Sunday, December 9, 2007

Alsace, Wines & Sürkrüt (*)

(*) Sauerkraut or Choucroute garnie (French for dressed sauerkraut), choucroute is a phonologically French form of Alsatian Sürkrüt, c.f. German Sauerkraut) - a famous Alsatian recipe for preparing sauerkraut with sausages and other salted meats and charcuterie, and often potatoes.

Spes nemo mos eat meus saeta colo colui cultum est amo sauerkraut (*)

Choucroute in French is also the name of a sort of beehive hair style with a slightly disorderly appearance, first sported by French actress Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s. Her blond hair arranged in such a hairstyle was deemed reminiscent of choucroute heaped high on a plate, hence the name. Cool huh?

(*) from Latin: Hope no one will eat my hair - the color is like sauerkraut


Historically part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Alsace has passed between French and German control numerous times, resulting in a rich cultural blend. Alsace is today a very peacefully French area on the boarder of Germany. It was not always like this: for hundred of years, this place has been the grounds of many wars, and often changed hands between the German and the French. |more information|
As a result of this, most of the population of this area are polygote: they speak both German and French. They have the same culture and same culinary traditions, one of them being the Sürkrüt in German or the Choucroute in French.

Famous people from Alsace:

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (August 2, 1834 – October 4, 1904) was a French sculptor born in Colmar, Alsace. His most famous work is the Statue of Liberty, donated in 1886 by the Franco-American Union to the United States. Rumours all over France claimed the body of the statue was modeled over his mistress, and the face based on his mother. Bartholdi traveled to the United States to personally select New York Harbor as the site for the statue. |more information|
Johannes Gensfleisch zur Ladenzum Gutenberg (c. 1400 – February 3, 1468)
Born in Germany, it was during the ten years he spent in Strasbourg that he perfected his method of printing using movable metal type. As a result of his invention at the end of the 15th C, Strasbourg and Nuremberg were the cities with the largest number of printers in the world.
|more information|
Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, (February 22, 1040 – July 13, 1105) better known as Rashi, is one of the most famous Biblical commentators of all times Born in Troyes, Rashi departed while in his teens to study at the Yeshivot of Mainz and Worms. He returned to Troyes and founded his own yeshiva in 1067. Rashi completed this commentary in the last years of his life. His commentary, which covers nearly all of the Babylonian Talmud (a total of 30 tractates), has been included in every version of the Talmud since its first printing in Italy in the fifteenth century.|more information|

Alfred Dreyfus (9 October 185912 July 1935) was a French artillery officer of Jewish background whose trial and conviction in 1894 on charges of treason became one of the most sensational political dramas in modern French and also European history. It is still known today as the Dreyfus Affair.

Marcel Marceau (March 22, 1923 – September 22, 2007) was a well-known mime artist.
Marceau performed all over the world in order to spread the "art of silence" (L'art du silence). Marceau passed away on September 22, 2007. He was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France. He was honoured with two minutes of silence, a particularly appropriate gesture.

Alsace Wines - Notable Facts
Seventy miles long and two miles wide, Alsace is a beautiful,
picturesque region situated along the border of France and Germany, nestled between the Voges Mountains and the Rhine River. These landmarks give Alsace an ideal climate for the white grapes that have become the mainstays of the region
Riesling Grapes
Alsace wines have four noble varieties: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. These are the only varietals allowed in the 50 Alsacian Grand Cru wines. Pinot Blanc, while not noble, is key in making many of the Cremant d'Alsace (sparkling wines) and is found in many Alsace AC blends.
Most of the wines from the region are dry – with steely acidity and round fruit flavors, typically more full bodied (aka, more alcohol) than their German counterparts. There are also sweet wines and of course sparkling.|more information|
Riesling is considered the lord of Alsatian whites. Riesling is also considered one of the noblest of vines. The warmer, drier and sunny Alsatian climate makes distinctively different Riesling than in Germany. It is fuller-bodied, more intensely fruity and dry to the palate. At the sweet extreme of the spectrum, Riesling is responsible for many of the world’s best dessert wines.

Somewhat prone to Botrytis cinerea (aka ‘noble rot)’, Riesling in some vintages makes sweet wines classified as Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese in Germany, Vendages Tardives and Selectiones de Grains Nobles in Alsace. |more information|

2004 was a great vintage for Riesling, and a very good vintage in Alsace, with extremely healthy, ripe grapes and beautiful crisp acidity. One could compare this vintage with famous vintages like 1995 or 1996, which were wonderful vintages for classic Rieslings.
The grapes harvested in late October. The fruit was fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel and concrete vats. There was no secondary malolactic fermentation, so as to maintain as much natural acidity as possible. The wine was released after two years of cellar aging.

