History of a Dish: Choucroute Garnie

This is comfort food taken to a whole new level.

Comfort food is one way to brighten your day when it’s just not going your way. A nice tall glass of wine (or beer) is another. What happens when you combine the two? You get straight up happiness on a plate — otherwise known in some circles (and now, all of yours) choucroute garnie.

Imagine with me, if you will: a heart-warming pile of roasted ham hock, pork belly, garlic sausage, and bratwurst, set over a healthy helping of steaming sauerkraut that was flavored with sliced apples, onions, juniper berries, plus a glass of Riesling, and maybe even a touch of beer added to the mix. Yeah, it’s that good. Pair it with your favorite Oktoberfest brew and it will be that much better.

Lucky for us, we got to see how an expertly crafted choucroute garnie would taste from the Culinary Institute of America, which will be featured at their upcoming on-campus beer festival, Brew U on October 7. 

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Literally translating to “garnished sauerkraut”, choucroute garnie originates from the Alsace region of France, planted on the country’s eastern border right next to Germany. Such proximity to its neighbor resulted in a unique cultural blend in the area, similar to the Catalans in Spain, which includes the creation of an intriguing Germanic dialect, Alsatian.

While the discovery of preserving fermented cabbage in brine belongs to Attila and his faithful Huns (they left China and moved to Alsace around 451 A.D.), choucroute garnie has its origins in the German dish Schlachtplatte, which means slaughter plate (unappetizing, we know). Per German tradition, it was composed of all the parts of the pig that would not be preserved over the winter, like the belly, organ meat, blood sausage, and fresh bratwurst — a big deal for butchers as it was the only time during the year pig farmers could eat fresh meat.

Lucky for us, refrigeration is a thing, and the people of Alsace managed to transform a rather unappetizing idea into something quite hearty and delicious. Somewhere along the line the French, doing what they do best, pushed choucroute garnie into the avant-garde with the addition of foie gras, filet d’esturgeon, and caviar to the recipe.

And the Culinary Institute of America will be presenting their own rendition of the dish at their second annual beer festival, Brew U on October 7, and have so graciously given us their recipe, from Chef Waldy Malouf, for you all to try. 

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