Monday, January 02, 2012

Choucroute Garnie

Living in Pennsylvania, one is nearly forced to have pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day or face the threat of being shunned. It's kind of like football; don't claim to love another football team but the Eagles, or else (ahem, we all know I'm a Steelers fan - rule breaker that I am).

I get away with liking the Steelers because they're a Pennsylvania team, so I figure I can get away with pork and sauerkraut any way I like as long as those 2 ingredients are in it - right? Of course.

My very favorite way to have pork and sauerkraut is in a dish I found many years ago that hails from the Alsace region of France, which is located on the Eastern border of France adjacent to Germany and Switzerland. The dish is choucroute garnie, which in French means "garnished sauerkraut". At its most basic it's simply sauerkraut and pork with potatoes, but the region itself adapted those simple ingredients by adding to them making a truly spectacular preparation.

At first glance things like junpier berries and cloves might scare one away from trying this, but you must trust me that without them, it's just not the same. There's a depth and complexity of flavors here that meld together and make the sauerkraut mellow and rich.

I typically make this with the potatoes right in the pot with everything else, but I find everyone likes this better over mashed potatoes, so I now make them separate. It also gives the pickiest of the kids something else to eat in the event they aren't wanting the rest that day.

First, though, what are juniper berries? Well, one whiff of their pungent aroma will give a clue. Juniper berries come from trees, specifically junipers, a species of conifer. They give gin its characteristic flavor and are used in many food preparations. If you are not able to find juniper berries ( is always good) then a shot of gin will do for this.

Though I've made this in a heavy pot on the stove, I've taken to putting it all in a slow cooker and I actually think the flavor is better that way. If you don't have a slow cooker, the usual stove top method is fine as well.

Choucroute Garnie
Serves 8 - 10
Printable Recipe

1 medium onion-sliced
5 slices bacon-diced
3 cloves garlic-sliced
1 lb kielbasa cut in 2" lengths
1 lb boneless pork ribs cut in 2" cubes
1 lb sweet sausage - like country style - cut in 2" lengths
2-16 oz bags sauerkraut-rinsed and drained
2 cooking apples peeled-cored and cut in thick slices (I like Granny Smith for this)
2T brown sugar
6 whole cloves
6 juniper berries-or 1 shot of gin
1 bay leaf
1t freshly ground pepper
1c white wine
Hot cooked mashed potatoes for serving

Saute bacon and onion with garlic until onion is tender but not browned.
Add meats and saute until no longer pink.
Add remaining ingredients and simmer until meats are tender-about 45 min.
Remove bay leaf, cloves and juniper berries before serving over potatoes.

If using a slow cooker, layer sauerkraut, onion, garlic and apple in the bottom of the pot. Pour over wine and add cloves, juniper berries, bay leaf and brown sugar. Grind pepper over all and add meats to the top. Lid securely and cook on high for 3 hours. Stir once to combine ingredients and cook until meats are completely done, about 1/2 an hour longer. Remove bay leaf, juniper berries and cloves before serving over potatoes.