It all started with a bag of leftover sauerkraut.
A $3 bag of leftover sauerkraut that I didn’t want to go to waste. So I went out and spent $50 on pork sausages, wine and other accompaniments to make a dish that used sauerkraut as a main ingredient.
(I find myself in this type of scenario quite often it seems. The one that happens quite frequently is not wanting to toss out a $1 loaf of French bread so instead I buy $20 worth of ingredients (onions = cheap; Gruyere = not so cheap) to make French onion soup.)
Each time I opened my fridge, that blue-ish bag of preserved cabbage (made in Germany) kept staring back at me as if
taunting challenging me to come up with a recipe, something worthy, to use it in. Not that adding sauerkraut to hot dogs or sausages aren’t worthy because those are some of my favorite ways of eating sauerkraut (especially from the street vendors in New York – but I’ll only pay $1 per dog, nothing more!) – but I wanted something more complex.
And then the recipe that was at the tip of my food subconscious finally broke free. Choucroute Garnie!
Scotch and I first had Choucroute Garnie at Cafe D’Alsace when we lived in New York City on the Upper East Side. Every so often, we would walk the couple of blocks from our studio apartment to this Alsacian beer/wine bar/restaurant.
The place always felt warm and inviting and the food was hearty and heavenly. A place we never left unsatisfied. We’d start off with a drink at the bar choosing from their extensive beer and wine list, eat some hard-boiled eggs that were set out at the bar (okay, that was just me), then move on to one of the banquettes for dinner.
Scotch was always drawn towards “La Moelle,” bone marrow with fleur de sel and country toast. I was always torn between everything that started with a C: confit, choucroute, cassoulet, or charcuterie? Oh, and then there were the tartares and the sweetbreads!
This is basically a meat and potatoes type of dish with the added bonus of sauerkraut braised in wine.
“Choucroute” is French for sauerkraut and Choucroute Garnie is an Alsatian dish (Alsace is a region in the northeast of France bordering Germany) made by simmering sauerkraut with Alsatian wine (preferably a Riesling) and a bouquet garnie of spices – traditionally juniper berries, bay leaves and black peppercorns. It is served with sausages (typically Frankfurter, Strasbourg, and Montbéliard sausages), other charcuterie and boiled potatoes.
I found these spice bags from Daiso (where everything is 7 dhs = $2) and they are so much more convenient than cutting up cheesecloth and twine. Just throw all the spices into the bag, and flip the top flaps over like a sandwich bag and throw it into the casserole pot. Done.
Makes removing the spices at the end of cooking a piece of cake. I loved the flavors of the Cafe D’Alsace version but I hated picking out the juniper berries from my sauerkraut.
Besides the sauerkraut, I had almost everything I needed in my pantry except for juniper berries, sausages, pork, and wine.
For the meats, I picked up whatever sausages looked good at Waitrose (a Western grocery chain) and some pork belly as well. Because…why not?
The dish was already going to include bacon and goose fat, so why not throw in another artery clogging ingredient? And I just love pork belly.
The sausages I bought for this Choucroute Garnie were Burenwurst, Weisswurst and Bauern Bratwurst.
To make this recipe, I was also quite excited to use my Staub French oven.
It was a birthday present from Scotch a few years ago and I don’t use it often enough. He special ordered it in my favorite color.
* * * * *
Right, on with the cooking!
To start, I browned a few strips of Oscar Mayer maple bacon in goose fat. I actually had both of these ingredients in my fridge. The maple bacon definitely added a wonderful flavor to the finished dish and I prefer it over regular bacon.
When the bacon was crisp, I removed it from the pot and set it aside on a plate. Next I browned the pork belly in the same pot and when that was done, I set it aside with the bacon.
I used the leftover oil in the pot to saute the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes.
Then I threw in the sauerkraut, apples, wine, broth, bacon, pork belly and the spice bag. The pot was covered and placed in the oven to cook for one and a half hours.
While the sauerkraut-party-in-a-pot were simmering away in the oven, I took the time to brown the sausages in a little bit of olive oil.
These will later be added to the pot at the very end.
I nearly had to slap Scotch’s hands from stealing a sausage:
Me: “Step away from the sausages.”
Scotch: “But they’re calling my name!”
Me: “You must wait and have it with the finished dish!”
The finished dish was brothier than expected as I got over-zealous and poured in the whole bottle of wine instead of 2 cups. I can’t believe I did that – What was I thinking? I should have saved a few glasses to drink while I waited for the dish to finish cooking.
We were quite impatient to start eating so we just dug in but otherwise, I would have removed all the solids and reduced the liquid down a bit.
I loved the flavors that the juniper and the allspice imparted into the sauerkraut. Every bite was somewhat different and oh-so-satisfying.
Sometimes I would get a bite of maple bacon (Oh Yeah, Baby!) and remember that it was sauteed in goose fat – Double Yeah, Baby! And the red apples had gone all soft and so sweet as well.
Scotch and I served this at a dinner party and among the different sausages – Burenwurst, Weisswurst, and Bauern Bratwurst – we all had our personal favorites.
When I had finished off my Choucroute Garnie, I was dying to lift the plate to my mouth and drink all the remaining liquid goodness of spice-infused Alsatian wine + homemade chicken stock.
The first time I made this dish, I boiled some potatoes to serve as a side dish but personally, I didn’t think the dish needed any and could have done without them. Maybe in the future I’ll roast the potatoes in goose fat :).
The second time I made this dish, I didn’t bother with the potatoes and just served it with a side of asparagus. I love meat but I also love vegetables.
Even though it seemed like a lot of meat at first, we devoured it all pretty fast with just a little bit of leftovers for Wee Scotch the next day.
Now, what to do with the remaining goose fat…
- 2 tablespoons goose fat , optional
- 4 slices of bacon , preferably thick-cut and Maple flavor, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pound (450 g) pork belly, skin removed
- 1 large onion , chopped
- 2 garlic cloves , coursely chopped
- 1 teaspoon juniper berries
- 4 whole allspice berries
- 5 whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 Red Delicious apples , unpeeled, cored, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 500 grams (1 pound) sauerkraut, squeezed dry
- 1 kg (2 pounds) of fully cooked assorted sausages (such as bratwurst, burenwurst, weisswurst, Frankfurter, Strasbourg, Montbéliard, kielbasa, etc)
- 2 cups Alsatian Pinot Blanc or other dry white wine
- 2 cups chicken broth
- Assorted mustards and prepared white horseradish , as condiments
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
Heat a heavy large pot over medium-high heat.
Add the goose fat and bacon. Sauté until bacon is crisp but not burnt. Remove bacon from pan and set aside.
Brown the pork belly in the bacon/goose fat for a few minutes per side and especially the fatty side on top. Remove pork belly and set aside with the bacon.
Add onions and garlic to the pot and sauté until onions are tender, about 5 minutes.
Place all the spices (juniper, allspice, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves) into a spice bag or wrap in cheesecloth tied with kitchen twine.
Add apples, sauerkraut, bacon, wine, and chicken stock to the pot. Give it a good mix.
Add the pork belly and spice bag, pressing them into the sauerkraut.
Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
Cover the pot and transfer to the oven to bake for 1 and 1/2 hour.
Meanwhile, brown the sausages in a little bit of olive or vegetable oil (about 1 tablespoon).
When the sauerkraut mix has cooked for 1-1/2 hour, add the browned sausages and cover and bake for another 15 minutes so that the sausages are warmed up.
Serve with boiled or roasted potatoes, assorted mustards and prepared horseradish for dipping the sausages. Enjoy!