One of the women I run with told me this joke about ham: "What's the definition of eternity? Two people and a ham." Since there are only three in my family and only two of us eat meat, this hits home, so to speak. But there are a lot of good things to be said about ham - one of the big ones being that you don't have to cook it. And another being that it tastes pretty darned good, if you get a high quality one.
Which takes us back to that eternity problem. It's hard to get good ham in small packages, and the smaller packages of ham, are generally low quality. One solution to this is to find a good butcher who will cut you a ham steak. In my town Sparrow Meat Market is such a place. But even a two or three inch thick ham steak can be a lot. I learned this at Christmas when I got a 4 inch ham steak for Christmas Eve dinner, served it to 4 people, and then had leftovers for weeks.
This is where Kassler comes in. Kassler is a name originally used for lightly salted and smoked boneless pork neck or loin. Also pork rib, shoulder and belly parts may be prepared in a similar way. The work Kassler, or Kasseler, was derived from the name of a German butcher named Cassel who ran a meat and sausage business in Berlin in the the late 19th century. He was the first to prepare the kassler style smoked pork. Kassler is now widely used in Germany and Scandinavian cooking.
The great thing about Kassler is that it's not made in this country in big commercial lots as far as I know, and remains a specialty item. You can literally buy it one smoked pork chop at a time, so you can get small quantities of high quality meat to use when you need it. Plus since it's smoked it keeps well in the refrigerator, so you don't have to worry about exactly when you are going to cook it. If you are in a hurry, or feeling lazy you can just wrap it in aluminum foil and then heat it up in the oven with whatever side dishes you like. Because of its huge flavor, you can also stretch it like silly putty, if you are cooking on a budget - I have what I call a "miracle of the loaves and fishes recipe," which allows you to feed four adults with one smoked pork chop, but I'll save it for another day. Today, here is a simple, quick dish that I can recommend for an easy week night dinner.
I got this recipe off the Dagen's Nyheter website, in the recipe section, so this also qualifies as "ethnic food". I picked it because my daughter likes bacon and ham pizza, so I knew that this would go down well. The quantity is what I made to serve 2 people. It's easily expanded for more. Basically, one chop prepared this way will serve about 2 1/2, so if you make a large amount factor that in.
Kassler and Pineapple Casserole
1 smoked pork chop
1/2 (or a little less) fresh pineapple peeled, cored and sliced, or 1/2 can of pineapple rings
1 tsp good quality mustard (dijon or better yet, german or swedish style - do not use French's)
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated swiss style cheese. Jarlsberg (or J-berg lite) would be a good choice
black pepper to taste
Heat the over to 400 degrees.
Slice the pork chop into pieces about 1/3 inch thick the long way. Smear a little mustard on one or both sides of each slice, depending on how much you prefer. Get a ceramic or glass dish or casserole and put the slices of Kassler and pineapple alternating them. You want to lay them on their sides, so the thin side of the slices is down. Put the dish in the oven for about 10 minutes, then remove, sprinkle the cheese over it, and put it back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes to melt and brown the cheese. Pull it out and serve.