Back to Sauerkraut or Choucroute:

The French choucroute - a la mode de l'alsace, the one from Strasbourg, or from the other side of the border, the German Sauerkraut are all similar. Some are using white wine, other are using Beer, some will use Champagne, but all will have the same basic: Fermented "choux", cooked for a long time at a low temperature, with smoked part of pork added, together with other pieces of meat - mainly pork.

The Sauerkraut Fermentation Process:

By definition, sauerkraut is "acidic cabbage." It is the result of a natural fermentation by bacteria indigenous to cabbage in the presence of 2 to 3% salt. The fermentation yields lactic acid as the major product. This lactic acid, along with other minor products of fermentation, gives sauerkraut its characteristic flavor and texture. In the production of sauerkraut, mature cabbage heads are washed and shredded. The salt is mixed with the shredded cabbage to a final concentration of about 2.5%. The salted cabbage is then tightly packed into a tierce or crock. The cabbage is protected from air (oxygen) in a manner that will permit gases produced during the fermentation to escape. A temperature of about 21.1°C (70°F) is preferred for the fermentation. About five weeks is required for a complete fermentation.|more information|

My Recipe of the week:

Choucroute Garnie (Sauekrut)

beer ero melior tamen ego can recipero vinum(*)
It is winter: Here in Montreal it is dark at 17:00, Cold, windy, plenty of snow - it is time to have sauerkraut with some nice smoked meat and sausages. Although sauerkraut is a traditionally German and Eastern European dish, the French annexation of Alsace and Lorraine brought this dish to the attention of French chefs and it has since been widely adopted in France.

In principle, there is no fixed recipe for this dish - any preparation of hot sauerkraut with meat and potatoes could qualify - but in practice there are certain traditions, favourite recipes, and stereotypical garnishes that are more easily called choucroute garnie than others.

Traditional recipes call for three types of sausage: Frankfurt sausages, Strasbourg sausages, and Montbéliard sausages. Fatty, inexpensive or salted cuts of pork also often form a part of choucroute garnie, including ham hocks, pork knuckles and shoulders, back bacon and slices of salt pork.

(*) from Latin: "Beer will be better - but I can accept wine"

Mood: Winter-Nostalgic

15 min prep, 2:15h cooking

6 servings


Drink matching: Gewurtztraminer or Riesling wine


1 Kg of sauerkraut (about 2lb or 3.5 can of 11 oz)

3 middle sized white onions cut in chunks

4 cloves garlic, peeled

4-6 Potatoes

1 apple, cut in chunks

6 Bratwursts

300-500 gr. Double smoked bacon

6-8 Frankfurters wurstchens

600 gr. Smoked pork

6-8 Knackwursts

400-600 gr. Kassler rippchen

10 Juniper berries

2-3 bay leaf

5 Cloves

Coarse salt

1 litre of Beer

A great song to listen to wile having a beer and tasting the Choucroute!

Preparation: (it is very easy!)

  • First and crucial step will be to drain, rinse for 5 minutes (with a lot of cold fresh water) and squeeze dry the sauerkraut.
  • Then, Cut bacon in cubes and saute in a heavy saucepan. you do not have to add any oil, the bacon will melt and give enough oil for the all process wile adding a great taste and flavour. this should take about 5 minutes.
  • When lightly crisp, add onions and garlic and saute until tender. Add the sauerkraut, the beer, juniper berries, bay leaf, and the apple. Mix all ingredients well, cover, bring to a boil and simmer slowly 1 ½ hours.
  • Add all the meats: the Kassler rippchen, knackwurst, smoked pork, bratwurst and frankfurters. Add the potatoes on top.
  • Cover and continue simmering at low temperature for another 20-30 minutes until potatoes are done.
  • Do not add to much salt: the meats are already salty, taste before serving, then decide!
  • Make sure you have enough liquids and it is not getting dry. if needed - add more beer.
  • It is a long BUT at low temperature cooking process.
Bon Appétit!

Useful links:

Tourisme - a useful site in multi-languages. recommended.
Everything about the Alsatian Wineroad. My recommendation "Alsace Routes des Vins")
Les Vin D'Alsace - dedicated to the wines from Alsace (France), very detailed!
The Wine Cast Blog - a great review on Wines, mostly from North America