Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Strasbourg, Overstuffed Freezers and Choucroute Garni

Strasbourg/Argentina 1644

“An early sign of fall in the Alsatian wine villages that spread out from the Rhine River to the crest of the Vosges Mountains is a prominent market sign announcing: Nouvelle Choucroute. This means the season's first batch of sauerkraut, still a bit crunchy and with just a hint of acidity, is in the market, ready to be garnished, then roasted with an array of salted and smoked pork, lean bacon, and perhaps a half dozen different sausages, all to be washed down with plenty of crisp and chilled local white Riesling.” So said Patricia Wells In a 1982 NYT’s article.

It is that time of year when we begin to enjoy clean cool air, simmering pots and hearth fires –– the perfect season for Alsatian cuisine. Alsace is known for hearty, cold-weather-fortifying foods like choucroute, flammekueche (an onion, bacon and fresh cheese tart), chicken with Riesling, prunes and cabbage, fleishschneke (meat on noodle dough rolled and sliced in a broth), and of course Quiche Lorraine and Strasbourg goose liver paté (tinned Strasbourg paté was the first foie gras I ever tasted –– it was supposedly invented around 1780 by Jean-Pierre Claus in Strasbourg).

I love the picturesque villages and towns of Alsace but must admit, Alsace’s capitol, the very ancient Roman city of Argentina, now Strasbourg, is a favorite of mine – not just because it saw the birth of Gutenberg’s printing press and the French anthem Les Marseillaise. It contains Strasbourg Cathedral –– the tallest building in the world from the 17th to the 19th century, as well as other marvelous streets and buildings, most especially the 15th century Kamerzell Altehaus –– I love all its swoops and droops and carvey bits. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site full of half-timbered houses, wooden bridges and canals.

Kammerzell Altehaus, Strasbourg
Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Barth Illustration

When I was tasked with making a dish using things that were pickled as my Creative Cooking Crew challenge this month, things Alsatian came to mind, yes, but I was also inspired by a D'Artagnan frozen duck leg hurtling from my freezer onto my foot when I opened the door. Choucroute garni was the perfect choice for the pickling challenge. My freezer is now becoming like something out of  Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice –– instead of too much water and too many brooms, my freezer is conjuring meat out of thin air. Whenever I take things out it still remains full to bursting –– drastic meat reduction measures were necessary.

Choucroute garni got rid of all sorts of meaty goodies and I can now almost fit my hand in on the middle shelf (ok, to be honest, chicken stock and goose and duck fat are also major contributors to my over-stuffing problem). The great thing about the dish is you can pretty much use anything that suites your fancy in the meat realm although it is traditionally made with smoked pork (meat and sausages) and often smoked goose and duck (although I have heard of a fish version).

My version of this dish uses pork that I made into kielbasa, bits of spare ribs, duck confit, smoked pork chops, smoked duck breast and a pig foot (don’t ask, they came in pairs) and has loads of pickled goodness,  from the cornichons that are used as a side to the dish to the potatoes steamed in sauerkraut juice and really the dish itself. Smoked meats cooked for a good long while with sauerkraut that's bursting with flavor and tang essentially pickles the meat as well.

In general, pickling is easy as could be. It involves vinegar and usually sugar and salt but everything else is up to you. You can pickle vegetables, fruits, meat and fish. You could probably pickle rocks if it appealed to you because all you need is a brine and whatever you wish to pickle. The way you do it depends on whether you want to make the result last or intend to use it right away.

Classic sauerkraut is not pickled as you usually think of pickled –– fermentation pickles it (technically, lacto-fermentation). In a way, you are creating vinegar and the cabbage comes along for the ride –– it is a 4000-year old technique that originated in Northern China. You can use Alton Brown’s recipe  or this one from Wild Fermentation or Michael Pollan’s take on it . I’ve made sauerkraut twice with mixed results. My first effort was excellent, the second a nightmare of rot and stench. I have no idea why one succeeded and the other did not.  You can often buy good lacto-fermented sauerkraut (I used a great version available in NYC's Union Square Greenmarket from Hawthorne Valley, it’s as good as I would make).

