16 March 2009

Choucroute garnie — 2

Here's a link to part 1 of this topic about making sauerkraut in France.

In the mid-1990s, I had started making choucroute garnie at home in San Francisco. I tried buying it in cans, jars, and refrigerated plastic packages. I eventually found a German deli on Church Street in S.F. and I bought sauerkraut in bulk — in other words, not pre-packaged — from there.

Each time, I tasted the sauerkraut and decided that it would be better if I rinsed and blanched it before cooking it with onions, carrots, spices, and white wine. I'm not even sure now whether the sauerkraut I was buying was pre-cooked or raw. The result was good, but the cooking involved many steps and took three to four hours each time. It was a weekend project — I had a full-time job back then.

Sausages for a choucroute garnie — from left to right,
a fresh pork sausage with herbs, a Montbéliard, a generic
smoked sausage, and some Knacks from Alsace

Then one day I was visiting friends in Normandy. They served sauerkraut, and it was very good. The meats served with it were amazing, but the choucroute itself was sweet and tasty too.

I asked J., who had cooked the meal, what kind of sauerkraut she bought and how she cooked it. What do you mean?, she said. I told her that in California I bought sauerkraut, rinsed to several times to get rid of the saltiness, then blanched it, and finally cooked it in white wine for at least three hours.

A choucroute garnie with a smoked hamhock and sausages

« C'est vrai ? », she said. Is that true? She seemed confused. « Moi, j'ouvre les boîtes de conserve, je fais réchauffer la choucroute, et puis je l'apporte à la table avec les viandes et les saucisses ! » I just open the cans, heat up the sauerkraut, and bring it to the table with the meats and sausages. She said it took about 15 minutes to get the sauerkraut itself ready.

It wouldn't be as good without the boiled new potatoes.

Well, I haven't ever bought choucroute in cans here in France but I guess I should try it. Maybe I'll go up the SuperU and buy some today or tomorrow, while the taste and texture of the old-fashioned, complicated version I make is still fresh in our minds.

Strasburger sausages

An Alsatian-style choucroute garnie is served with meat and potatoes. Smoked pork, including smoked pork sausages, are traditional, as are boiled new potatoes. But you can also serve the sauerkraut with fresh pork — chops, for example — or smoked chicken. Usually, you'll see a few frankfurters, called either saucisses de Strasbourg or saucisses de Francfort here in France, on the platter as well.

Very nice smoked pork sausages
from Montbéliard in eastern France

The meats can be cooked in the sauerkraut or separately, and the same is true of the potatoes. I like to cook the potatoes and poach the sausages separately from the dish of sauerkraut, so that I can better control the cooking times. Smoked sausages like the traditional ones from Montbéliard, from the mountains just south of the Alsace region, need about 20 minutes in simmering water. Frankfurt or Strasbourg sausages need only 5 minutes.

The other indispensable accompaniment to a choucroute garnie is good spicy-hot mustard. I think plain hot Dijon mustard is best, but other kinds of mustard can be good too. If you want a cheese course, get some good Munster, which is traditional in Alsace-Lorraine.

Munster cheese is traditional in Alsace. This one, which has
the A.O.C. label of authenticity, was creamy and nutty-tasting.

I don't think Alsace and neighboring Lorraine claim to have invented sauerkraut, but the version garnished as described here is something they do claim to have concocted. If you get a chance to go to Metz or Strasbourg, you ought to try it in one of the traditional restaurants. And you can make it at home pretty easily, if you have the time.


  1. Ken, trying going to your local charcuterie for homemade, ready to heat sauerkraut.
    Even the chou made at SuperU is good, especially at their deli counter.
    Always remember to add a couple of clous de girofles.
    You'll be hooked in no time!

  2. OMG! I should have known better! Choucroute garnie indeed and it's 12:25 here and I am hungry! Not really de saison on a beautiful day like today, but one of my favourites!

  3. Makes me realize I have a package of various sausages in the freezer just waiting to be used in Choucroute garnie. They're from a German shop in Massachusetts that makes all their own smoked and fresh sausages. And there is a sauerkraut producer here in Maine whose sauerkraut is so good that they have customers in Germany who they ship it to.
    As to preparation, while I do rinse the sauerkraut, I don't blanch it. And I do cook it in wine and spices for a couple of hours.

  4. Now, as for me, I grew up with Kielbasa and sauerkraut... the sauerkraut coming in the plastic bag, having been brined. We drained it, but didn't rinse it. We'd brown the kielbasa with onions and garlic, and then let the sauerkraut pick up the "leavings" in the pan, as we smooshed it around in the pan. We'd add celery seed and water, and gently simmer for about 45 minutes. I love the tangy sauerkraut this gives. I bet it's not like yours, though!

    I tried Choucroute Garnie in a bistro or taverne near the Ile St. Louis (I think it's a place famous for this), but I was thoroughly unimpressed with the flavor, so maybe I'm just too used to the tangy results you get with the pre-packaged brined variety.

