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Milk Street: Cooking of Ukraine (Ep 518)

Borsch with Duck and Prunes
Start to finish: 23⁄4 hours
Servings: 4 to 6

In “Summer Kitchens,” Olia Hercules writes about the history of borsch, its importance in Ukranian cuisine, seasonal and regional influences on the soup, and her own family’s recipes. For our adaptation of her resplendent borsch with duck and smoked pears, we opt to use prunes, a substitution she suggests. You also can replace the duck with a small rack of pork baby back ribs, if you’re so inclined. The borsch is made by simmering duck legs (or pork ribs) with aromatics to make a flavorful broth; the meat then is shredded off the bones and added to the soup at the end. As the broth simmers, aromatics for the borsch are sautéed in a separate pot so they are ready to receive the broth, which is strained directly into aromatics. The broth requires at least 11⁄2 hours of simmering, so that’s a good time to prep the ingredients—the aromatics, potato, cabbage—for the borsch. But wait to chop the dill garnish until later, while the finished soup stands off heat for 5 minutes, so the herbal flavor and fragrance remain fresh and strong. Serve with rye bread.

Don’t be timid about trimming the duck, if using, of excess fat, as this will prevent the soup from becoming too greasy. Also, don’t cover the Dutch oven when simmering the broth. Allowing some of the moisture to evaporate produces a broth with greater flavor concentration and a richer body.

1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
1 medium (about 6 ounces) red beet, peeled and grated on the large
holes of a box grater (11⁄2 cups)
2 pounds duck leg quarters, trimmed, or 21⁄2-pound rack pork baby
back ribs, cut into 3 pieces
3 medium carrots, 2 roughly chopped, 1 shredded on the large holes of a box grater
2 medium yellow onions, 1 roughly chopped, 1 finely chopped
2 medium celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
3⁄4 cup canned crushed tomatoes
8 ounces Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3⁄4-inch cubes
6 pitted prunes
4 ounces Savoy cabbage or green cabbage, thinly sliced (2 cups)
2 medium garlic cloves, chopped
Sour cream, to serve
Chopped fresh dill, to serve

In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar and beet; set aside. In a large pot, combine the duck legs or pork ribs, the roughly chopped carrots, the roughly chopped onion, the celery, bay, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Add 10 cups water and bring to a boil over medium-high. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low, adjusting heat to maintain a simmer, until a skewer inserted into the meat meets no resistance, 11⁄2 to 2 hours; occasionally skim off and discard the foam that rises to the surface.

While the broth simmers, in a large Dutch oven over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the finely chopped onion and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the shredded carrot and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the beet-vinegar mixture and scrape up any browned bits. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

When the duck or pork is tender, remove the pot from the heat and transfer to a plate. Set a fine-mesh strainer over the Dutch oven containing the vegetable mixture, then pour the broth through the strainer; discard the solids in the strainer. When cool enough to handle, shred the duck into bite-size pieces, discarding the skin and bones; set the meat aside.

Add the potatoes and prunes to the broth and bring to a boil over medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, about another 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, along with the shredded meat; remove from the heat and let stand for about 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into individual bowls and serve with sour cream and fresh dill.

Slow Roasted Pork with Sauerkraut, Apples & Dried Fruit
Start to finish: 6 hours (30 minutes active)
Servings: 8 to 10

Rich, succulent roasted pork with a savory-sweet mix of sauerkraut and fruits. What’s not to love? We adapted Olia Hercules’ recipe from her book “Summer Kitchens,” making the recipe a one-pan endeavor. That pan needs to be a large roasting pan to accommodate the roast, and you’ll also need a sturdy V-style roasting rack—the type with handles—plus extra-wide foil. When shopping for the roast, seek out a bone-in pork butt (sometimes called Boston butt), which is cut from the upper shoulder of the animal. A picnic roast, often sold skin-on, is a different cut, from an area lower down on the shoulder; a roast labeled simply as “pork shoulder” is likely a picnic roast, but it’s best to check with the butcher, as nomenclature can be confusing. As for the sauerkraut, look for the “fresh” type sold in the refrigerator case near the pickles; shelf-stable jarred sauerkraut has a soft, mushy texture in comparison. Bubbies is a widely available brand that works well in this recipe. To coarsely grind the caraway and fennel seeds, use an electric spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.

Don’t forget to rinse and drain the sauerkraut, otherwise its saltiness will be
overwhelming. After removing the roast from the oven after the first three hours of
cooking, don’t forget to reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.

7- to 8-pound bone-in pork butt roast (see headnote)
7 tablespoons Dijon mustard, divided
1⁄4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, divided
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons caraway seeds, coarsely ground, divided
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, coarsely ground, divided
1 tablespoon ground coriander
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 pounds refrigerated sauerkraut (see headnote), rinsed and drained (about 6 cups)
1 large red onion, root end intact, cut into 1⁄2-inch wedges
6 ounces (1 cup) pitted prunes, halved
6 ounces (1 cup) dried apricots, halved
2 firm-textured apples, such as Honeycrisp or Fuji, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks

Heat the oven to 450°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. Set a V-rack in a large roasting pan. Using a sharp knife, score the fat side of the roast in a 1⁄2-inch crosshatch pattern.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 6 tablespoons of mustard, the 1⁄4 cup vinegar, garlic, 1 tablespoon of caraway, 1 tablespoon of fennel, the coriander and 1⁄2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Measure 2 tablespoons of the mixture into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate. Rub the remaining mustard mixture onto the pork, coating all sides.

Set the pork scored side up on the rack. Add 6 cups water to the roasting pan, then cover tightly with extra-wide foil. Roast for 3 hours, then remove from the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Uncover the pork and, using potholders or oven mitts,
carefully transfer the V-rack with the roast to a rimmed baking sheet. Tilt the roasting pan and use a wide spoon to remove and discard the fat from the surface of the liquid; leave the liquid in the pan.

To the roasting pan, add the sauerkraut, onion, prunes, apricots, apples, the remaining 1 tablespoon caraway, the remaining 1 tablespoon fennel, 1 teaspoon pepper and the reserved mustard mixture. Stir, then push the sauerkraut mixture to the edges of the roasting pan, creating a clearing in the center to allow air to circulate under the roast. Pour 11⁄2 cups water into the pan and return the V-rack with the pork to the pan. Continue to roast until the center of the pork reaches 195°F and a skewer inserted into the thickest part meets just a little resistance, about another 2 hours.

Transfer the pork without the rack to a cutting board and let rest uncovered for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the rack from the roasting pan, then mix the sauerkraut mixture in the roasting pan with the juices accumulated in the pan. Stir in 1⁄2 cup water, the remaining 1 tablespoon mustard and the remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar; if needed, stir in additional water 1 tablespoon at a time until the sauerkraut mixture is slightly saucy. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Remove the bone from the pork (it should slide out easily). Slice the pork against the grain about 1⁄2 inch thick. Transfer the sauerkraut mixture to a serving platter, then arrange the pork on top.

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To see other recipes from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street and other shows, visit  Cooking with WSKG.