Sunday, 10 February 2013

Choucroute

Choucroute, or choucroute garni to give its full name (literally garnished sauerkraut), is one of the French dishes I acquired a taste for when living in Paris. Really, it's a Franco-German concoction as it hails not only from Alsace but is eaten across the border too. It's a simple assembly of fermented cabbage, potato and assorted cuts of pig - what it lacks in prettiness on the plate it more than makes up for in flavour and as rib-stickingly hearty fare it's just the job for keeping the cold out in winter.

This is a very scaled-down version of what would normally be served for two or more people in France - it's usual to get at least three sorts of meat such as frankfurters, thick slices of garlic sausage and smoked ham. I tend to improvise with what's to hand - in the photo, there's a slab of belly pork, some skinny German bratwurst and a couple of slices of streaky bacon.

What you need: 
About 175g sauerkraut from a jar
Half a glass of white wine
2-3 juniper berries, bruised
A potato
1 bacon chop, or a couple of slices of bacon
A slice of belly pork
Sausages
Mustard

What to do: 
Use a fork to take the sauerkraut from the jar, leaving as much of the brine behind as you can. Put the sauerkraut into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse it well, then set it aside to drain.

Put the belly pork slice in the oven to roast at 180C for about 45 minutes. Add the bacon chop and sausages to the belly pork 15 minutes later. Peel and halve the potato and put on to boil.

About 10 minutes before the meat and potatoes are ready, pour the wine over the sauerkraut, add the juniper berries and some freshly ground black pepper. Heat it through on a medium hob until the steam starts to rise. Don't let it boil.

Plate up, with a generous dollop of Dijon mustard on the side.

Cook's tips:
How much sauerkraut? The large jars usually have a full weight of 870g, or 530g drained weight. A third of a jar, or about 175g drained, is a generous portion for one. That means there are 3-4 portions in the jar - once opened, it will keep in the fridge for months as long as it's covered in its own liquid with the lid on.

The meat - it has to be pig, no arguments. You wouldn't catch any French or Germans eating their choucroute with bits from another animal. It's important to mix up the flavours and textures - a smoky cut such as bacon or gammon, something fatty and uncured, like the belly pork, and something sausagey. For the latter, it could be thick slices of garlic sausage from the deli heated gently with the cabbage, some frankfurters or a chunk of smoked Polish ring. Most of the German and Polish sausages work - kielbasa, kabanos, bockwurst. It's heresy but the garlicky Toulouse sausage from southern France is a good match and I've even used tiny whole black puddings.

Choucroute can be washed down with either a robust white wine or a beer - if I'm drinking beer, I'll use a splash of that instead of the wine in which to reheat the cabbage. If so, I'll pour it over sooner so the fizz has a chance to disperse.