This morning on CBC Edmonton AM radio, I spoke with Mark Connolly about casseroles. What is it that we love about them, and what is it that we don’t? And why have they lasted on this ever-changing culinary landscape?
Casseroles are easy to make and they don’t need to be complicated although some recipes today are more intricate than the ones that first popped up in magazines in the 1950s.
I mentioned that my favourite casserole to make is called kuppershnuck. It’s a family recipe that I included in Flavours of Edmonton, CBC’s recipe book that came out in 2011. If you have that book, please know that the recipe* for this dish (on page 39) had editorial changes made to it that I didn’t know about: first and foremost, do not discard the bacon fat. The fat is a vital ingredient, and without it, I can’t imagine how this dish would taste, and just as importantly, feel in the mouth. Secondly, the liquid involved cooks the rice, so this is not a “sauerkraut soup” nor should it resemble a stew. This is a casserole.
My grandmother and mom would make kuppershnuck in the oven—just mix everything together and bake, but I prefer to make it on the stovetop.
If you make kuppershnuck on the stovetop, the meat portion of the bacon strip develops a deeper flavour as it browns and the fat has more time to render, so every grain gets a nice coating, whereas, if you use the oven method, every ingredient goes in raw and at the same time. This results in a dish that’s more anemic looking and has less flavour. Kuppershnuck does not photograph well, but the picture below shows the consistency you should aim for, if you use the stovetop method.
Even though I ate this dish for years, it took me a long time to be happy with the result once I started making it, so be patient if at first you don’t succeed.
Here is my stovetop method recipe for Kuppershnuck (serves 6 as a side):
bacon – 1 lb (use applewood smoked or something similar; avoid a bacon with sweet maple type of flavour profile)
onion – 1 large onion, chopped
garlic – 1 – 3 medium cloves, minced
sauerkraut – 1 jar (500 – 750 mls)
water – 500 mls if you use 500 ml sauerkraut, or 750 mls if you use 750 ml of sauerkraut
rice (short or long-grained white, not brown) – 1 cup if you use 500 ml sauerkraut, or 1.5 cups if you use 750 ml of sauerkraut
Salt and pepper to taste (I go pretty generous with the pepper)
Heat a large dutch oven to medium and add bacon. Let it render (about 10 minuts) and do not discard the fat.
To the pot, first add rice, stir to coat, then add sauerkraut, water, salt and pepper.
Turn heat to low, cover with lid and let cook for about 35 to 45 minutes. You want the liquid to be absorbed, so check after about 30 minutes.
Fluff with a fork, and serve.
[*cover image is kuppershnuck made in the oven]