    Today, for the first time, I'm planning on making pork chops with sauerkraut, with some clou de girofle and brown sugar added... we'll see what that gives :)


  5. I'm like Seine Judeet, in that I also grew up with kielbasa (fresh and smoked) and sauerkraut. My dad would also make a sweeter sauerkraut when we had spare ribs.

    Nowadays, sauerkraut, potatoes, and smoked sausage or turkey kielbasa is one of our favorite camping meals. We bring the jarred sauerkraut, and I bring preboiled potatoes, and the meat, which is already cooked and only needs to be heated. It's a quick, one pan meal to make over the campstove and very tasty.

  6. Judy, I'd really be against the brown sugar, but that's just me.

    Ginny and Judy, I guess I'm not that familiar with kielbasa. It's not a North Carolina thing, and even in Illinois and San Francisco I guess I found other sausages.

    I haven't been to SuperU yet to buy a can or jar of sauerkraut, but I plan to do that tomorrow. I can't wait to see how it compares to the sauerkraut we have been eating for two days now.

  7. Ken, I bet yours is just fabulous... there's just nothing like totally made from scratch ANYTHING :) I'll let you know how this thing I've concocted turns out... it's a mix of sweet&sour pork, pork and veal goulash with sauerkraut, and braised pork chops with sauerkraut. I browned the pork chops in butter and olive oil, with garlic. I julienned some carrots and sliced some onion, and threw that in for a few minutes. I took out the pork chops, and added brown sugar and more butter, to caramelize the onions a bit, then added several shakes of balsamic vinegar and some water, to sort of deglaze the pan. I threw in some chopped pear (left over from what I bought for the tarte), stirred in the drained sauerkraut (with a few clous de girofle), put the chops back in, and it's gently simmering, partly covered, on the stove for an hour. I may add in a few dollops of sour cream at the end (taken from the goulash recipe), and I'm making potato latkes to go with it, with applesauce on the side.

    It'll either be really weird, or pretty good *LOL*. I'll let you know!

    (My mom's family is Polish, and, growing up in a very Polish town in New England, kielbasa was a mainstay... it's just another smoked sausage-- I assume the flavorings mixed in with it when made make it somewhat different than others.)


  8. Ginny, by the way, you make me want to go camping again. Walt and I have talked about going camping, maybe this year, in the mountains of central France. That's a 3 or 4 hour drive from here.

    I think I remember buying kielbasa a time or two when I lived in Illinois. I think I found it to be too salty, or to have a spice in it I didn't like — maybe carraway seeds. But that was just one brand. Anyway, it wasn't a Southern food. We had our own locally made sausages, usually not smoked.

    Judy, that does sound like quite a dish you are making. I guess I'm a traditionalist when it comes to sauerkraut. I try to recreate the French classics.

    One thing I like is to substitute allspice berries for cloves. They aren't that different, and I like the flavor better.

    Next time I make sauerkraut I think I'll have it with fish. I've seen references to names something like "Choucroute de la mer" and I'd like to try that.

  9. I once had a great choucroute with 3 fishes at a winery/restaurant in Alsace. I think you just make choucroute garnie the usual way and then add fish on top for the last stretch.

  10. Hello Ken. I accidentally stumbled across your blog. How interesting!! I was born in France and love most things French.
    I grew up eating choucroute L'Alsacienne as my mother's family is in Strasbourg. I made choucroute tonight to take to work tomorrow for our "melting potluck" where everyone brings food from their family's heritage. It will be interesting! I live in the Heart of Texas close to Fort Hood, so there are LOTS of different heritages represented here. Juniper berries are not available locally, so I ordered them from a spice house in NY. I had to drive 10 miles to get knackwurst - and they had added red food coloring!? It tastes the way I remember, but the red sausage is quite odd! I used Reisling from Germany, as I could not find any from Alsace in our stores. My husband is of polish decent and his family basically cooks it the same way except they use a polish sausage and not so many variations of pork.
    Here is the choucroute recipe my family has used as long as I can remember. It was written out by my cousin, Chantal:
    There are two sorts : already cooked sauerkraut, or raw cabbage kept in a container with salt. I usually use the second. I buy 1 kg for 5 persons. You need to wash it twice under hot water in order to wash away the acidity.
    Then cut one onion in small dice. In a stew-pan, put the onion in one spoon of hot oil ; add half of sauerkraut. Then add the meat (one piece of salted part of pork, one piece of smoked part of pork). Add the rest of sauerkraut. Salt + pepper + garlic + one leaf of laurel + 2 clove + 3 juniper berries if possible. Complete with 2 glasses of white wine (dry) or even beer. Add water if necessary. Cook 1h30 to 2h00 hours.
    Serve with boiled potatoes and sausage (knacks). Don't forget the mustard ! Bon appétit !

  11. Hello Martine, nice to get your comment. Your sister's recipe for chouchroute garnie sounds about like mine. I have another kilo of sauerkraut in the freezer and will probably make another choucroute garnie in June. A French friend who lives in California will be visiting then, and he loves choucroute as much as I do. Ken

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