The first thing you need to know about the famous Eastern Market is that it suffered a terrible fire last year that destroyed the roof. For months, the vendors were out of business until a temporary facility that looks a little like a circus tent was erected across the street. In fact, there's a lot to be said for the new digs. There's more light, and all the facilities are new and gleaming.
But now we come to the second thing you need to know, and that is it's been almost a year since I purchased pork at Eastern Market. In that time, the ground has shifted where our outlook on the meat industry is concerned. And as I stood there contemplating a meat display as long as a battleship, I realized I had never before inquired where my favorite vendor got his pork.
So this time I asked and heard the words I dreaded most: Smithfield, Iowa, North Carolina. In other words, my favorite vendor was and always has been a devoted, unabashed link in the confinement pork industry. From the pork chops and whole loins, to the hog maws, tails and chitterlings--the entire display is testimony to everything about the meat industry that the sustainable food movement (us included) is railing against.
As the owner gathered up my order--a pound of bacon ends, two smoked pork chops, a smoked shank, a whole shoulder--I mentioned a bit awkwardly that some people now are looking for more local products. But the words fell to the floor like lead weights. It was if he never heard me. "These chitterlings here come from Denmark," he said proudly.
I quickly changed the subject to when he thought the work on the old market building might be finished.
So is this feast the equivalent of a drunk's last bender before going on the wagon? As I looked at the incredible array of meats--all from the evil Big Ag empire--I couldn't help wondering where one would find anything similar using the local, sustainable products that are now de rigeur. In fact, it is rare enough to find a local butcher. But you'd have to go back to another century to find local pig turned out this way, in such glorious diversity. Or maybe another part of the country. Or maybe another country.
There is, in other words, a huge adjustment still to be made.
So it was with feelings of guilty and sadness and nostalgia all mixed together that I constructed this choucroute garnie. First trimming the pork shoulder--removing the skin, the fat, the bone--and turning it into big, fat links of fresh Kielbasa sausage. Then browning five of the Kielbasa and three weisswursts I had purchased and two smoked pork chops.
Then, at the bottom of a large, heavy pot, lightly brown with the lipid of your choice one whole onion, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise. Peel a Granny Smith apple and grate it directly into the pot. Add about six cups fresh sauerkraut and a cup of white wine. Stir in 1 teaspoon carraway seeds and a dozen crushed juniper berries. Nestle the smoked pork shank into the kraut along with the bacon ends, cut into thick slices. Add the pork chops and on top of everything the sausages.
Bring the pot to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. When the time comes, arrange the choucroute on a warm platter and serve with boiled potatoes, tossed with butter and parsley, and perhaps some glazed carrots. Our friends Helen and Jeff came over to help us eat our choucroute and Helen brought a wonderful loaf of bread she had made. We drank cold ale, but an Alsatian Riesling is traditional.
Enjoy, and try not to think too much about where your pig came from.