Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served.
Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and
that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Choucroute Garnie. Famous Dishes of France’s Alsace Region.
Behind the French Menu.
Choucroute Garnie for eight, ready for serving.
Photograph courtesy of titou.net.
the Alsace, the French région bordering Germany to the North and Switzerland to
the East and you will be in a culinary wonderland overseen by great chefs. You
will find menus with well-known dishes that come from every corner of France,
new creations that will remain in your consciousness for years, and also the
traditional dishes of the Alsace, with Choucroute Garnie being the
most well-known. While Choucroute Garnie
began as a dish served at family celebrations in the winter, now it is on
restaurant menus all year round.
The meats and sausages for Choucroute Garnie for two.
Photograph courtesy of Michael Dietsch.
The meats will be pork shoulder, smoked pork shanks, and other
pork cuts. Goose, also an Alsatian favorite, may occasionally replace some of
the pork or be added to it. The sausages and meats will have been cooked slowly
in the oven; each component is added one on top of the other, each in
accordance with the cooking time required.
The main garnish for Choucroute Garnie is the Alsace’s famous, juniper berry flavored, pickled cabbage called, unsurprisingly, choucroute.
Choucroute is also an important garnish in many other traditional Alsatian
dishes. While the meats and sausages have been cooking in the oven, the choucroute,
the dish’s essential companion, will have been cooking on the top of the stone
being flavored with a meat stock, gravy
from the meats in the oven, goose fat and herbs. Just before serving the choucroute it will have an additional flavoring added
when one of the région’s own great white wines is added; usually a Riesling AOC.
comes the presentation. For the seated diners a well presented platter of Choucroute
Garnie can be awesome. A platter that I saw prepared and presented to a table
of twelve was absolutely incredible; I think it would have sufficed for a table
of twenty four, it required two servers
just to carry and display the platter.
Choucroute Garnie is a dish for a crowd, preferably order Choucroute
Garnie when you are at least six diners, the more the merrier. Order an aperitif while waiting, but do not even
think of ordering an hors d’oeuvre or an entrée, the French starter, you will
never finish a whole Choucroute Garnie
anyway. When the dish is ready, then, at the tinkle of a bell or with a clap of
hands the server, and possibly the chef as well, will enter the dining-room
bearing the platter of Choucroute
Garnie. With the presentation of
Choucroute Garnie so very important the dish will be carried around the table
so all the diners may enjoy the display before it is served.
ordering Choucroute Garnie try to do so in an Alsatian specialty restaurant;
even better, get invited to a Sunday dinner or celebration in a private home.
All the components should cook together for several hours, and for that you
need someone who knows what he or she is doing; the presentation should also be
a delight for the eyes. I am not a diehard Choucroute Garnie aficionado, but,
when I do need my occasional Choucroute Garnie fix I stay with the original,
with all the bells and whistles.
Home-made Choucroute Garnie.
Photograph courtesy of Michael Dietsch.
How tourism has changed the Alsatian menus.
the advent of mass tourism, the visitors with their varied tastes
encouraged local restaurants to broaden their menus. Many visitors new
about the reputation of Choucroute Garnie but some did not want a dish with such a high fat content, and some
did not want all the pork that is part of the original dish. The result will be
will found in the restaurants that have
upgraded the name and the recipes of Choucroute Garnie.
Your menu may offer:
Choucroute Royale - Choucroute Garnie prepared by using the Alsace’s sparkling crémant wine instead of the usual
Riesling, it is added just before
serving. Despite the use of this truly
excellent crémant, from my experience, it does not make a major change in the
taste that all good Alsatian Rieslings provide. The Royale version of
Choucroute Garnie would seem to me to be a dish originally created for the
tourists with fattened wallets.
Choucroute au Fruits de Mer – Choucroute served as an accompaniment to seafood.
This and other similar dishes at least do not include Garnie in their title. Choucroute
Garni needs meats that must be cooked for hours to create special flavors; fish
cannot be cooked like that. Choucroute
au Fruits de Mer is what is; seafood
accompanied by choucroute. The Alsace is far from the sea, but fresh seafood
arrives daily and Alsatian chefs do wonderful things with sea fish and seafood.
Choucroute au Poisson – Like the dish above,
here the Alsace’s signature choucroute accompanies locally caught or locally farmed freshwater
fish that will be chosen from among trout, bream, pike, carp, Wels catfish,
tilapia, freshwater perch, eels, perch, pike-perch and more. Usually this dish is made with a single fish;
when the menu is not clear ask. The freshwater fish of the Alsace are
Choucroute de la Mer – Choucroute served with imported salt-water fish; often
this dish includes mussels and or clams.
de la Mer; here it is made with Atlantic salmon.
Choucroute, the pickled cabbage of the Alsace,
like most pickled foods dates back to the days before refrigeration. Throughout the Old World pickling vegetables
for winter was one of the few ways to have a guaranteed supply of green
vegetables in winter. Choucroute, the Alsace’s sauerkraut, its pickled cabbage, is made with either the familiar white
cabbage seen everywhere or preferably with Alsace’s own strain of giant white
cabbages, the Choux Quintal d'Alsace.
The giant white Quintal d'Alsace cabbages on sale.
These cabbages can reach seven kilos or more, though most
of these giants go to market when they are only a pigmy sized four kilos!
Photograph courtesy of Ariela R.
creation is associated with Germany, and the Alsace and its neighbor the
Lorraine do have a long association with Germany. The Alsace and the Lorraine were passed back
and forth like a football between France and the various rulers of German
States and then again with the United Germany.
Among the results were the addition of many German influenced dishes to
the Alsatian menu, and the use of a German dialect called Allemand Alsacien or
Elsässerditsch alongside French. Despite
these clear connections the local citizens will spend time explaining how their
choucroute is far superior to German sauerkraut. They will explain that it is
not only the added genièvre, juniper berries, which some German recipes also
use; there is much more to choucroute than just pickling cabbage for eight
weeks. Choucroute is part of the Alsatian psyche.
Other traditional dishes of the Alsace,
cuisine à l'Alsacienne includes many dishes without choucroute:
timbales, pies, foiegras, fattened goose and duck liver, carp dishes, tarte flambée, the dish the locals call flammen kuechen, and by others is often wrongly called Alsatian Pizza,excellent cakes, unique
Alsatian honeys and much more. Today,
you will rarely find a restaurant that only serves traditional Alsatian dishes,
and despite that caveat, traditional accents and dishes will appear on menus
along with modern French cuisine; enjoy the interesting combinations. There are many excellent chefs in the Alsace
and they are not only found in the most
A traditional tarte flambee, also called a flammen
The Alsatians brought the brasseries to other parts of
many generations Alsatians moved to other parts of France and some of were the owners and chefs of the
originally Alsatian brewery based
restaurants called brasseries. Today, a
brasserie’s menu may have no connection to the Alsace while another, may give
away its origins with specific Alsatian dishes on the menu.