Saturday, February 2, 2013


On a cold February day, there is little so comforting as choucroute. It's tasty, healthy, hearty, and hot. Simply put- it's a bunch of meat cooked in sauerkraut and wine.

Now, before you go off reeling in disgust, keep a few things in mind. Sauerkraut here in the states tends to be associated with tounge-puckeringly sour flavor. That tends to come from industrially processed sauerkraut, especially the liquid. Remember that sauerkraut is meant to be pickled, but most sauerkraut you buy tends to be canned. The canning process cooks the kraut in addition to the pickling, which will really affect the flavor and texture. Choucroute will also have you rinse the kraut, which leaves you with a dish much, much more mild in flavor. That said, sauerkraut, even rinsed and with much of the pungency cooked out of it, still has a slightly sour taste. But it's worth a try.

For myself, I was off in New Jersey with my father, learning to drive. After a few hours of not hitting anyone, we were both hungry. We went to the nearby town where my father knew there was a German butcher. The smells inside were intoxicating, and my father and I agreed that choucroute would be a lovely dinner. He kindly paid for ingredients and I agreed to cook, it seemed fair.

One nice thing that I can't recommend enough: if you have a German butcher who makes his own sauerkraut, buy it from them. We did, and the flavor difference is immediately notable. For one thing, you get a little more flavor from the cabbage, but it is also less pungent than normal kraut because less vinegar is necessary for preservation. Ours came out of the barrel with very little liquid. Combined with how mellow it was, I decided not to bother with rinsing the sauerkraut. If you are buying yours from the store- and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that- be sure to rinse yours.

Substitutions: I have *loads* of celery seed, as you may have been able to tell form my last recipe for celery soda. The traditional ingredient is juniper berries, of which I have none. However, I'm not the worlds biggest fan of juniper, finding the flavor a tad pungent and overwhelming. Celery gives you the gorgeous aromatics without the pungency, so I like it as a substitute. Feel free to change as you wish.

As for the meats: look, this is a flexible enough recipe that you can throw whatever you like in. Some people use fish. Some people use beef. Things that need to cook longer should be put in at the beginning (pig knuckles and such) while the wurst and pork chops should be put in at the end.

The wine: don't use "cooking" wine. Use something inexpensive but nice- Riesling is traditional- but any dry white wine will do.

Had I not had two pounds of somewhat fatty uncured hickory smoked bacon from dartagnion, I would have chopped two large onions and sauteed them in a pot with a large amount of goosefat (alt: duck fat, pork fat). However, with how fatty my bacon was, I sauteed the bacon first until it was almost fully cooked and all the fat had rendered out, then added the chopped onions (chopped to about 1 cm square) and cooked them until soft. To this was added rosemary, thyme, a bay leaf, a quarter teaspoon celery seed, 2.7 pounds sauerkraut, a half dozen small peeled potatoes, and a bottle (750 mL) of white wine. Reduce heat to very low, cover, cook for an hour and a half. Add three generously sized smoked pork chops, four bratwurst, four knockwurst, four weisswurst. Cook a further 20-30 minutes. Remove the meat. Drain sauerkraut. Serve the meat with the kraut on the side.

Pictures will be added later, as I'm still cooking this as I type.