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My First Attempt at Sürkrüt Elsässer

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 31 October 2012 at 13:26

My First Attempt at Sürkrüt Elsässer
Choucroute Alsacienne

The region of Alsace, which lies in north-eastern France on the border with Germany, has changed hands throughout the years, going back and forth between the two European powers; consequently, this robust province has absorbed many customs and ways of life associated with both, including architecture, language, hunting traditions and food.

One quintessential dish that is popular throughout the region, on both sides of the border, is Sürkrüt, which is the Alsatian word for the principle ingredient, sauerkraut, and commonly known by its French moniker, choucroute. Other prominent ingredients are sausages, bacon and smoked cuts of pork such as chops, loin, shoulder or rib tips, making this a truly interesting dish for those who enjoy charcuterie.

Here's a fairly typical presentation picture of the dish:
 
 
Note the thickness of the bacon, and how the meats are not pre-cooked or browned - they are simply tossed into the pot.
 
Here are some photos from my first attempt at this dish. It can't really be called a "true" Alsatian choucroute, since there are a few things missing or substituted; however, it did turn out very well and made an excellent, hearty meal. I will certainly be preparing this "properly" in the future (sooner rather than later) and will put together a complete pictorial at that time, with background and other information. For now, suffice to say that this was an excellent choice that is easy, frugal and delicious.

I prepared this dish in my trusty Tramontina enameled cast iron Dutch oven:

http://www.walmart.com/ip/Tramontina-6.5-Quart-Cast-Iron-Dutch-Oven/11989387

I am sure that any appropriately-sized casserole or baking dish would work, but I really enjoyed using this, as they were almost made for each other. The heat-retaining properites of the cast iron wrap around the food, heating it from all sides to wonderful perfection; additionally, the enameling on the cast iron protects it from the acid of the sauerkraut.

First, I chopped an onion and tossed it with a quart of sauerkraut, laying the mixture down in the casserole as a bed. Easy!

After doing some research, I learned that there are certain, traditional ingredients and spices that are common to nearly all preparations of this dish. Armed with this knowledge, I added a few peppercorns, bay leaves and juniper berries, along with some crushed garlic cloves. I did not add any salt, for reasons that shall become apparent in a moment:

Above, you can see the bed of sauerkraut and onion with the other spices. Since I had no stock, I added a couple-three beef bullion cubes (hence, no added salt) and also some small chunks of glace de poulet, which we keep in the freezer (hence, the "frosty" look that they have in the picture). Over the years, I have found that the combination of chicken and beef (usually in the form of stock or glace) works very well to provide a delicious, mouth-watering quality to nearly any dish; in this case, my expectations were once again confirmed, with the savory, meaty essence providing a nice counterbalance to the sweetness of the apples and the....well, the sourness of the sauerkraut.

As mentioned above, I didn't have any bacon or smoked cuts of pork on hand to add to the dish, so I simply went with some kielbasa-type smoked sausages, cutting them into manageable lengths and adding them to the casserole. If anyone wants to make this "correctly," I'd suggest that the bacon used be rather thickly-cut and maybe 4 to 6 inches in length. I also added a couple of peeled and sliced apples, since they were mentioned prominently in my research:

I didn't have any Riesling in the house, either (having adult children at home can be a bad thing sometimes - my wine often disappears!); so instead, I used apple cider, using an amount that equaled the wine plus the stock. I believe this worked out very well, and would recommend it to anyone who does not have wine to use for this dish.

I then covered the casserole and put it into the oven at 350 degrees for 90 minutes. Here's what we had when I was finished:

There was indeed more liquid than I expected, presumably from the apples and sausages etc.; no worries, I simply poured the cooking liquids into a container, defatted them (there was quite a bit of fat from the sausages) and added some back into the dish as a thin sauce, reserving the rest in order to add it to a batch of halušky that we made a couple of days later, using my wife's grandmother's method that she brought all the way from Slovakia to Montana:

 
I served the finished sausages and sauerkraut with home-smashed, skin-on potatoes and individual "mini-loaves" of fresh-baked sourdough bread, using this recipe:

http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/mrs-rivets-famous-sourdough-rolls_topic1178.html

Everyone was impressed with this, and as I said, it will certainly be made again. The combination of flavours was outstanding, bringing a little bit of everything to the party; sweet-tart apples and cider, hearty, spicy sausages and savory flavours from the onion and garlic. The other spices all played their parts in perfect harmony, providing accents and highlights that complimented the dish without being too prominent.

For some reason, I didn't get a picture of the potatoes with the sauce from the cooking liquids on them, but it was definitely there, and its piquant nature was just the right thing to go with the creamy, buttery potatoes. The entire dish was a hit as prepared, and I can't wait to try it again, made more properly.

