Choucroute Alsacienne

Serves 4-6

I used to hate the French dish choucroute, or sauerkraut as it's called in Germany. However, over the years I have finally come round to it and discovered that it's best when you adjust the flavours to suit your taste, and you don't go overboard on the quantity. I think the trouble was that whenever I'd tried it before, the cabbage was so heavily salted, and it was always served in ridiculous amounts. I expect in Alsace and Germany it still is. Even some Parisian brasseries serve it in joke quantities.

I used to hate the French dish choucroute, or sauerkraut as it's called in Germany. However, over the years I have finally come round to it and discovered that it's best when you adjust the flavours to suit your taste, and you don't go overboard on the quantity. I think the trouble was that whenever I'd tried it before, the cabbage was so heavily salted, and it was always served in ridiculous amounts. I expect in Alsace and Germany it still is. Even some Parisian brasseries serve it in joke quantities.

Choucroute is traditionally served with pork, and there's so much scope for matching it with some of the great sausages and bacon now available. Smoky Black Forest ham and great smoked and boiling sausages are sold by the German Wurst and Delicatessen at Borough Market and at their shop in Central Street, London EC1 (020-7250 1322) along with lots more sausages and hams and even jars of cabbage so you can make your own bespoke choucroute. Smoked ham and boiling sausages, though not necessarily the real thing from Germany or Alsace, are sold in supermarkets, too.

700-800g smoked streaky pork or a piece of smoked pancetta with the rind left on
500g kassler (smoked loin of pork) or a piece of smoked back bacon with the rind left on
4 medium-sized meaty smoked sausages
4 meaty sausages, such as Toulouse
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1tbsp vegetable oil
1tsp caraway seeds
1tsp black mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
6 juniper berries

for the cabbage

1 small head of white cabbage weighing about a kilo or less
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1tbsp vegetable oil
1tsp caraway seeds
1tsp black mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
6 juniper berries
100ml white wine
50ml white wine vinegar
1 medium potato, peeled and grated

Cut the smoked streaky pork (and smoked back bacon, if you are using it) into rough 4cm chunks, put in a bowl of water and leave overnight in the fridge. (You don't have to do this to pancetta or kassler.) The next day wash the meat under the cold tap for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a large saucepan (the pancetta can be added now if you are using it) and cover with water. Add the onions, juniper, caraway and mustard seeds along with the bay leaf. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours or until the meat is tender. The water may need topping up every so often.

Add the sausages (and kassler if you are using it) and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. Remove the pieces of meat and sausages and strain the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve. Pour about 1/3 of the liquid back over the meats to reheat them later.

Start on the cabbage by trimming any discoloured outer leaves and cutting it into four. Cut out the root with a heavy knife and finely shred the leaves. Gently cook the onions in the vegetable oil in a thick-bottomed pan for 4-5 minutes with the caraway, mustard seeds, bay and juniper, until soft. Add the white wine, vinegar, potato and cabbage and the strained liquid the meat was cooked in.

Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally, then cover with a lid and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every so often. There shouldn't be much liquid left, just some natural, slightly thickened cooking liquid. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

To serve, reheat the meats in the cooking liquid, transfer the cabbage to a large serving dish and spoon the meats over it. Serve with some good strong mustard and drink beer.

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