Chef Brad Smoliak cooks up modern takes on Ukrainian comfort fare like sauerkraut stew (photo: Curtis Trent)

Local Fare: Sauerkraut Stew

By Jennifer Cockrall-King

“Food brings people together,” says chef Brad Smoliak. “Nothing fancy, nothing pretentious—just comfort food and good conversation.” Growing up in Edmonton, Smoliak was surrounded by butter- and sour-cream drenched Ukrainian family feasts. In his twenties, culinary curiosity took him to Greece and Turkey, where family-style platters reign supreme.

Upon returning home, Smoliak worked his way through some of the city’s top kitchens and became chef-partner at Hardware Grill, the wildly successful outpost credited with launching Edmonton’s local food movement.

But sixteen-hour restaurant days eventually took a toll, so Smoliak sampled other cooking careers: corporate chef at Edmonton’s Little Potato Company; VIP cooking gigs during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver; and author of two bestselling cookbooks.

In 2012, he opened his own place: Kitchen by Brad Smoliak in downtown Edmonton. The cozy 1,500-square-foot culinary studio serves as headquarters for Smoliak’s recipe development business for major food companies across North America. The space also hosts cooking classes and private dinners for up to 28 guests.

“I’m a big believer that good food is just the catalyst for a great evening,” Smoliak says. “It’s really about the people.” It’s that connection between food and people that drives Smoliak to teach new twists on tried-and-true recipes, like his take on stew. “Stew and sauerkraut are pure comfort foods to me,” he says. “There’s nothing better on a chilly fall evening.”

Serve with perogies, gnocchi or boiled potatoes

1/2 cup smoked bacon, diced
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 lb pork shoulder (or any meat), cubed
1/2 cup white wine
1 lb kielbasa or other smoked sausage, cut into large pieces
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp paprika
3 lbs sauerkraut, drained
1 lb cabbage, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Fry bacon in a heavy Dutch oven just until crisp; remove from pan and set aside.

Drain all but 2 Tbsp of the bacon fat; add onions and fry until golden brown and soft. Remove and set aside. Add cubed pork and cook over medium heat until brown; remove and set aside with onions.

Deglaze pan with wine, scraping all the brown bits from the bottom. Add all cooked and remaining uncooked ingredients; cook for 5 minutes and stir well to combine.

Cover tightly with lid and bake for 2 hours. Remove lid and set back in oven for an additional hour to absorb all the liquid. Season to taste before serving.