Ironically, I've been making a similar dish for years, using wursts (würstchen?) or kielbasa along with beer, sauerkraut, mustard, onions and barley, but this had a whole different character to it that was very good. I'll post a pictorial of that dish the next time we make it.

Thanks to all for looking ~ now that you've seen it, why not give it a try? Any questions, just ask!

Ron

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Margi Cintrano View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 October 2012 at 13:57
Tas.
 
Looks wonderful.
 
Cider with apples: are products profoundly steeped in the gastronomy of Normandy, France. and Asturias, Spain as I had mentioned earlier.
 
Thanks for posting the lovely pictorial and historical feature.
 
Have great wkend.
Margi.
Volamos a Mediterraneo, un paraiso que conquista su gente u su cocina.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Daikon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 October 2012 at 16:28
Originally posted by TasunkaWitko TasunkaWitko wrote:

(Würstchen?)

Yes, if the sausages are small or you want to make them sound cute.  Else Würste or even Würstel (if you are Österreichisch or otherwise speak funny German.)

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 November 2012 at 17:42
Thanks, Daikon - Google Translate leaves a few things to be desired ~ Embarrassed
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 May 2013 at 07:24
Tas,
Thank you for posting the history of this popular dish, especially in Strausborg ,,, I know a French Chef who works for the Relais Chateaux Hotel in Strausborg ... and Pierre prepares a wonderful fish version ...
 
Speaking of Kraut; I had made my own, from an acquaintence; and I have to say, it was absolutely wonderful ... I had used it in Stuffed cabbage rolls ... My " individual " take on, a recipe of your´s --- stuffed cabbage with kraut --- I had posted a photo ... we are going back 6 months or so ...
 
Any way, to cut to the chase, the feature is very interesting and thanks for posting.
 
Margi.
Volamos a Mediterraneo, un paraiso que conquista su gente u su cocina.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 December 2014 at 15:56
After raiding the larder and seeing what we had, I decided to give this another go. I don't have all of the meats I would like for this traditional Alsatian meal, but it will be fine for a simple evening supper.

After rinsing the sauerkraut and laying it down as a bed in my enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, I added a chopped onion, garlic, some sliced pears (in place of apples), smoked beef sausage, frankfurters and thick-sliced smoked bacon. I then added a couple of bottles of orange-and-coriander-spiced Belgian beer (in place of riesling), three bay leaves, a dozen juniper berries, some mustard seeds and freshly-cracked black pepper - and a little bit of chicken and beef glace.

By no means is it a traditional sürkrüt elsässer, but I think it will be good, served with some buttered, roasted potatoes - we'll see later this evening!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 December 2014 at 20:04
Originally posted by TasunkaWitko TasunkaWitko wrote:

...we'll see later this evening!

And the verdict is.... pretty darn good!

I served the meal accompanied by the roasted potatoes and some garlic-and-cheese bread, with the de-fatted cooking juices slightly-thickened for a nice gravy. The sausages, frankfurters and bacon had been cut into serving-sized portions prior to cooking, and there was plenty of everything to feed the family, with leftovers for lunches during the week.

This meal had a surprising amount of balance - if I would have had some coarse-ground mustard of some kind (instead of just a few mustard seeds), I think it would have been perfect; however, as it was, it worked very well. The sausage and the glace provided just enough salt; the pears provided just enough sweetness (I also added a bit of the juice from one of the cans, but not too much); the sauerkraut brought a nice bit of sourness to the party (I rinsed it, so not too much) and the Belgian beer added a wonderful dimension, working well with the juniper berries, bay leaves, onion, garlic and pepper. The smokiness of the meats gave a really nice undertone as well; and the gravy tied everything together, creating a meal that was mouth-watering and addicting, but completely unique and absolutely comforting on a cold, late-autumn evening.

It could stand a little bit of improvement; as I said before, some good mustard would have brought it into perfect focus, and slices of fresh rather than canned pears might have worked better. Also, the Beautiful Mrs. Tas wasn't impressed with the texture of the bacon slices (which were essentially braised with no crispiness at all), but I am pretty sure that the bacon turned out "as it should have," considering the dish. It would have been nicer to have thicker bacon (which I will have once my Black Forest bacon is finished), but this is what I had on hand, and over-all, the flavours themselves were very, very good.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AK1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 December 2014 at 20:42
Don't forget, in a dish like that pork belly will never be like bacon strips. It is a texture that most people in north america are not comfortable with. It's like when I offer people my cured bacon.  Brain does not quite get it. It's not what bacon is supposed to be like.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 December 2014 at 19:53
I agree completely, Darko - it was something different, and unexpected. 

I went into it expecting it to be exactly how it was, but Mrs. Tas was caught off-guard; she loved the flavours, but was a little put off by the bacon's texture. 
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