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.
A Note on Some Ingredients
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.
- 12 links assorted large sausages (Andouille, Toulouse, Sweet Italian, etc.)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- About 1 bottle Riesling
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Riesling
- 1 head Savoy cabbage, quartered, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch strips
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 20 chives, quartered
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
- Salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a sauté pan with high sides on medium heat. Arrange the sausages in the pan, and brown for 2 minutes, until a little crust appears on the bottom sides. While they're cooking, use the point of a sharp knife to stab each sausage three times along its length, leaving little nostrils for the sausages to "breathe" through while they cook. At the end of the 2 minutes, flip the sausages and create the same holes on the reverse side.
Add enough Riesling to cover the sausages about 2/3 the way up. You don't need to wait for the other side to brown. Reserve at least 1/4 cup of the wine. Turn the heat up to high. Season the cooking liquid with salt and pepper. Flip the sausages every so often as they cook.
Allow most of the wine to boil off. After about 40 minutes, there will be very little liquid left, and it will be stained with sausage juices and thick. The sausages will begin to brown in the butter from the beginning of the cooking process, so knock the heat down to medium. Once they are sufficiently browned on one side, flip the sausages over, and brown for another couple of minutes on the other side.
When the sausages are crisp and golden on both sides, remove them from the pan to a plate. Add in the 1/4 cup of Riesling you reserved earlier, and whisk the pan sauce to a smooth consistency.
Plate the choucroute by mounding the braised Savoy cabbage (recipe follows) in a large, wide bowl. Then slice all the sausages in half on an angle and arrange them on top. Pour the pan sauce down over the whole thing, and garnish with fresh flat leaf parsley. Serve with Dijon mustard and cornichons, and, of course, warm baguette and another cool bottle of Alsatian Riesling.
Mustard-Braised Savoy Cabbage for Choucroute
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add the apple cider vinegar, Riesling, and a handful of salt.
Add the strands of cabbage to the water, and blanch for 3 minutes. Drain in a large colander, and run under cold water.
Return the same pot to the stove over low heat, and add 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and the olive oil. When the butter is melted, add the chives, parsley, and cabbage, and raise the heat to medium-high. Season with salt and cracked black pepper. Saute for 5 minutes until most of the excess water has evaporated. Stir in the mustard.
Put the braised cabbage in a large bowl, and top with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Toss to coat as the butter melts, and top the Savoy cabbage with the sausage halves and their pan sauce.