Snapshots from Germany: Grünkohl mit Mettwurst (Curly Kale with Pork Sausage)

Curly Kale_Urs Kuckertz.jpg

Grünkohl mit Mettwurst, with potato, mustard and one of my favorite Berliner brews "Postdamer Stange." [Photograph: Urs Kuckertz]

Grünkohl mit Mettwurst is a classic German dish of cabbage and pork traditionally enjoyed during winter. Grünkohl (curly kale), originally brought here by the Romans during their excursions into Magna Germania, is a highly nutritious green cabbage which has been cultivated across Germany since the Middle Ages.

When cooked properly, grünkohl has a rather delicate and savory taste excellently complemented by the fatty and heavy mettwurst (pork sausage). Often found at Christmas markets and served with various kinds of sausages and pork cuts, it should always be accompanied by a healthy dose of alcoholic beverages.

A common misunderstanding we should go over first: whether or not you should freeze grünkohl. When exposed to frost, it supposedly becomes more sweet and less bitter. Many cookbooks will advise you to place fresh curly kale in the freezer overnight or recommend harvesting it only after exposure to frost. In reality it's the late harvest itself (from end of September to March) that allows the leaves enough time to turn starch into sugar, so don't bother freezing your Grünkohl.

In Germany, curly kale is often associated with the coastal region of East Frisia in Lower Saxony and the northern cities of Bremen and Oldenburg where the annual gathering "Grünkohlfahrt" (curly kale hike) takes place. Locals meet up to embark on a hike while consuming beer and korn, a colorless liquor made from fermented rye or corn similar in taste to Scandinavian Aquavit. After the hike the party assembles to feast on Grünkohl and continued drinking. At the end of the event, a curly kale king (kohlkönig) is announced. The great honor is bestowed upon the individual who has devoured most Grünkohl and comes with a trophy, often in the form of an inscripted pig's jaw bone.

There are countless recipes for Grünkohl, each region having their own special ingredient or cooking method. Basically you chop and slow cook the curly kale leaves in a broth adding onions, shallots, plenty of butter and place a so called schweinebacke (chunk of meat from the pig's jaw, which adds texture and deliciousness to the Grünkohl) in the pot while seasoning with salt, pepper, nutmeg and bay leaves.

I have no problem with using precooked curly kale in a jar. The quality, at least here in Germany, is good and it saves you a lot time and hassle. Since you'll still be adding the additional ingredients and seasoning the end result is only marginally different from using freshly harvested.

While grünkohl of course constitutes the main part of the dish, pork, as always, plays a vital role. Grünkohl will typically be served with one, some or all of the following:

  • Mettwurst: raw minced pork with lots of fat preserved by curing or smoking
  • Pinkel: a delicious sausage consisting of bacon, pig lard, groats of oats and barley, beef suet, lots of pepper and other spices
  • Speck: thick chunks of fried or cooked bacon
  • Kasseler: salted, smoked cut of pork

Add to that some mustard (Senf), and perhaps boiled or fried potatoes and good quality beer with a shot of korn and you'll have your delicious Grünkohl mit Mettwurst dish.

Lasst es euch schmecken! (Enjoy the food!)