Choucroute garnie is a slowly baked Alsatian dish combining sauerkraut, sausage, meats, potatoes and spices.
One of the traditional ways to make choucroute garnie is with lager from Alsace, the other one with the dry Alsatian Riesling, which we prefer to the overly sweet German variety. But since we are all about cooking with beer, I made it with our favorite beverage.
Origins of the Dish
The French of the Alsace region borrowed the idea of choucroute garnie from their neighbors, the Germans of Schwarzwald and Bavaria.
Choucroute means ‘sauerkraut’ in French and ‘garnie‘ translates to ‘garnished/dressed’. The correct pronunciation is shü-ˈkrüt garni.
The traditional method involves heating up the sauerkraut with beer or wine and pork or goose fat, then adding spices and charcuterie. The dish is also one of those where there are hundreds of variations to the main recipe, both in the method of preparation and the ingredients used, with everyone customizing it as they see fit.
It is a bit of an unsightly dish (perhaps more than a bit), but as soon as you smell it its unrefined appearance will cease to matter.
My favorite thing about it is not the sauerkraut. Not even the beer that provides most of the liquid. It is the smoked meats.
Ingredients for Choucroute Garnie
This is a fabulous dish in that it contains everything for a complete meal.
- obviously cabbage (in the form of sauerkraut) but also onions and red potatoes. If you want, you can add carrots and parsnips, totally optional
- a variety of meats – often smoked. We used easy to find salted pork, bockwurst (veal sausage), smoked bratwurst and smoked pork shoulder (sub with thick cut bacon)
- a variety of spices used in Alsatian cooking – bay leaf, caraway, thyme,
- malty beer or sweeter white wine to balance the sour flavors of the sauerkraut
How to Make Choucroute Garnie
Kitchen equipment wise all you need is a single heavy bottomed pot with a lid that can be placed in the oven. A Dutch oven works great, or use something similar.
Then you need to:
- render the fat from the salted pork (or bacon), remove it and then cook the potatoes and onions in the fat until they become crispy
- add a layer of sauerkraut and half of all the spices and minced garlic
- arrange half the meats (including the salted pork )
- add another layer of sauerkraut and the rest of the spices and minced garlic
- arrange another layer of meats, pour beer over them, top with a bit more sauerkraut, close the lid and let the whole thing cook
Watch me make it in the video.
- 4 oz salt pork cut in cubes or 2 slices thick bacon
- 1 large onion, peeled and sliced thin
- 6 medium red potatoes, cut in chunks
- 1 1/2 lb sauerkraut
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 links bockwurst or knockwurst
- 2 links smoked bratwurst
- 1/2 lb smoked pork shoulder, sliced or cubed
- 12 oz amber ale or similar beer
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp corriander
- 1 tsp ground caraway seed
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground clove
- juniper berries, to taste
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- Turn oven on to 300 F.
- In a deep heavy bottomed pan such as a Dutch oven over medium heat render the fat from the salted pork (or bacon). Remove the pork from the pan and reserve it to add it back along with the rest of the meats.
- Add the red potatoes and brown for about 5 minutes.
- Add the onion, stir and cook until it softens a bit, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add a third of the sauerkraut right on top of the potatoes and onion. Add half the garlic, 1 bay leaf, half of each of the spices and half of all the meats (including the reserved salt pork or bacon).
- Cover with another third of the sauerkraut. Add the remaining garlic, bay leaf, spices and meats.
- Add the last third of sauerkraut on top and then pour the beer over the ingredients. Cover with the Dutch oven lid and move to the preheated oven.
- Bake for an hour and a half. Remove from oven and serve.
Choucroute garnie recipes typically list Juniper berries as one of the spices needed. I’ve also listed them in our recipe card, but since I absolutely dislike them, I had to leave them out from the actual dish I prepared in the video.
What Beer to Use
Traditionally, the beer the French use in choucroute garnie is a crisp, clean lager from Alsace (influenced by the nearby German lager heritage). The most popular representative is 1664, a pale lager brewed by Kronenbourg brewery in Obernai, Alsace. The brewery was founded in 1664 (it turned 350 years old in 2014), but sadly, in 2014 was acquired by beer giant Carlsberg Breweries. I tried to find an Alsatian lager from an independent regional brewery such as Brasserie Du Pecheur and their Pils d’Alsace, but wasn’t able to find any here in Fort Collins.
I almost went with the 1664, briefly considered substituting with a Munich Helles, which would have been an excellent alternative, but then spotted an amber ale I simply looove for its confident maltiness and subtle spice and thought that it will balance the tartness of the sauerkraut even better than the helles.
It is the Full Sail Amber Ale from Bend, OR. I know, I know…nothing to do with a pale lager, but it delivered more flavor. Sometimes one just has to obey the dictates of one’s taste buds and impulses, especially when it comes to cooking with beer.
What to Serve with Choucroute Garnie
If you like rye bread, it is the type traditionally served with this dish in Alsace, along with brown mustard. But even a hot dog bun will taste incredible with the flavored sauerkraut and smoked charcuterie of a choucroute garnie.
Some say it is a manly dish, but I’d disagree:) Make it and tell me what you think.
PS. Don’t forget to pin the recipe:)
PS PS. Choucroute garnie is very, very similar to a traditional Bulgarian sauerkraut dish called Kapama of which there are also hundreds of versions. It calls for a variety of meats, including veal and chicken and is not traditionally prepared with beer or wine.
Kapama can be improved upon with the right beer though (done that:) and some day in the future I will cook it up for the blog. It requires a special large piece of clay pottery to be cooked in and is meant to serve a large group of people (8-10 at least), but I have made it before in our cute individual Bulgarian clay crock pots and it tasted just as good.
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