Choucroute, Simplified

12 03 2011

It’s no secret that I love me some choucroute garnie.  Sometimes, though, the laundry list of pork products required to make it feels both too heavy to eat and too time-consuming to make.  So I cheat: I braise some red cabbage with smoky sausage and call it dinner.

It starts like this...

I’ve written up my recipe for this shortcut choucroute, which is a favorite in my kitchen for busy weeknights when I still want something hearty.  Check it out on Girls’ Guide to Paris.

On this day in 2009: Rendez-Vous Bars (a recipe for one of my favorite treats)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Worthwhile French Beers: La Klintz

8 03 2010

I had last week off work, and while I didn’t manage to stockpile blog posts as I had hoped, I did manage to stockpile material for blog posts, which is almost as good.  I also spent a lot of fruitless time looking for a new apartment, about which I won’t bore you further, until I move and I inevitably hate my new kitchen, at which point I will bitch and moan.  But this post is about beer.  Specifically, La Klintz, an organic blonde from Brasserie Uberach.

Brasserie Uberach's La Klintz Blonde

I met Nick for lunch last Thursday, and we went to a delightful little bistro near Montparnasse (more on that later).  We were delighted to learn that the restaurant’s only beer offering was “an artisan beer from Alsace.”  So we ordered two.  Negligently without any kind of notepaper (I prefer to let my camera do the note-taking), I resorted to jotting down our tasting notes on my phone.  (Hey, it’s worked before…)  Looking back at them, I find the shorthand almost poetic.

La Klintz
smells grassy citrusy
Unfiltered cloudy
Gold. V good.
blonde, bio
Clean sparkly flavor.
Almost saison
Light spice,
maybe coriander.

So yeah, we liked it.  I’m glad to see that it’s available at La Cave à Bulles, an excellent beer store which features French craft beers and is much closer to my apartment than this restaurant.  They also stock a number of Brasserie Uberach’s other brews, which I am now very interested to try.

On this day in 2009: Tommes de Savoie

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Vins d’Alsace

1 03 2009

I know it’s March now, but since it’s such a long month, and February is so short, I’m sure March won’t mind if we borrow a day to talk about Alsatian wines.  It just seems ignorant to spend a month writing about Alsace without dedicating a post to the wines of the region – besides, they are some of my very favorite white wines.

The holy trinity of Alsatian wine: Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and Sylvaner

The wines of Alsace are notable among French wines in that they almost always list the grape varietal on the bottle.  (Many French wines are blends.)  The grapes used are also much more common in German winemaking than in French.  While their German counterparts tend to be quite sweet, Alsatian wines are usually vinified dry, clearing the path to better appreciation of the subtle flavors of the grapes and the mineral qualities of the terroir.  They also have a distinct, elongated bottle silhouette, which strikes me as elegant.  Regal, even.  In fact, in my now-infamous wine bottle manger scene of Christmas 2000, bottles from Alsace played the three wise men.  (The animals were represented by stumpy Côtes du Rhône bottles; Mary and Joseph were a feminine Bourgogne and a somber Bordeaux, respectively; and Baby Jesus took the form of a tiny bottle of Kronenbourg.  If I had the wherewithal to upload 8 year old film photos that are currently in storage in the US, I would totally share that one here.)

Anyway, the wines of Alsace are perfectly suited to the cuisine of the region – their mild sweetness and citrusy or tropical fruit overtones balance the hearty fare with aplomb.  But they also happen to pair quite well with spicy food, especially dishes from and inspired by Southeast Asia.  And let’s not forget the apéritif!  In fact, I think I’ll uncork one right now.

Yeah, it's a little early, but hey, it's Sunday.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

When in Alsace…

23 02 2009

You absolutely MUST eat in at least one winstub.  This should not be a problem, given the sheer preponderance of them in the towns of the region.  I think we would have been hard pressed to eat three meals in Strasbourg without at least one of them being in a winstub.

The sign outside Chez Yvonne

We found ourselves ensconced in the cozy warmth of Chez Yvonneon Sunday night.  In business since 1873, the place was touted by our guidebook as a “classic among classics.”  Since we were looking for an authentic taste of Alsace, that sounded just about right.  Chez Yvonne is located at the end of a cute little side street (if the town seems to consist mainly of tiny side streets, do they cease to be side streets?), and, like many of the establishments we visited in Strasbourg, has a heavy curtain inside the door to keep out the cold.

