Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The French Take on Beer, Brats, and Sauerkraut: Julia Child's Choucroutre Royale

Isn't it funny how to our ears the French language just sounds so elegant? If you were to tell a friend that you were serving Choucroute Royale for Super Bowl Sunday, no doubt eyebrows would be raised in disbelief! "What kind of haute cuisine is that to serve the beer and pretzels crowd?" "I thought we'd be having chili like last year!" But wouldn't your friend be just as surprised to learn that choucroute (shoo-kroot) is simply French for sauerkraut? The "Royale" part I've no idea, but it could just be Julia's way of making sauerkraut sound even more classy by jazzing it up with more than just plain old sausages. This is all so reminiscent of that conversation in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction between the John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson characters about how the French call the banally named "Quarter Pounder with cheese" "Royale with cheese?" Instant cache! (Mon Dieu! Can I pepper any more French words into this intro?)

I was very happily led to this preparation by searching on the Food Network website for recipes that use juniper berries. I'd bought juniper berries from Penzeys Spices to make Molly Stevens' Sauerbraten, and even though I'd gotten a small container, I still wanted to use them up. I'm still working on that effort two years later, but the folks at Penzeys say that whole spices in the seed form last up to two years unlike the six months to a year for herbs and ground spices, so I've still got this winter for a few more recipes. That same search, incidentally, led me to Emeril's Chicken Simmered in Beer, discussed in an earlier posting.

Based on the success of Emeril's chicken and Julia's sauerkraut I can definitely say that there is an affinity for beer with juniper! I love using beer in cooking chili and other one pot meals, and the choucroute is a dish that cries out to be prepared in the slow cooker. In fact, I started this dish in the afternoon prior to going out bowling with my sister's family thinking we could all come back and enjoy this crowd pleaser together. Unfortunately the big dinner party didn't work out, but Brian and I certainly had a great hearty dinner that was made even better by eating it with Firehook Bakery's hearty dark multigrain bread with Dijon mustard. Needless to say this the kind of preparation that is even better the next day. I also used two other Food Network recipes--one by Emeril and another by Food Network Kitchens that describes a slow cooker preparation. Both had some good ideas including using gin instead of or in addition to the juniper berries, so here is my take, with Julia's recipe as the foundation.

Choucroute Royale (Braised Sauerkraut)

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and Simone Beck

One 28 ounce can of a good German brand of sauerkraut

1/2 pound chunk of bacon or 8 slices good turkey bacon (Louis Rich NOT recommended)
1 tablespoon olive oil

3 to 4 pounds of various kinds of browned meat such as:
Roast pork
Pork chops
Smoked pork loin
Chicken thighs
Smoked turkey

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 large onion sliced thick

The following tied in cheesecloth:
4 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs of thyme
6 peppercorns
10 juniper berries lightly crushed (or add 1/4 cup gin to casserole)

1 ½ pounds baby red potatoes
2 cooking apples, cored and cut into eighths.

1 bottle of beer
Enough chicken stock (up to 2 cups) to raise the liquid level to just below the top of the vegetables

Prepare the sauerkraut and bacon. Drain the sauerkraut and soak in cold water for 15 to 20 minutes as you prepare the vegetables and meats to add to your dish. If using chunk bacon, slice into half inch cubes. If using bacon strips, slice into half inch pieces. In a wide sauté pan, cook bacon in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until crisp to render the fat. Remove bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel and reserve.

Brown the meat. Brown any sausage or kielbasa that you are cooking for five minutes on each side until well caramelized but not necessarily cooked through as the meat will finish cooking in the slow cooker. Season any pieces of meat--such as pork chops or chicken thighs--that you want to cook with salt and pepper and brown for about five minutes on each side. Again, you’re not cooking it through just browning it well. At this point you could sweat the onions and sauté the carrot chunks, but I don’t think it’s necessary because, again, they’ll just cook in the slow cooker with everything else and softening them first will only add marginally to the final dish.

Taking the sauerkraut by small handfuls, squeeze out as much water as possible, picking it apart to separate the strands and place in a six quart slow cooker. Mix in the onions, carrots, and baby potatoes and bury the herbs and spices into the veggies. Pour in the beer and enough stock to come just below the level of the sauerkraut. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Layer in the browned meats, sausages, smoked meats, and bacon, and apples. Cover and cook on low for at least four hours. Serve as you get hungry and can no longer resist the siren call of this dish. It's delicious with pumpernickel or some other dark multigrain bread spread with country Dijon mustard.


  1. seems like your choice of beer would be crucial. do you just use a cheap beer, or a dark one, or just a good one, or what? my mom used to swear that you use a cheap beer, and it should be left open on the counter for about an hour so it is flat and room temperature!

  2. I guess I would just use a good one, following the axiom that if it's good enough to drink, it's good enough to cook with. My own tendency is to just use what I have on hand, so if a recipe specifies a dark beer, but all I have on hand is a lager, I'm not going out to the store! Likewise when cooking with wine, I will just use what's already open--be it red or white. For example, most bolognese recipes specify white wine, but the sauce is hardly ruined by using a red. This article from the NY Times sort of liberated me to use whatever I choose. After all, it's my kitchen and my palette, and I'm not trying to impress any purists!

  3. I made this again recently for a party to watch the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics (an homage to the Albertville Olympic Games) and everyone loved it! I might have amended my recipe and used real bacon except that I had one guest who doesn't eat pork. I'm happy to report that this dish is just as delicious with chicken sausage and roasted chicken legs and thighs. The chicken was brined in pickle juice and then pan roasted from a F&W Recipe that is delicious on its own but paired perfectly with the choucroute.


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