Year of the Pig
One of the few easily available top-quality products here in rural New Brunswick is sauerkraut. By a quirk of history, there is a large population of German extraction in this part of the country, and sauerkraut is a way of life for Germans.
So what do you do when faced with a large quantity of fresh sauerkraut? Make food whose pedigree is from the most German part of France: choucroute garnie, a classic dish from Alsace. (Pure German cuisine, while hearty, usually has little else to recommend it.)
Literally, choucroute garnie means dressed or garnished sauerkraut. In practice, it means sauerkraut heaped with pork in every conceivable form. Plus a little bit of veal, for good measure.
In the Les Halles Cookbook, Anthony Bourdain notes that the hardest part of making choucroute is gathering the ingredients. For me, it involved buying some sausages on our last trip into Montreal, freezing them, and flying them back home. Almost everything else was available locally.
You don't really need a recipe for this dish at all, though I nominally used Bourdain's, since I felt like I needed training wheels for my first time out. The basic process is this: Boil some waxy potatoes. Rinse a couple of pounds of fresh sauerkraut and let it drain. In a large pot, melt some goose or duck fat and sauté an onion. Throw the sauerkraut in the pot, and dump in a bottle of wine (Riesling or Sylvaner from Alsace, de préférence). Add a bay leaf, a garlic clove and some lightly crushed juniper berries and coriander seed; next time, I'm going to add some cloves, too. Bring it to a simmer, then nestle the meat in the sauerkraut. Let it all simmer for an hour or two, heat up the potatoes and sausages (if they're fully cooked; otherwise, add them to the sauerkraut a little earlier). When everything is cooked, put it all on a serving platter like the one pictured above. Dig in. Share with friends, 'cuz you're not going to be able to eat it all on your own.
You can easily switch up the meats in this dish, but I stuck to the letter of the recipe, opting for Weisswurst, frankfurters, smoked pork chops and salted pork belly. It seemed especially appropriate to go with the porky theme given that we're now in the year of the pig by Chinese reckoning.
(Well, no, not as appropriate as if we'd made a pork dish from Chinese cuisine, now that you mention it...)
Anyway, you're probably wondering how this relates to the overall theme of my blog. The one ingredient I couldn't find here and didn't bring back from Montreal was salt pork. However, the local supermarket carries fresh pork belly. Following Bourdain's instructions, I mounded salt over it and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days. Voilà!, salt pork from scratch.