Brains or brawn?  I choose brawn.

As we stepped in the door, I said something to Nick about how I hoped they had red-checked tablecloths (that being one of Alec Lobrano’s barometer readings indicating a good restaurant, and this seemed like the sort of place where they would be right at home).  They didn’t, but I think the brightly colored, ornately patterned linens were even better.  Upon being seated, the smiling waitress brought us a small dish of head cheese cubes.  They somehow managed to be both toothsome and tender enough to melt in your mouth.  Another hint that we would be dining well that night.  We ordered a couple of glasses of crémant d’Alsace (the local sparkling wine) as our apéritif, and toasted the meal to come.

When I saw foie gras crème brûlée on the menu, there was no question as to what I would be ordering for my first course.

Two of my very favorite things - foie gras and crème brûlée

It was served with a thick slice of fig and hazelnut bread, which complemented the rich, savory-sweet cream perfectly.  Nick went for the herring, which came napped in a delicate cream sauce.

Another classic of the Alsatian repertoire

He cleaned his plate and we eagerly anticipated our main courses, accompanied by a bottle of Sylvaner, a dry Alsatian white wine.  I couldn’t pass up the choucroute garnie, and my plate arrived piled high with some of the tastiest sauerkraut I’ve ever had, surrounded by half a dozen different pork products.  (They take their charcuterie seriously in Alsace.)

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Worthwhile French Beers: Strasbourg Edition

22 02 2009

One of the four "Carré d'Or" streets in Strasbourg

Like I mentioned last week, Nick and I spent a weekend in Strasbourg, the largest city in Alsace.  Alsace is France’s most important beer-producing region, and by “important” I mean that in terms of volume.  Kronenbourg and Fischer, two of the country’s largest breweries, are based in Alsace, the former being the biggest-selling brewer in France.  We tried unsuccessfully to get a tour of the Kronenbourg brewery, located just outside Strasbourg, but we were probably better off hunting down the local microbreweries anyway.

The bar at La Lanterne

Copper tanks at La Lanterne

Finding La Lanterne was a bit of a challenge.  The place is tucked away on a side street of a side street, and from the outside looks like a complete dive.  Inside, though, it’s inviting, and the beer is freshly brewed on the premises.  It was a real treat to sit in a brewpub and sip a tasty beer while enjoying the ambiance.

The Kohler-Rehm Brewery, on the other hand, is centrally located with a grandiose façade that belies the generic interior.

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THE Cheese from Alsace: Munster

13 02 2009

If you Google “Alsace cheese” or something along those lines, one name comes up repeatedly: Munster.  Browsing the cheese displays of most French supermarkets will yield the same results.  Considering this is a major, AOC-class French cheese, there is surprisingly little information about it available on the interwebs, at least in English.  (For one of the most poorly written Wikipedia articles I’ve ever seen, click here.)

What I have been able to determine is that it is an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese with a fat content of 45%.  It is aged 10 weeks or so, and during that time the rind is washed with a saltwater solution.

Munster photo by Nick

What I learned from bringing half a cheese home with me is that Munster stinks.  This is normal, and to be expected with washed-rind cheeses, but this one is particularly pungent.  Nick went so far as to call the smell “bathroom-y” while I prefer the slightly more appetizing description, “barnyard-y.”  As in, perhaps, stables that haven’t been cleaned in a while.  The smell notwithstanding, the cheese is delicious.  The creamy pâte is loaded with earthy flavors, mushroomy and herbaceous, bordering on meaty.  The rind is edible, though strong enough that I prefer to cut off a bit of it so as to better appreciate the subtlety of the cheese inside.

We’d better eat the rest of it soon, because I think the eggs are starting to have an identity crisis – you would, too, if you woke up smelling like that.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Regional French Cuisine: Alsace: Flammekueche

6 02 2009

I bet you’ve all been wondering when I was going to announce the featured region for February, right?  Well, here we are, at the end of the first week, and I give you: Alsace.