To get rid of meat in the freezer, I made my own kielbasa based on Hank Shaw’s wonderful recipe at Honest Food. I turned out a superlative product using a kettle grill at low temperature since I didn’t have a smoker. I sat outside and watched it carefully, adding mulberry sticks to the grill and extra charcoal.   The whole thing took 2 hours but the result was magnificent (Shaw recommended a 4 hour smoke).  I smoked the bit of pork rib meat I had as well as the pig foot.  All turned a spectacular mahogany color.  The only amusing thing was at the last minute one of the kielbasa poured a stream of fat into the grill – no idea why that happened.  It went from totally plump to puckered in an instant.

I added a touch of Aftelier’s fir essence when I read that one of the classic ingredients to the dish was a fir-smoked sausage.  I love the scent and it goes well with the juniper-scented sauerkraut.

The amounts and varieties of meat are purely recommendations.  I think there is enough sauerkraut for 8 people, if you want to up the recipe make more potatoes and add more meat. You could use 3 or 4 sorts of sausage from kielbasa to hot dogs, bratwurst or Andouille.  You could even spice it up with chorizo or merguez if it appeals to you. Often smoked pork butt is the largest meat component.  Whatever empties out your freezer. It is a great leftover and I discovered leftover sauerkraut can be frozen (and used on hotdogs, oh yes!).

Choucroute Garni (adapted from many recipes) serves 4

1 ham hock or pig foot, 4 c water
2 pounds sauerkraut, drained, juice reserved (a potato ricer works perfectly for this)
2 T duck fat   or goose fat or butter
1 slice bacon, chopped
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 carrot, thinly sliced (optional)
1 apple, peeled cored and sliced (optional)
2 smoked pork chops (mine were from Flying Pig’s Farm, fat trimmed)
2 oz smoked boneless pork rib  (optional)
1 garlic clove
2 c Riesling wine
1 cup chicken stock or reserved stock from cooking hock or foot
4-5 smashed juniper berries
1 or 2 bay leaves
2 cloves
5 coriander seeds
1 t thyme
½ t caraway seeds
½ t pepper
1 pound smoked, cooked sausage (I used kielbasa but you can use many kinds)
1 D'Artagnan smoked duck breast, skin removed and fried till crisp and reserved
1 or 2 drops Aftelier Fir Essence (optional but delicious)
8 potatoes, peeled (Yukon gold or thin-skinned red)
1 T butter
chopped parsley

Mustard, cornichons, pickles, pickled onions, pickled horseradish etc for accompaniments -- mustard and cornichons are the classic accompaniments.

Cook the pork foot or hock in water to cover for a few hours.  If you are using the hock, remove the meat (the foot is mostly cartilage). Cool and reserve stock. Take most of the fat from the stock and reduce to 1 cup.

Preheat oven to 325º

Melt the fat in a pan.  Add the bacon and smoked duck skin if you are using it and fry till browned, remove and reserve.  Add the onions and sauté till soft (around 15 minutes).  Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for a few minutes.

Add the duck confit with the smoked pork rib. Add the drained sauerkraut, the stock and the wine with the spices.  Cover and cook for 1 to 1½ hours total (times will depend on the meats you choose, most meats need to just be warmed through not cooked so an hour would be enough).

Add the sausage, smoked duck breast and smoked pork chop to the choucroute garni. Cover and cook for another 20 minutes to half an hour (the additional items just need to be warmed through).

Take the reserved sauerkraut juice and whatever additional water necessary and add the potatoes.  Cook till tender but not mushy. Reserve.  Just before serving, toss the potatoes in the butter and add chopped parsley.

Remove the meat from the dish –– the duck leg meat will fall from the bone.  Put the sauerkraut on the platter.  Scatter the meats (you can serve them sliced or whole) and the reserved bacon and duck skin on the kraut with the potatoes and serve with the accompaniments.

