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French in a Flash: Choucroute Nouvelle

In the avian world, it's the boys who must put on a show to attract a mate. But when my boyfriend, the avian biologist, comes over from England to see me, roles are reversed. It's I, the girl, who spreads her peacock tail and struts up and down the streets of New York, arms and eyes wide, declaring "This is my city!" Is there a better lure than Manhattan to attract a mate in the natural or, in this case, not-so-natural world? I don't think so.

It was one such night of peacocking that I took him to my father's and my favorite French restaurant on the Upper East Side, which will remain nameless here because, despite the events of that dismal evening, Chez X still holds a place in my heart.

My father and I are what biologists might call "creatures of habit." When we are both in town, we make a point to go to Chez X every Friday night. I swoon for the artichoke vinaigrette, cidre bouché, and the most well-thymed moules in town. My father, after much careful deliberation, always orders (predictably) the salmon. We made unnecessary reservations weeks in advance, requesting our favorite section, attended to by our favorite server, and began the thumb-twiddling days and hours until the blessed time we would return to Chez X, the British Biologist in tow.

We sat, we drank, we chomped down hunks of baguette and sweet butter, and we considered. I ordered the artichoke. My father ordered the salmon. The British Biologist asked my advice. "The Choucroute!" I exclaimed. He loves sausages, like any good Brit, and I could think of no better match for him than that night's special. Except, of course, me.

It arrived. I peered excitedly and expectantly over his shoulder as he lifted the lid of the crock pot. And then I shrank back in horror, as Dr. Frankenstein must have when he saw his hideous creature come to life. Actually, it did resemble Frankenstein's monster: strips of par-boiled flesh strung together loosely by laces of sauerkraut. And it was all my doing! The brave British biologist put on what they call in his country "a stiff upper lip," and took a bite. It was the last one he took all evening.

I have never had la vraie choucroute garnie in Alsace, but after I saw such a decrepit rendition, I decided to do some experimenting of my own. And voila, my Choucroute Nouvelle. The original Alsatian choucroute garnie is a melange of different sausages and bits of pork steak braised in a pot of sauerkraut, washed down with Alsatian Riesling wine.

In my renovated version, I use fresh, vibrant and beautiful Savoy cabbage, quick-braised with Riesling and apple cider vinegar, finished with chives, parsley, whole grain mustard, and good sweet butter. To place on top, I buy twelve assorted sausages, from hot Italian to Toulouse to Andouille. These I braise in a pot of bright Riesling, and crisp in butter. I perch the sliced sausages atop the mountain of fresh-braised Savoy cabbage, and drizzle the resulting rich pan sauce all over it. Serve with baguette, mustard and cornichons, garnish with parsley, and your peacock tail is out in full fan.

Frankenstein, with a facelift.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.

A Note on Some Ingredients

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You can use any sausages you like in this recipe, so long as they're large, full, and plump. I like the idea of mixing and matching here, because the original pot of choucroute contains different meats, so my homage to that is using different flavored sausage links. I like to use a mix of sweet Italian, Toulouse, and Andouille, but you should use any combination that looks good to you, and is easily available.

Savoy cabbage looks like regular green cabbage with leaves that haven't been ironed. You should be able to find it very easily, but I would also try this dish with Napa cabbage if you can't. If you can't find either, go ahead with the green cabbage.

Riesling is a slightly sweet white wine that is renowned as being German, but it is also popular and produced in one of the most German regions of France: Alsace. Use an inexpensive bottle for this preparation; I bought mine on sale for under seven dollars.

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