Alsace is a small (the smallest in metropolitan France, which is akin to the lower 48, if you know what that means) region in northeastern France, bordering Germany and Switzerland.  The region has bobbled back and forth between France and Germany for most of its history, but has rested with France since 1945.  These days, most Alsatians (people, not dogs) speak French, but the German influence remains prominent in the cuisine of the region.  Pork and charcuterie are a cornerstone of the traditional dishes, and the Germanic history is evident in the wine varietals used and in the high concentration of regional breweries.

Choucroute and flammekueche are the beacons of Alsatian cuisine, and since I’ve already written about choucroute for this blog, I thought I’d try my hand at a flammekueche.  Comprising a thin bread dough spread with crème fraîcheand topped with bacon and onions, flammekueche was traditionally baked among the expiring coals of the day’s bread-baking, giving it a characteristic char on the edges.  Not being fortunate enough to own my own wood-fired oven (someday…), I made do with my stand-by pizza dough, and turning my little oven up as high as it goes.  I also substituted leeks for the onions, since we had just received another lovely batch in the CSA panier.  Simply sweating them in rendered bacon fat before plopping it all onto a round of dough smeared thickly with crème fraîche and topping it with a smattering of grated comté cheese rewarded us with a scrumptious flatbread tart.

Flammekueche, fresh from the oven

I served it with a mâche salad (also from the panier) with a quick vinaigrette.  Looks like those French-Germans know what they’re doing when it comes to hearty winter meals.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Choucroute, part Deux

6 03 2008

Choucroute is French for sauerkraut.  Choucroute garnie is a specialty of the Alsace region and may be the second-heaviest dish in the French repertoire.  (The first being cassoulet, though I’m sure this is debatable.)  Given that I had a bowlful of leftover homemade sauerkraut, I decided to attempt choucroute garnie.  I was up in Montmartre yesterday afternoon on a pâtisserie-scouting quest, and I had looked into the neighborhood charcuteries and chosen one to visit.  Of course, this particular charcuterie is closed from 1-4 pm, so I had to time my visit accordingly.  Naturally, it was still closed when I showed up at 4:15.  No indication of whether they planned to open later that day, just the cold metal shutters of a closed French shop.  Well, this can’t be the only place to get sausages in Montmarte.  Sure enough, two or three doors down was a butcher shop which had at least ten kinds of sausage.  When I got to the front of the line I told the butcher that I wanted to make choucroute garnie and asked which sausages I needed.  He proceeded to point to three different sausages as well as some large chunks of unsliced bacon.  He asked how many I was cooking for and I replied, “Deux.”  So he pulled out two francfort sausages, a fat red sausage whose name I have forgotten, and a piece of poitrine.

This much meat for two people?!

This is, apparently, the necessary meat to make choucroute garnie for two.  After making my purchase, the butcher advised me on how to cook each item.  I nodded politely, a plan already forming in my head.

Despite the poitrine already being cooked, I decided to trim the skin off and render it a bit more.  I also cut some thin strips to form the base of my choucroute garnie, because… why not?

Mmmmm… hog fat

Once that started to brown, I added a couple of sliced onions to deglaze the pot.  When they were softened I added some roughly chopped garlic and let it become fragrant.  Next came about a glass’ worth of Alsatian wine, followed by the sauerkraut, some chicken broth, two bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme, a clove, and black pepper.  I nestled the remaining chunk of poitrine (cut in half) in the pot, covered it, and turned the heat to medium-low.


After it had simmered for about an hour, filling the house/room with irresistible smells, I sliced up some fingerling potatoes and added them to the pot along with the sausages and a pinch of salt.  I let it cook for another half an hour or so, until the potatoes were tender and had absorbed the flavors of the choucroute.

…and after

Here you have it, folks: choucroute garniefor two!  Yeah, right.  I served it with the rest of the wine, an Alsatian Sylvaner, and that was all the accompaniment it needed.

 Choucroute Garnie

It was a pretty easy dish to make (in one pot, no less!), and as a bonus, we have lots of delicious leftovers.  That red sausage was so good, it elicited a “wow!” from both Nick and me.  It was smoky, but with a distinctive flavor we couldn’t quite name.  The white sausages were good, too, akin to hot dogs (frankfurters) in color and texture, but with a meatier, warm-spiced flavor.  The poitrine basically disintegrated into the dish, infusing every bite with meaty goodness.  I highly recommend you try this at home.

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