a slit under the silver skin on the backside of ribs. Grab and rip it off. Cut ribs into 2-rib sections. Set aside.

Place onion, carrots, potatoes, celery, garlic, cabbage (if using) and sauerkraut in bottom of Instant Pot. Throw in caraway, fennel and all spice. Mix. Salt and pepper to taste.  

Arrange pork ribs on top of vegetable mixture. Salt and pepper to taste.

Slowly add beef broth and chicken stock against the side of the pot. Pour in water, about two cans or so, just until it comes up to the pork or the 10-cup mark. 

Cover. Make sure the vent is on "seal." Press "soup" button. Increase time to 30 minutes. Allow to rest 30-40 minutes before "venting" and removing the cover. The pressure button is usually down by then.

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