"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.