When I first saw a Choucroute Garnie in one of my cookbooks I quickly glanced at it and then turned right past it. For whatever reason I was completely disinterested in it, maybe it didn't look fancy enough or maybe I wasn't interested in a boiled dinner. I don't know why I was so eager to overlook it and find something else. As I collected more and more cookbooks I kept seeing it and because of my initial disinterest I never looked at any of the other recipes. All I can say now is that I was a fool, a couple of months ago I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain's show Parts Unknown all about Quebec. I hate to say that one episode of a show changed the way I think but if you have seen the episode I am sure you would understand why I am quite comfortable in saying, that episode changed the way I think and view food. In the episode the owners of the world famous restaurant, Joe Beef serve up a monumental Choucroute at an outside hockey rink and ever since seeing that I have been wanting to make one myself.
When my wife approached me with the idea of having a few friends over for New Years Eve the very first thing I thought was, this is my chance to make a Choucroute. I had very recently made seventy pounds of wild game sausages and some of them would be the perfect addition to my Choucroute. All I needed to do was figure out what the hell is a Choucroute Garnie? I didn't really know because I never actually read any of the recipes I passed over in my cookbooks. When I looked back at my cookbooks I didn't really find out what a Choucroute was. So I started looking on the Internet and found some very basic info. Choucroute Garnie is french for dressed sauerkraut, but I thought sauerkraut was more of a German thing. As it turns out a few hundred years ago the French took over a part of Germany known as Alsace and it became a part of France. The Choucroute Garnie was initially a German dish that the French chefs took and made their own.
What I wanted to know was what types of things went into a traditional Choucroute so that I might be able to adapt it to fit some of the wild game meats that I had in the freezer. So I did some more reading and come to find out that Jeffery Steingarten wrote an entire chapter in his book titled The Man Who Ate Everything, called True Choucroute. In that chapter he tells his tale about going to the Alsace region of France and trying to find a true Choucroute. What he found was that there is no set recipe and that a Choucroute can be whatever you want it to be. There are of course some guidelines that should be followed. There has to be sauerkraut, there is usually 3-4 different types of sausage included, and there is always some sort of smoked or salted pork. It is usually seasoned with Juniper and black peppercorns sometimes bay leaves and a Sweet Riesling is used in making the dish and usually served with the dish as well.
After reading a few dozen recipes I had a pretty good idea of how I was going to put together my Choucroute. I had all of my ingredients and I had a mammoth roasting pot. So I will walk you through my version of Choucroute. Here is what you will need to get started you can feel free to substitute what ever you would like in place of some of my ingredients. This is just what I used.
4 15.5 ounce cans of sauerkraut
1 yellow onion
1/2 cup duck fat
2 cups sweet Riesling
2 cups water
1 knorr beef stock tub
1/2 pound of carrots peeled and cut into large chunks
2 pounds of potatoes
6 smoked ham hocks
6 brined pork chops
1/2 pound cooked bacon
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
one bunch of thyme
12 juniper berries
6 allspice berries
6 cloves of garlic
The first thing you need to do is drain the sauerkraut and then soak it in fresh water for 15 minutes then drain it again. Press as much water out of the kraut that you can and set aside.
In a large oven proof pot melt the duck fat and start to saute the onions and garlic together for 3-4 minutes. Then add the carrots and the pears and season with salt, cook for about five minutes you will notice that the pears break down and almost dissolve.
Add the sauerkraut and the spices and cook for another 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the wine, water and the beef stock cup and stir until the beef cup has completely dissolved. Add the potatoes and then put the whole thing in a 300 degree oven for an hour covered.
After an hour take the Choucroute out of the oven and start layering in your meats. Bury the ham hocks down into the sauerkraut as best as possible then start browning your sausages and adding them to the pot as well.
Once all of the sausages are browned add the cooked bacon and the thyme. Then brown all the brined pork chops.
Add the pork chops to the pot on top of all the other ingredients. At this point it is ready to go back into the oven. The pan that I used to brown all the meat had a good amount of drippings and fat in it so I deglazed the pan with some Riesling and added that on top of everything else. Then it went back into the oven at 300 degrees for another 2 hours.
After two hours the Choucroute is ready but if you aren't ready for the Choucroute leave it in the oven on your ovens lowest setting until you are ready to serve it usually around 170 or 180 degrees. When you are ready to serve it, I like to pile all the meats onto a platter and serve the sauerkraut on the side. The liquid that is produced underneath all of this is like liquid gold and should be sopped up with a good crusty bread.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this would be as good as it turned out. When I initially looked at it in my cookbooks I was underwhelmed by it. I guess this will teach me to judge a dish by a picture. Maybe it is all the time I put into this dish but when I look at the pictures above I can't imagine not thinking they are beautiful and wanting to cook it again and again.