Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Day Feast: Choucroute Garnie

There's an old Southern tradition of eating black eyed peas and cabbage on New Year's Day to ensure health and prosperity in the coming year.  Some say it dates back to the times of the Pharaohs while others claim it was a meal created out of necessity when Southern towns were under siege during the Civil War.  I must confess that I never was a huge fan of this meal finding it bland and boring, but as I've become an adult, I've learned to appreciate beans and especially cabbage for their potential for inexpensive and delicious meals.  My mother always served it up with cornbread, which was usually the best part it for me.  Something must have worked though, because I've always been blessed with good health, and I've always had a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in!

In an effort to honor my Southern roots by maintaining this tradition I've searched some alternative ways of getting in the cabbage and black-eyes peas for the new year.  I discovered Choucroute Garnie watching some old Julia Child videos from the 50's and I began a love affair with the dish. I decided to cook it for friends on Christmas Eve a few years ago to rave reviews. The French go to this dish when they want comfort food because it's filling and depending on what meats you use, can be really inexpensive.  It's particularly popular in Alsace where there is a lot of pork, sausage, sauerkraut, and white wine due to the Germanic influence on the culture.  It's essentially a stew of cabbage and whatever meats you feel like throwing in or happen to have around.  Typically you use sauerkraut, but I have adapted the recipe to use fresh cabbage instead.  It's still delicious, although not authentic, and takes a lot less time.

Choucroute a la Gregoire

1 head of drum cabbage, shredded
1 small chicken, cut in half
2 Cornish hens, cut in half
1 ham hock
2 links veal sausage
2 links pork sausage
2 bone-in pork chops
4 thick slices of bacon
2 large yellow onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 bottle dry white wine
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 cloves
1 small handful juniper berries
2 bay leaves
  1. Preheat oven to 325˚.
  2. Season meat with salt and pepper and brown in a large cast iron Dutch oven working in small batches so as not to steam the meat.  Remove meats to a platter and save for later.
  3. Sweat onion and garlic in the rendered fat in the same pot until tender but not brown.  Add oil if necessary.
  4. Add wine and vinegar and deglaze the pot. Add the cabbage, spices, and herbs to the liquid and   Season generously with salt and pepper. Top off with water or chicken stock as necessary.  Bring to a low boil and cook cabbage until tender. Remove the cabbage and drain.  Return any liquid that drained off from the cabbage to the original Dutch oven and reduce to about half.
  5. Reintroduce the meats to the pot and top off with the cooked cabbage.  The liquid should be almost covering the cabbage - if not, add more water and re-season with salt and pepper.
  6. Braise in the oven, covered, for about 3 hours or until the meats are completely cooked.  Skim off any fat or scum that has risen to the top if necessary before serving.
Serving this dish is the fun part.  Bring plates for each guest to the table and a large cutting board for the center of the table with a big chef's knife and fork for carving the meats. Begin by doling out the cabbage little by little to each plate from the Dutch oven with a slatted spoon.  Remove the meat, starting with the smallest cuts, carving and serving them individually, drawing out the process as long as possible - bacon and sausages, followed by ham hock, pork chops, etc. ending with the Chicken. You'll be sure to get a round of applause at this point and everyone's mouth will be watering in anticipation.  To complete your not-so-traditional Southern New Year's feast, serve up some black eyed peas as a side dish instead of the tradition potatoes. Bon appetit!

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