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chow and chatter said...

love this region too looks tasty

ArchitectDesign™ said...

just in time for octoberfest!

Alex said...

Amazing. I am doing this this weekend. Question: should the 1.5 hour cooking be done covered?

La Table De Nana said...

A blogger has posted so may pics of that area.. be still my heart..the Christams lovely..And your dish..for this season especially..yum.yum.yum.

Deana Sidney said...

Alex, thanks for noticing. Yes it is covered. Most recipes ask for a long cooking time but that would dry out the meat that wasn't very fatty (ie duck confit just comes off the bone with a lovely texture). If you are using a big chunk of pork adjust accordingly.

Kathy Walker said...

Perfect dish for the cooler weather. I loved visiting Strasbourg! Lovely city.

mandy said...

That looks so delicious - what a fabulous use of that fragrant fir! Your productions are so gorgeous and intriguing, thank you so much Deana!
xo Mandy

panathinaeos said...

What a wonderful blog! I am so happy to have found you! And Alsace is just unbeatable. Thank you! On the choucroute side, I have always found the French cooking lighter and more tasty than the German. But the statistical sample is small.

Evelyne CulturEatz said...

Amazing dish and sauerkraut is a great idea for a pickle. I think my arteries have blocked just looking at your dish to long lol. And I want your freezer content.

Rhodesia said...

What a great post and my mouth is just watering. Memories of sausages and sauerkraut on our trip staying with friends in Germany. Not forgetting the memories of the Oktoberfest, wow that was a wonderful trip. Have a good day Diane

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

A true celebration of meat! Your stories about making sauerkraut are so interesting - I'd be the one with the nightmare of rot and stench.

Sarah said...

Oh my gosh, I could dig into this right now. Baking for the market tomorrow and didn't make a good meal for myself. Last market day and now I can cook again!

Barbara said...

Good heavens, I haven't thought about sauerkraut in years. My mother served it all the time! She would have loved this post. She also made pickled pigs feet and we all thought it delicious. I have the recipe for that one! I'll say one thing for my mother, she served unusual meals.
Your Choucroute Garni is totally divine. I would have given anything to be there for that meal!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

This dish brings back such vivid memories of being in France! And yes when something hurtles out of the freezer towards you, that's certainly a sign. I hope your foot is ok!

Joan Nova said...

That dish looks so delicious, I want to slap on a bib and belly up! Nice take on theme too.

Victoria said...

What an intense dish. I bet that plate of food could serve my entire family, haha.

Christo Gonzales said...

MEAT - looks like a feast said...

Great for this weather...Great post...

Lori Lynn said...

Oh my gosh - this platter is simply a masterpiece Deana! All smoky and meaty, and fermented. You did an awesome job plating the dish.
Lori Lynn
P.S. Ha ha - pickled rocks!

LaDivaCucina said...

Deanna, I always save your posts for last so I can savor and really enjoy the history lesson and the recipe, all the time you put into your dish and the post itself is really incredible, my hat's off to you, dear. The Polish girl in me is loving this dish but the addition of duck with the keilbasa and the pork, it must be heavenly. I am glad you pointed out that fermentation is different from pickling, I discovered that when researching kimchi, I thought it was pickled but actually is fermented. Lovely post as always.

Erica said...

I love reading your posts!What a delicious dish!

Jennifer Kendall said...

such a fascinating post to read :) this sounds absolutely, positively delicious!

Karina A. Fogliani said...

I didn't know Strasbourg was originally called Argentina. That's my country of origin! Maybe this is the reason for my fascination with this land!

Frank said...

Nothing like choucroute garni! One of my favorite cold weather dishes and I plan to make it real soon. Not being a lover of sour tastes, I usually soak the sauerkraut in water beforehand and braise it in broth along with the aromatics and meats. Leaves just a hint of sourness in the dish.

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