What is Kassler?

A. Leverkuhn

Kassler is a certain kind of pork dish that is popular in Germany and other parts of the surrounding European region. The dish that is called Kassler consists of a cut of pork that is usually salt-cured and sometimes smoked. It is often served with additional side items or garnishes.

Kassler is often served with sauerkraut.
Kassler is often served with sauerkraut.

The meat used for Kassler is often a pork neck or loin. Other cuts of meat for this dish include pork shoulder or a similar item. For those who do not eat pork, chicken is also sometimes sold prepared in this way.

Kassler is often made with pork neck or pork loin meat.
Kassler is often made with pork neck or pork loin meat.

One of the most popular presentations for Kassler is served with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. This represents a common German feast or holiday dish that has migrated to America and other parts of the world. In German-American communities, pork and sauerkraut is a traditional holiday dish for the new year. The pork used in these recipes may or may not be cured like Kassler, but some think that the dish helped to strengthen the idea of serving pork with these side items at holiday meals.

The popularity of Kassler in some parts of Europe is a prime example of how older societies approached food safety in the use of heavier meats like pork. The curing and smoking of the meat is a very traditional way to preserve it, where by contrast, modern food service methods often include much different preservation techniques, from freezing and canning, to vacuum-sealing. Some see Kassler as a "primitive" meat dish utilizing a set of antiquated culinary techniques. To others, this is part of the appeal of this and similar dishes.

A traditional technique is to smoke the meat with beech or alder wood. The pork can also be brined in some recipes. Experts in the preparation of this dish may recommend removing fat to make the entire dish leaner. Kassler takes a long time to prepare, and is considered a delicacy in the areas where it originated.

In addition to using prime cuts of pork, many of the cooks who make this dish regularly add specific herbs and seasonings to compliment the smoky or cured taste. These include garlic, as well as thyme, coriander, sage, and even more exoticly flavored items like juniper berries. Some of these herbs and spices go along with a distinctly traditional holiday taste for meat dishes that families serve at Christmas, New Year’s, or other feast holidays.

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