Choucroute garnie is a slowly baked Alsatian dish combining sauerkraut, sausage, meats, potatoes and spices.
One of the traditional ways to make choucroute garnie is with lager from Alsace, the other one with the dry Alsatian Riesling, which we prefer to the overly sweet German variety. But since we are all about cooking with beer, I made it with our favorite beverage.
Origins of the Dish
The French of the Alsace region borrowed the idea of choucroute garnie from their neighbors, the Germans of Schwarzwald and Bavaria.
Choucroute means ‘sauerkraut’ in French and ‘garnie‘ translates to ‘garnished/dressed’. The correct pronunciation is shü-ˈkrüt garni.
The traditional method involves heating up the sauerkraut with beer or wine and pork or goose fat, then adding spices and charcuterie. The dish is also one of those where there are hundreds of variations to the main recipe, both in the method of preparation and the ingredients used, with everyone customizing it as they see fit.
It is a bit of an unsightly dish (perhaps more than a bit), but as soon as you smell it its unrefined appearance will cease to matter.
My favorite thing about it is not the sauerkraut. Not even the beer that provides most of the liquid. It is the smoked meats.
Ingredients for Choucroute Garnie
This is a fabulous dish in that it contains everything for a complete meal.
- obviously cabbage (in the form of sauerkraut) but also onions and red potatoes. If you want, you can add carrots and parsnips, totally optional
- a variety of meats – often smoked. We used easy to find salted pork, bockwurst (veal sausage), smoked bratwurst and smoked pork shoulder (sub with thick cut bacon)
- a variety of spices used in Alsatian cooking – bay leaf, caraway, thyme,
- malty beer or sweeter white wine to balance the sour flavors of the sauerkraut
How to Make Choucroute Garnie
Kitchen equipment wise all you need is a single heavy bottomed pot with a lid that can be placed in the oven. A Dutch oven works great, or use something similar.
Then you need to:
- render the fat from the salted pork (or bacon), remove it and then cook the potatoes and onions in the fat until they become crispy
- add a layer of sauerkraut and half of all the spices and minced garlic
- arrange half the meats (including the salted pork )
- add another layer of sauerkraut and the rest of the spices and minced garlic
- arrange another layer of meats, pour beer over them, top with a bit more sauerkraut, close the lid and let the whole thing cook
Watch me make it in the video.
Originating in the Alsace region of France, this sauerkraut, potatoes and smoked charcuterie stew is heavily spiced and the flavors are rounded off with a sweetish beer. Serve with bread and brown mustard.
- 2 respectably sized pieces of salted pork or 2 slices of thick cut bacon
- 2 bockwurst links or knockwurst or another veal sausage
- 2 smoked bratwurst links or another smoked pork sausage
- 6-8 slices of smoked pork shoulder aka pork butt or 4 thicker ones
- 6 red skin potatoes medium sized, cleaned and halved
- 1 small yellow onion thinly sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
- 1.5 lbs sauerkraut
- 12 oz lager such as Vienna Munich Helles or Dunkel, or a well balanced amber ale
- 3 cloves ground
- 1 tsp coriander ground
- 1/2 tsp pepper ground
- 1 tsp caraway seeds
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 Juniper berries
Cut each of the sausage links in three or four pieces, depending on how large they are.
In a Dutch oven (or similar heavy pot with lid) over medium heat render the fat from the salted pork pieces (or bacon slices). Once the pork (bacon) is crispy remove and set aside to drain.
Add the potatoes to the rendered fat and stir to coat them all over. Let them get crispy all around for about 10 min.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. (You really do not need to bake this forever, everything is pre-cooked and the flavors really do not develop that much more if you set the temperature lower and baked longer).
Add the sliced onion to the potatoes, mix it well and cook for 5 min.
Reduce the heat to low.
Layer half of the sauerkraut on top of the potatoes.
Add half of the garlic and all of the spices.
Add half of the meat pieces and (optional) return the salted pork (or bacon pieces) back to the pot (beware as the salted pork could be too salty).
Layer the second half of the sauerkraut and spices and the rest of the meat.
Pour the beer over the ingredients and place the lid on.
Bake in the 300°F oven for one hour.
Serve with bread and brown mustard.
If you would like to use Alsatian Riesling instead, substitute the beer with 6 oz of wine and 6 oz of water for a total of 12 oz.
Choucroute garnie recipes typically list Juniper berries as one of the spices needed. I’ve also listed them in our recipe card, but since I absolutely dislike them, I had to leave them out from the actual dish I prepared in the video.
What Beer to Use
Traditionally, the beer the French use in choucroute garnie is a crisp, clean lager from Alsace (influenced by the nearby German lager heritage). The most popular representative is 1664, a pale lager brewed by Kronenbourg brewery in Obernai, Alsace. The brewery was founded in 1664 (it turned 350 years old in 2014), but sadly, in 2014 was acquired by beer giant Carlsberg Breweries. I tried to find an Alsatian lager from an independent regional brewery such as Brasserie Du Pecheur and their Pils d’Alsace, but wasn’t able to find any here in Fort Collins.
I almost went with the 1664, briefly considered substituting with a Munich Helles, which would have been an excellent alternative, but then spotted an amber ale I simply looove for its confident maltiness and subtle spice and thought that it will balance the tartness of the sauerkraut even better than the helles.
It is the Full Sail Amber Ale from Bend, OR. I know, I know…nothing to do with a pale lager, but it delivered more flavor. Sometimes one just has to obey the dictates of one’s taste buds and impulses, especially when it comes to cooking with beer.
What to Serve with Choucroute Garnie
If you like rye bread, it is the type traditionally served with this dish in Alsace, along with brown mustard. But even a hot dog bun will taste incredible with the flavored sauerkraut and smoked charcuterie of a choucroute garnie.
Some say it is a manly dish, but I’d disagree:) Make it and tell me what you think.
PS. Don’t forget to pin the recipe:)
PS PS. Choucroute garnie is very, very similar to a traditional Bulgarian sauerkraut dish called Kapama of which there are also hundreds of versions. It calls for a variety of meats, including veal and chicken and is not traditionally prepared with beer or wine.
Kapama can be improved upon with the right beer though (done that:) and some day in the future I will cook it up for the blog. It requires a special large piece of clay pottery to be cooked in and is meant to serve a large group of people (8-10 at least), but I have made it before in our cute individual Bulgarian clay crock pots and it tasted just as good.
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