The joys of making your own sauerkraut, and a couple of variations on choucroute garni. This is great Winter food, whether paired with traditional pork garnishes, or smoked turkey (above).
Last year about this time, I posted about making sauerkraut, using a terrific crock made by Maya Zelkin. I found that it was easy to do, and tremendously rewarding. For the price of the crock, two big heads of cabbage and some salt, you can have enough sauerkraut to make several large choucroute garni - one of the most spectacular savory dishes anywhere. The sauerkraut takes about five weeks to develop, and then can be kept in a cold refrigerator for months.
And what sauerkraut it is! It does not resemble the boring canned type at all, and is definitely better than the refrigerated type from the deli counter. It has substance and crunch, just enough salt and acidity, and best of all, you know where it came from. For this Fall's crock, I started with two huge, heavy cabbages from a nearby farm stand:
To recap, the steps are quite simple:
- Start with a clean crock that has a lid. It should not be airtight, however. You'll also need kosher salt.
- Remove outer leaves and core of cabbage, and cut into the size that you like. I like the cabbage to be between 1/8" and 1/4" thick slices. To do this, I cut the cabbage in half, and then into wedges. I slice the wedges in the food processor with a medium slicing disk attached.
- Weigh the cabbage that you are going to put in the crock. The amount of kosher salt that you'll add (layering it in as you go) will be 3 Tablespoons for every 5 lbs. of cabbage. It's important to get as close to this ratio as possible, so that the kraut is neither under- or over-salted.
- Pack the crock, tamping down the cabbage very firmly as you go, and applying salt evenly throughout the crock. The cabbage will begin to release water.
- Place a plate or another nonreactive weight on the top layer, cover the crock and put in the cellar or in another (cool) cave-temp spot. Don't leave it in a warm room; this can have the effect of speeding up the fermentation, and not in a good way. Aim for a 60 to 65-degree location.
- Check it the next day; there should be liquid covering the weight. If not, add salted water to cover. The ratio of this water should be 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons salt to 1 quart of water (boiled and cooled).
During fermentation, make sure the kraut stays submerged under water. If it dries out, it will mold on top; if this happens, carefully clean away all mold with a paper towel, clean and wash the weight and replace it. Then top off with brine.
- Five weeks later, if your cellar is around 65F, you will have sauerkraut. You can start to use it, and then refrigerate the remainder in the crock. It will be good for months.
=======================================Garnish Variation 1: Smoked Turkey, apple, three potatoes
We recently smoked a whole turkey, and I thought that the smoky meat would work well with the choucroute. I also had dug a few more fingerling and purple potatoes out of the garden, and added two Cortland apples and a sweet potato to tie the flavors together.
- Peel and slice the apples, add to the braising dish, then place potatoes on top. Return to the oven for 40 minutes, then top with turkey for the last 20 minutes. Check for doneness, continue braising if necessary. Serve when turkey is piping hot and potatoes are fork-tender.
Accompany this with lots of Cinnamon Applesauce (trust me on this).
Garnish Variation 2: Tuscan Sausage, fingerling potato, carrot
This is a more traditional preparation, with pork sausages, potato and carrot.
- Saute 3 Tuscan Sausages (recipe below), and place them on top of the partially-braised choucroute as described above. Since the sausages are already cooked, you can do 1 and 1/2 hours on the first braise, then add the sausages for the last 1/2 hour.
(You can of course add other traditional pork garnishes such as smoked sausages, back bacon, knuckles and whatever else you have. )
- Steam fingerling potatoes and peeled carrots to complete the garnish. Plate when the choucroute is tender and the sausages have further browned.
Accompany this with a selection of mustards, coarse- and fine-grained dijon types.
Medium hog casings packed in salt
2 ½ lb. coarsely chopped fresh spinach, stems removed
3 lb. boneless pork roast, with fat
(add 2 oz pork back fat if pork appears too lean after grinding)
2 medium shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1T sea salt
2 tsp coarse black pepper
1 tsp ground fennel
¼ tsp. dried chervil
¼ tsp dried marjoram
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cayenne
¼ tsp rubbed sage
¼ tsp thyme
Fresh herbs as available: sage, thyme, parsley, chervil, marjoram, basil. Varying the fresh herbs will make each batch unique.
1/8 c. Pernod
1/8 c. Lillet (white)
In a large bowl, rinse out a suitable length (about 3 feet) of casings, changing the water a couple of times. Run the water through the casing to rinse the inside. Then load the casing section onto the sausage filler tube while running a bit of water through the tube into the casing in the bowl. It helps to do this underwater.
Blanch and press water from the chopped spinach, set aside.
Using the coarse grinding plate, grind the meat, shallots, herbs and seasonings into a large stainless bowl. If the mixture is excessively lean, add the pork back fat. Resist the urge to not do so; a certain amount of fat is essential for this type of sausage.
Add the spinach, Pernod and Lillet, mix well.
Stuff into the casings, creating 6-inch links. Fill the casings to about 80% of their fill capacity, so that you will be able to pinch off and twist the links (twist alternate links to create about 1/3” of twist between each link).
Use immediately or freeze the sausages for later use.