One of the dishes on my ‘bucket list’ of ‘Foods to try in their Place of Origin’ is the incredible German-French specialty from Alsace-Lorraine known as Choucroute Garnie. This dish (more of a gargantuan feast, really) is a huge mélange of various pork products slow cooked with Sauerkraut and other vegetables. The main ingredients and flavorings can vary considerably, of course, but the unifying characteristic of the different versions is that the result is very hearty, rib-sticking sort of affair.
Today’s recipe can only be regarded as a poor cousin of the Alsatian specialty as I am doing a very small casserole type dish using just pork ribs with a little bacon for flavor. I am also departing from tradition somewhat by using sauerkraut as a secondary ingredient only. I am not using home-made sauerkraut here and, since I find that most commercial varieties are shredded so thinly they turn mush with any length of cooking, I will instead use coarsely shredded fresh cabbage augmented with some sauerkraut for added flavor. I am going to call this dish an ‘Alsatian Hotpot’ even though I admit that this name is probably a little ambitious given the rich complexity of its ancestry…
- 1 small rack of Pork Ribs;
- 3 -4 cups coarsely shredded Cabbage;
- 2 thick rashers of Bacon, sliced into matchsticks;
- 1 medium Onion, thinly sliced;
- 1 ½ cups Sauerkraut; rinsed and drained;
- 1 tbsp. fresh Sage, chopped;
- 2 tbsp. Parsley, chopped;
- ½ tsp. Celery Seed;
- 1 tsp. Black Pepper;
- 1 – 2 tbsp. Juniper Berries;
- Salt as needed;
- 6 – 8 small, unpeeled new potatoes;
- 2 Bay Leaves;
- ¼ cup Meat Stock;
- ¼ cup Dry White Wine.
If you do not have Juniper Berries, you can try whole Allspice as an alternative. The wine can be omitted in favor of extra stock and, if desired (and you have the space in your pot, you could add some thickly sliced sausage along with the ribs.
First, brown your ribs either by frying or by giving them 10 or 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven. This step is optional, but the browning will add nice flavor.
Blanching the cabbage, by immersing for 30 seconds in boiling salted water for 10 seconds and then refreshing in ice-cold water, will help it to maintain its color somewhat during the main cooking process. Again, you can omit this step, if desired.
Next, sauté the bacon until it is browned (but not crispy). Add the sliced onion and as soon as it is translucent, remove your pan from the heat.
Mix the onion and bacon together with the cabbage and sauerkraut and then stir in the herbs and seasonings (other than the bay leaves) and any needed salt. At this point, you can store the mix in the fridge until needed.
When you are ready to cook, place a layer of the cabbage mixture at the bottom of a casserole, arrange the ribs and potatoes over top along with the Bay leaves, and cover with the remaining cabbage. Pour over the stock and wine, put the lid on the casserole and put into a 325 degree oven for about 2 ½ to 3 hours. If, during the process, things look to be getting a little dry, add a little more water or stock. When all is done and the potatoes are tender, serve immediately…
To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the result here. My wife enjoyed and I thought it tasted okay but, ultimately, it was not quite as good as other similar dishes I have made. In the first place, it really needed more meat and, secondly, the combination of sage and celery seed did not work as well as it has done when I also included some apple along with the cabbage and pork. I really like the idea of an ‘Alsatian Hotpot’, but this dish needs quite a bit of work yet.