Thursday, February 28, 2008

Choucroute

Most people in this country call it sauerkraut, but I thought that Voltaire would better recognize choucroute. Either way it is cabbage preserved by lactic acid fermentation. I've always loved it and I'm also fascinated with the fermentation process. Lactobacillus bacteria occur naturally on plant surfaces, especially cabbage. The cabbage is salted (to make the tissues weep and inhibit other microorganisms) and incubated for four to six weeks. The bacilli pull oxygen out of the liquid (they are facultatively anaerobic) and lower the pH by breaking down available sugars into lactic acid. This preserves the cabbage from molds and rotting and putrifying bacteria. A similar process is the secret of yogurt and other fermented milk products. Lactofermentation is a very old means of keeping vegetables out of season and whole cuisines are built around it. It probably prevented scurvy in most of Middle Europe for hundreds of years.

Last year we enjoyed an authentic course of choucroute à l'alsacienne prepared by our friend Francis, who is a chef. We contributed the sauerkraut and Francis added several cuts of pork (sausages, loin, among others), juniper berries, wine, and other mysterious things. I think some duck fat may have been implicated. This was served simply with boiled potatoes, followed by a green salad and then a cheese course. Wonderful.

Other people may simply think of sauerkraut as what you put on Reuben sandwiches or eat with sausages. I like that too, but my favorite meal for two is two pork chops placed on top of sauerkraut in a baking dish, some white wine poured over both, then the chops are anointed with a mixture of ketchup and Worchestershire. Bake uncovered at 275 for 2 1/2 hours. The chops are completely tender and falling apart, fat has disappeared into the kraut, and with that and a baked potato you have dinner.

Sauerkraut is good on pizza, too. Not too much, and it simply makes it moister and more flavorful. We learned this last year that it can be eaten as a salad, especially if it is fresh. Simply rinse and add a mayonnaise dressing or a simple vinaigrette (I like to add a chopped scallion too) and serve like a slaw. I've heard of it mixed with creamed noodles and here in Michigan there are rumors of something called sauerkraut balls. (I think they are fried fritters with sauerkraut in the batter.) Of course sauerkraut pirogies are the best.

3 comments:

Mom said...

Also, FWIW, I have an old cookbook from the parishioners at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Hubbardston, MI that cautions "Always make sauerkraut when the moon is FULL; as it will get more juice in it". I know this sounds superstitious, but the farmer's wives that go to this church have made more kraut in their lifetime than I ever will, so I have no reason to doubt them.

Vivienne said...

So how does Labor Day weekend correlate with that? Another complication...

Vivienne

Buttercup said...

All right! Kim and I just made a batch of sauerkraut and the moon is full! http://www.calculatorcat.com/moon_phases/phasenow.php

Juice looks pretty good on mine for only 10 lbs cabbage.