Disclaimer: This is not a dish for the faint of heart. If you have heart problems, eating a heaping bowl of Choucroute Garnie will probably make them worse. Also, if you've looked at one of Thomas Keller's cookbooks and promptly shut it, due to his choose-your-own-adventure style of recipe writing, you may want to skip this post as well.
However, if you're in good cardiovascular health and have a bit of patience, your toils will be rewarded by a sumptuous homemade porcine feast that's as fulfilling as it is filling.
Choucroute Garnie is probably the most famous Alsatian dish outside Alsace, consisting of choucroute (sauerkraut) braised with various cuts of cured pork and juniper berries. The slow cooking mellows the intensity of the fermented cabbage while making the slabs of bacon and cured ribs meltingly tender. To finish it off, it's topped with more meat, sausages and potatoes, making it a hearty warming meal that's perfect for a cold rainy day.
Five weeks, may sound like a long time to spend on one dish, but this project was truly a labor of love, and each bite brought back fond memories of firemen barreling down 4th st towards our rooftop smoker, Claire's sausage antics (which I'm not allowed to show you), and the stench that permeated my apartment for over a week. In the same way that growing your own vegetables or catching your own fish can be rewarding, there was a wonderful sense of ownership and accomplishment that came with making the choucroute, sausage and cured meat from scratch.
Best of all, this was a group effort between myself, Stephane The Nice Frenchman from Zen Can Cook, and Claire The Radiant Alsatian from Colloquial Cooking, so the time spent making it and the shorter time spent devouring it was all in good company. They also came bearing beer, bretzels and a gorgeous rhubarb tart which rounded (quite literally) off the meal.
Will I be making choucroute garnie again?... Heck yea!... I'll just need to spend a few months as a vegan to shed the 10 pounds of pork fat I've consumed over the past few weeks. Maybe next time we'll try raising the pig and growing our own cabbage too! Stephane? Claire?
- Five weeks before make the choucroute (sauerkraut)
- Up to 1 week before make the Knackwurst and smoke.
- Two days before cure the pork ribtips by mixing the salt, sugar and cloves and rubbing the mixture into the meat. Put in a ziploc bag and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Day of Choucroute Garnie
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
- Rinse the cured rib tips. Cut the fatty ends off the slab bacon and chop into 1/4" thick batons. Cut the rest of the bacon in half lengthwise then slice into 1/2" thick rectangles. You should end up with 8 pieces about 4" x 1 1/2" x 1/2"
- Add the small pieces of bacon fat into a large dutch oven over medium heat and render out some fat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until they are tender, brown and smell sweet. Add the wine, honey, bay leaves, juniper, pepper, caraway, cloves and thyme then bring to a boil.
- Add half the sauerkraut and stir to combine. Nestle the ribs into the sauerkraut along with a few pieces of large bacon. Put down some more sauerkraut then lay down the rest of the bacon. Cover with the remaining sauerkraut then pour over the chicken stock.
- Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours then add the smoked pork chop on top of the choucroute garnie. Cover and return to the oven until the pork chops are warmed through and the rest of the meat is fork tender (about another 30 minutes)
- Add the potatoes to a pot of generously salted water and boil until tender. When the potatoes are almost done, bring a small pot of water to a bare simmer and add the sausages. Allow them to simmer until they plump up, then remove them from the water. Add the sausages on top of the choucroute garnie and return to the oven uncovered for a few minutes to allow the skins on the sausages to crisp.
- To serve, lay down a healthy heap of choucroute onto a serving platter and cover with the various cuts of meat. Then surround with the boiled potatoes and garnish with something green.