Sunday, December 20, 2009

Choucroute Garni

I'm Chinese, and my husband is French. As I mentioned in my last post, this can lead to a subtle East/West tug-of-war during mealtimes, but more often, it leads to wonderful new discoveries. I introduced my spice-loving husband to the incendiary Szechuan hotpot, a dish he now requests with frightening regularity, and he has enlightened me about dozens of obscure cheeses, fed me my first bite of pigeon (a revelation), and given me a glimpse of French home-cooking, including this tasty dish.

Choucroute garni is a dietitian's nightmare: loaded with sodium, sausages, and a full pound of bacon. Still, on a cold winter's night, it's pretty hard to beat. The smoky meat and spicy sausages are complemented by hot mustard and sauerkraut, with bland, comforting potatoes providing a welcome respite from the assault of salty flavors. Most of the recipes I read during my research make an intimidating 8-12 servings. Here, I present a more manageable version, which feeds four very hungry eaters.

Petit Choucroute Inspired loosely by Martha Stewart

3 pounds good quality sauerkraut (I used Bubbies from the bulk bin at Rainbow Grocery)
8 baby Yukon Gold potatoes
1 small yellow onion, sliced thinly
1 pound smoked bacon (I think I would use half of this next time)
2 smoked pork chops
4-5 assorted smoked sausages (I used bratwurst, Lousiana hot link, and andouille. If using uncooked sausages, you will have to cook them before adding them in step 7 below.)
2 cups of low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
1 cup of dry white wine (I used sauvignon blanc.)

Bouquet Garni:
15 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
10 juniper berries
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
2 whole, peeled garlic cloves

Note: I made this in my 5½ quart Le Creuset Dutch oven, which was perfect. Any heavy-bottomed large pot with a tight-fitting lid would probably also work.

1. Rinse sauerkraut in cold water and drain well.

2. Most recipes call for goose fat or lard, but seeing as I had a pound of bacon earmarked for the pot, I cooked the bacon in about ½ tablespoon of olive oil to render the fat and then removed the bacon and set it aside. Cook onion in bacon fat until soft, about 7-8 minutes.

3. Add wine, chicken stock, and a cup of water to the pot. Stir. Add in the drained sauerkraut. Add the smoked pork chops and reserved bacon.

4. Place all the spices, etc. for the bouquet garni into a metal mesh spice ball. Put this in the pot.

5. Bring everything to the boil, then turn the heat down and cook, covered, at a strong simmer for an hour.

6. In a separate pot, boil water and cook the potatoes for about 15 minutes (depending on their size), or until they are just slightly undercooked. You will finish these off in the choucroute pot.

7. 20 minutes before serving, place potatoes and smoked sausages in the pot and heat through.

8. Serve with assorted spicy mustards and bread for sopping up the juices.

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