Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dark Days: Choucroute

"Choucroute" is simply French for sauerkraut. But it has also come to mean a dish marrying sauerkraut with some of our favorite pork products, such as garlic sausage, bacon, pig's knuckle or hock.

I've been looking forward to having friends over to sample some of my homemade kraut and Kielbasa sausages. But this is a compromised "Dark Days" meal, inasmuch as I am boycotting the local pork shoulder at $6.95 a pound in favor of the Niman Ranch pork sold at the local Whole Foods for half the price.

Niman Ranch pork is a cooperative arrangement of pig farmers east of the Rockies who have foresworn the confinement method of raising bland pigs crammed together indoors, the kind of pork engaged in by Smithfield, Hormel and the other industrial producers. Niman Ranch pigs typically are raised on small family farms where they get to root around outside and act more like real pigs.

I have yet to find a local source for the kind of processed pork products I like to include in my choucroute, such as smoked hock, salt pork, bacon ends. I see this as a real issue with local foods. If local pork is not processed into these traditional products, we are in danger of losing an important food legacy, no? Or perhaps I simply have not looked hard enough. I have tried bacon made by a local pig farmer, sold at one of the nearby farmers markets, and it was really bad. We continue to buy our bacon from Benton's out of Madinsonville, Tennessee.

The sauerkraut fermenting in my ceramic crock is about six months old. To turn it into a choucroute, I first cut an onion into thin slices lengthwise and sautee it at the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven in extra-virgin olive oil (bacon grease or lard might be more authentic, but I'm trying to be a wee bit healthier). Peel a tart apple such as Granny Smith and grate it into the pot. Stir in about 1 teaspoon coarse salt, then about two pounds sauerkraut, preferably homemade. Stir evertying together, add 1 teaspoon carraway seeds and a dozen juniper berries, crushed. Then pour in about 1/2 cup white wine. Nestle a smoked ham hock (again, from Whole Foods) or two in the kraut. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for an hour.

White the kraut is cooking, you can brown your sausages. I like to use fresh (not smoked) Kielbasa and Weisswurst. In the past, I've added bacon ends, but the only source I know of comes from industrial pork. No more of that. This time I bought some salt pork at Whole Foods. It's not local, but for this mongrelized choucroute, it will have to do. Cut the salt pork into thick slices and brown those as well.

About a half-hour before serving, place the browned sausages and salt pork on top of the sauerkraut and continue cooking another half-hour. Arrange everything decoratively on a warm serving platter and garnish with chopped parsley. I served this with parsleyed boiled potatoes and a selection of mustards.
As preamble to the choucroute, I had set out a mushroom frittata, cut into small rounds, as well as some goat cheeses accompanied by our homemade green tomato-apple chutney and pickled green tomatoes from the garden. Spread goat cheese on a cracker, top with chutney, wash it down with one of the lovely Riesling wines furnished by my oenophile brother-in-law, Tom.

We finished our meal with a salad made of greens from our farmer friend Brett, tossed with clementines and a chili-orange vinaigrette. Follow with chocolate creme brulee and coffee.


El said...

Hi Ed: So, back to your $6.95 pork shoulder (still shocked about that). Why not ask the guys you got your bacon from where they get their hogs processed. Maybe you can call the slaughterhouse (er, processor) and ask them if they'd mind giving you a list of the farmers who do small-scale production. I suppose this is the only thing good about the requirement of having a USDA-approved facility process meat: they process everyone's stuff!

Looks like you guys had a great meal.

Ramona said...

Babes in the Wood

I just bought some preservative and nitrate free bacon, and a couple fresh ham steaks from them this morning at the Alexandria farmers market. I'll let you know how it is ;-)

<> WeekendFarmer <> said...

on your question on giblets..and how to was my childhood favourite growing up in south asia. My mother used to get all the gizards from 5-10 chickens and make a meal for the whole family.

1. onions, garlic, ginger, curry powder.
2. sautee the onions in any kind of oil you like with the garlic and ginger. Put in the curry powder and sautee well..
3. add a little water to make a nice paste.
4. add the gizards, necks, liver etc in this mix and fry/sautee well.
5. add some hot water, tomato chunks, and some diced potatoes and cover.
6. add cardamom, cloves and cinnamon to take away the gamey (sp?) smell.
7. basically it should have the consistency of a thai/indian curry.
8. crush some roasted cumin and spread on the top..garnish with corriander and serve over steamed basmati.

She did the same with cow liver and I loved it : ) Hope you will try the gizard recipe and enjoy!

Melissa said...

Stumbled on your blog...

I'm in Baltimore City, which may be too much a drive for you, but the Waverly/32nd St farmer's market you can buy bacon from Broom's Dairy/Woolsey Farms. I think it is quite good.

Ed Bruske said...

El, I am still trying to process all the information about local meats and processing. My intial thought is, if it's this hard for the average Joe to find good products, then local foods still have a long way to go. But I am getting there, slowly, slowly.

Ramona, Forest Fed looks very cool. Please keep us posted.

WF, that's a great recipe for giblets. Ten chickens! Really! I guess I'll have to start a collecion. Love the pictures on your blog. Looks like your chicks are having a blast.

Melissa, I do think there is an issue with traveling long distances to by local food products. Doesn't that kind of cancel out the benefits of being "local?" But we should all make an effort to seek out good products from our local producers. Glad you've got a good local bacon source. Enjoy!