Braised Sauerkraut (Choucroute Braisée)

Like many other cooks stuck at home during this pandemic, maybe you’ve started making your own ferments, like sourdough starter or fermented pickles.  Now I always have a batch of homemade sauerkraut fermenting in the pantry putting pressure on us to consume what’s already in our fridge.  So not long ago, while flipping through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I came across her recipe for Choucroute Braisée a l’Alsacienne, or Braised Sauerkraut. A recipe originating from the Alsace region of France, it’s the base for one of my favorite dishes, Choucroute Garni, a rustic and hearty dish of cured meats and German style sausage cooked in sauerkraut. A natural complement to sausages (of course), pork, ham, duck and other game birds, this Braised Sauerkraut also makes a perfect Fall side dish.

Treated like braised cabbage, the sauerkraut is drained and rinsed then simmered in white wine, stock, and aromatics for 2 to 3 hours until it’s soft and tender. I followed Julia’s recipe exactly and the results were spot-on and surprisingly delicious. Now that I’ve made a few variations, I’ve settled on a recipe that doesn’t require cheesecloth, parchment circles, or the oven as hers would. In addition to the white wine I add a few tablespoons white verjus for an extra bit of fruit. But you can omit the wine altogether and try using vermouth, cider, or beer. This recipe doesn’t require a lot of active prep, so you can just leave it simmering away on the stove (like I am now) or in the slow cooker while you’re working in your home office or helping the kids with their remote learning.

IngredientsServes 4 to 6
5 to 6 cupssauerkraut (4 cups drained plus 1 to 2 cups brine)
4 oz.bacon, cut in slabs 2″ long x 1/2″ thick
4 Tbspunsalted butter
1 eamedium yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 eamedium carrot peeled and cut 1/8″ thick (about 1/2 cup)
1 cupdry white wine
1/4 cupwhite verjus (optional)
2 to 3 cupschicken stock or other meat stock
3 eabay leaf
6 eaparsley stems
1/2 tspground white pepper
salt, to taste

Directions:

Step 1, Drain and rinse the sauerkraut. I never discard the liquid drained from the sauerkraut. Instead use it to brine lean meats like pork chops or turkey breast before grilling or roasting.

Step 2, Blanch and render the bacon.  Place bacon in a 10” wide saucepan or dutch oven with just enough water to cover.  Heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.  Drain water from the pan. Continue to cook the bacon over medium heat until some of the fat has rendered and the bacon, about 5 minutes.  

Step 3, Sweat the vegetables. Add the butter, onions, and carrots and cook over medium heat about 4 minutes until the onions are beginning to soften.  Add the sauerkraut, stirring until it’s lightly coated with fat. Cook gently for 8-10 minutes more.

Step 4, Add the liquids and simmer until soft.  Add wine, verjus, chicken stock, bay leaves, parsley stems, and white pepper.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until both the bacon and the sauerkraut are very tender and the onions have basically melted.  If necessary, simmer uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove bay leaves and parsley stems before serving.

Serve immediately or keep refrigerated for up to 4 days. Heat and serve with hot dogs, sausages, or pork chops for a quick weeknight meal, or with a Sunday Roast for something more festive. You can even brown your meats and finish cooking them in the braised sauerkraut for an extra boost of flavor. For the table, apple mustard, simply boiled new potatoes, green beans, or a simple green salad make excellent accompaniments. And to drink, a crisp dry Riesling.

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