This March, we're taking you on a tour of the Old World, with a focus on how traditional European dishes are influencing modern cuisine.
"Choucroute garnie is really the whole region's staple dish," Gabriel Kreuther, chef of his self-titled French restaurant in New York City, says. Though Kreuther now lives in New York, he grew up on his family's small farm in Alsace, where choucroute garnie reigns supreme.
This fragrant stew starts with many types of pork, including fresh cuts, sausage and smoked bacon. They're all seared in duck fat before being braised in a broth of Riesling and sauerkraut. To finish it off, potatoes are added to the pot to soak up the flavor before being served alongside various mustards and crusty bread (see the recipe).
While it's considered a French dish, choucroute garnie embraces the German ancestry of the Alsace region. Over the centuries, Alsace fluctuated between being part of France and Germany before finally being annexed by the French in 1648. To this day, Alsace shares a great deal of culinary culture with neighboring Germany, with choucroute garnie being a popular dish at bistros all throughout France. Now it's time to bring it into your kitchen.
Explore the World of Sausage and Pork
This dish is known for its blend of multiple types of pork. Fresh, cured and smoked varieties are cooked together for an extremely intense pork flavor. Every family's recipe differs, but typically two to three types of sausage, bacon and pork ribs are in the mix. "I like to have a couple of different sausages with the choucroute," Kreuther says. "One smoked, a regular knack sausage, a blood sausage and some liver dumplings with onion sauce. For the meat, I like to have two kinds of bacon, salted pork ribs and even a ham hock."
We suggest you go to your local butcher and explore different types of pork sausages to use for this stew. Feel free to substitute the sausages for whichever German links your heart desires.
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Fat Is Your Friend
Part of what makes this dish so rich and fragrant is the duck fat that's used to sear the meat. If you find yourself asking, Why use duck fat in a pork dish? The reason is relatively simple: It's what they have in Alsace. In a country where duck confit is commonly found at the dinner table, there is no shortage of duck fat. The fat adds a subtle nuttiness to the stew that makes a world of difference in flavor.
Sauerkraut Is King
This dish is a pot of sauerkraut, garnished with pork—not the other way around. Kreuther recalls early memories of making sauerkraut from scratch on his family's farm. He'd slice the cabbage with a giant wooden mandolin and ferment it so that his family would have sauerkraut for the rest of the year. "We used to keep it in a dark root cellar in a stone bucket with wood and heavy pieces of granite on top," Kreuther says.
Using a high-quality sauerkraut is of great importance. It flavors the broth and melts into the stew, covering the meat and potatoes. Make sure you don't skimp on the cabbage, and if you have the time, be like young Kreuther and make the sauerkraut yourself.
Welcome to the World of Bridging
Bridging is a fancy term that means serving a dish alongside the wine it was cooked in. After you pour half the bottle of Riesling into the pot, pour yourself the rest. And while you're at it, keep a few extra bottles on hand for your party. The brininess of the 'kraut will complement the mineral notes in the Riesling.