Day before yesterday at SuperU I bought a jar of choucroute off the shelf. There were just two choices if I wanted sauerkraut without a lot of meat and sausages as part of the bargain, and sausages from a tin are not my idea of good eats. I rejected those a priori.
The two brands left to choose from were William Saurin, sauerkraut in a tin advertised as having been cooked in Riesling wine. According to the label, what was in the tin was 69% choucroute and 0.5% Riesling wine. The tin cost 1.79€. I passed.
Instead, I got a jar of Charles Christ choucroute « style
brasserie » — it too was cooked in Riesling. The ingredients list said it was 72% sauerkraut and 2.0% Riesling. That sounded better to me, and the jar sold for just 1.73€. It also contained "cured lean and fat pork," so rinsing the sauerkraut before heating it up wasn't an option.
Brasserie, by the way means "brewery," and it is also the name given to a certain kind of restaurant. It's pretty much a synonym for taverne, and these are restaurants that usually have an extensive menu of standard French and Alsatian dishes served not just at conventional mealtimes but at all hours of the day and evening, along with beer and, of course, wine.
Here's what I wrote yesterday: Okay, I just opened the jar of Charles Christ ’kraut. First, I have to say the smell was off-putting. Suddenly I remember why people say they don't like cooked cabbage or sauerkraut at all. It must be the smell of the fermentation, and it is more than a little sour-smelling.
This label lists the "quality criteria"
for Charles Christ's choucroute
We just tasted the Christ ’kraut. To be fair, it has just started to heat up, so we haven't given it enough cooking time yet. But I wanted to taste it before I added some wine to it. I can tell already that more wine will be necessary. And the best thing is the Christ ’kraut tastes better than it smells. I'll give it time, and some more white wine. When in doubt... as they say... add more wine.
You won't be surprised to hear me say that the sauerkraut I made using choucroute crue didn't (and doesn't) have that sour, cabbagy, fermentation smell. I attribute that to the rinsing and blanching I did before I cooked the sauerkraut in duck fat with white wine, onions, carrots, smoked pork lardons, and aromatics including peppercorns, allspice berries, bay leaves, and juniper berries.
The Charles Christ ’kraut is also much saltier than what I made. In fact, with mine, we ended up adding salt at the table, which is what we prefer doing. That's better than having food that is served already over-salted.
I've just added a big spoonful of duck fat and a good glug of white wine to the Charles Christ ’kraut, along with some black pepper and a bay leaf. We'll see how it tastes after another 30 or 40 minutes of cooking with those additions.
* * *
Even after doctoring and 40 minutes' more cooking, the taste of the Charles Christ ’kraut was not really similar to the taste of my home-cooked version. What we finally did, though, was mix the two varieties together in the same pan and let the flavors blend. The jarred version wasn't terrible, and it didn't ruin the home-made ’kraut.
At this point, we have eaten so much sauerkraut that we might not have it again for a while. But I do know that I will continue to buy raw choucroute when it is on sale, put it in the freezer if necessary, and then rinse, blanch, and cook it myself. It's better than the stuff in the jar. I guess that's not surprising.