Friday, April 15, 2016

Cuisine à l'Alsacienne - Dining in the Alsace, France.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated November 2021

Choucroute Garnie for twelve, ready to serve.
Photograph courtesy of  Pierre LANNES

Cuisine à l'Alsacienne is the name the French citizens who live outside the Alsace use when then they refer to traditional dishes identified with the Alsace. However, when dining in the Alsace, you will not be limited to traditional dishes. The chefs of the Alsace are among France's finest, the white wines of the Alsace are among France's best, and for a visitor, the Alsace is both a beautiful place to tour and relax and an excellent place to wine and dine.  

    The French mainland regions.
The Alsace is in the North-East of the region of the Grand Est          The Alsace
     This map courtesy of About-France                                        This map courtesy of 
                                                                                                                   Le Pin Parasol

The Alsace is part of the administrative region of the Grand Est North-Eastern France and has been renamed the Collectivité Européenne d'Alsace (The Alsace European Authority) with Germany on its Northern border and Germany and Switzerland on its Eastern border. More about the Alsace at the end of this post.

The most well-known Alsatian dishes. 

Number one among the most well-known Alsatian dishes is their version of sauerkraut, pickled cabbage, called Choucroute, and that humongous, in fact, ginormous meal, called Choucroute Garnie. Cuisine à l'Alsacienne includes Tarte Flambée, (the dish the locals call Flammen Kuechen); Timbales, pies; Foie Gras, fatted goose, and duck's liver; Carpe, carp, the fish, and many other dishes including their Matelote d'Alsace, Alsatian Freshwater fish stew; and Baeckeoffe, the Alsace's peasant stew that made the big time as well as many goose dishes. Then come many tasty cakes beginning with the Kougelhopf. On your first visit to the Alsace, you will quickly realize that the traditional Cuisine à Alsacienne is much more than Choucroute and Choucroute Garnie.

Today you will rarely find a restaurant that only serves traditional Alsatian dishes; despite that, traditional Alsatian dishes will appear on menus alongside modern French cuisine. From annual visits to the Alsace over many years, I found great chefs all over, eve when dining in small restaurants. Add some of the best white wines in France and the production of some 40% of all French beers.

Traditional dishes on Alsace menus:

Baeckeoffe à l’Ancienne aux Trois Viandes et Pommes de Terre et Mesclun de Salade A traditional meat stew that began as a peasant's dish cooked in the village's baker's oven. Here, the stew is offered with three different types of meat: beef, pork, and lamb, with goose as a possible fourth option. Here the Baeckeoffe is accompanied by potatoes and a salad mesclun, a salad made with at least five different salad greens. 

A Baeckeoffe.
Photograph courtesy of Agathe B

Baaekenof de Poissons  - The Alsatian baekeoffe stew made with freshwater fish instead of meat; sea fish and shellfish may sometimes be added.

Boeuf de Ferme Alsacienne son Filet Rôti, Légumes, Jus au Pinot Noi- A roasted fillet of farm-raised Alsatian beef served with vegetable and a sauce made with the fillet’s natural cooking juices and the Alsace’s light Pinot Noir wine.

Carpe a la Juif - Carp prepared in the Jewish manner, often on menus as a cold entrée. Carpe, a la Juif, was created for serving cold on the Jewish Sabbath when cooking was not permitted; the dish would have been prepared on Friday, before the Sabbath, allowed to cool and served cold on Saturday. A large Jewish community lived in the Alsace before WWII, and they left many influences on traditional Alsatian cooking. That influence was mutual as good recipes are for sharing; Jewish recipes for goose were adapted to the local tastes, and pork replaced goose; Goose replaced alsatian recipes with pork for the Jewish citizens.

Choucroute  - The Alsace’s version of German Sauerkraut. This juniper berry-flavored pickled cabbage will be accompanying many different dishes. The most famous dish with choucroute is Choucroute Garnie, but choucroute will also be the garnish for many other dishes. Choucroute began as a pickled vegetable that could be eaten in the winter when green vegetables were not in season.

Choucroute Garnie - Choucroute Garnie was originally a gigantic dish only prepared for Holydays and celebrations. Today Choucroute Garnie will be on many Alsatian restaurants menus every day. The meats will be beef, pork shoulder, smoked pork shanks, and other pork cuts. Goose, also an Alsatian favorite, may occasionally replace the pork or be added to it. Then come the Alsace’s pork sausages, black pudding sausages, and sometimes Strasbourg sausages. All will be simmered in the oven or on top of the stove, and each component is added one on top of the other.

Coq au Riesling, Spaëtzle  Coq au Vin made with the Alsace’s outstanding Reisling wine and served with Spaëtzle (Spätzle) the fat noodles so associated with the Alsace and used instead of rice and potatoes.

Coq au Riesling
Photograph and recipe courtesy of Marmiton

Dos de Skreï Rôti au Four, Cannelloni Poireau-Pommes de Terre – A thick cut of oven-roasted rehydrated cod served with cannelloni filled with leeks and potatoes. When I first saw Skrei on an Alsatian menu, I had no idea that it was cod. The chef just said that Skrei was a big fish, and Skrei was not in my French-English dictionary. The fish was excellent, and I said to the other diners this is cod, made with rehydrated cod or another member of the cod family. The name I finally discovered is Norwegian. To France, Norway was one of the leading suppliers of salted and hydrated cod in the years before refrigeration. The more familiar French names for rehydrated and desalted cod is Morue and Stockfish. Rehydrated cod has hundreds of recipes that remain very, very popular despite the arrival of refrigeration over one hundred years ago.

Dos de Skreï a la Mousseline de Panais Vanille,
Jus Course.
A cut from the back if the cod, the thickest part of the fish, served with vanilla accented parsnip mousseline, and the fish’s natural cooking juices.
Photograph courtesy of Place du Marche

Escargots à l'Alsacienne – Snails prepared in the Alsatian manner. In this dish, it is usually the Petit Gris snail that will be starring along with Riesling wine.

Escargots à l'Alsacienne (Schneke).
Photograph courtesy of the Office de Tourisme du Pays de Seltz-Lauterbourg

Foie Gras de Canard Maison Avec sa Gelée au Riesling – The chef’s version of Fattened duck's liver very lightly fried and served with a jelly made from its natural cooking juice and Riesling white wine. This will be 100% duck liver not a pate.

Tarte à l’Oignon- Available any time of the day, in many places the headline dish ins a local every winstub or bierstub. The tarte is filled with soft caramelized onions, flavored with butter and cream on a  pâte brisée base with white wine adding flavor.

Tarte à l'Oignon Alsacienne by Felder
Photograoh and recipe courtesy of Cooking Chef

Terrine de Foie Gras Chutney de Poire au Pain d’Epices – A fattened duck's liver pate served with a chutney made from pears and gingerbread. This will be 50% duck liver. In French cuisine the word terrine, originally just a cooking dish, is now also interchangeable with the word pate. 

Terrine de Pate de Foie Gras,
Coeur de Fruits Secs Marinés à l'Armagnac
A terrine of duck foie gras with a dried fruit gear marinated in Armagnac
Photograph and recipe courtesy of L’Atelier des Chefs

Kugelhupf - Kugelhopf, Kouglof, Kugelopf, Kougelhopf, Kouglouf, Gugelhupf, Guglhupf or Gugelhopf -  Under its many names, this cake is considered the regional cake of the Alsace though its origins are Austrian. I know the cake’s origins are Austrian as I had an Austrian grandmother who was always baking, and her favorites were kugelhopfs and apfelstrudel. Kugelhopf’s are mostly made as relatively large cakes made in a specially designed baking pan that creates the design and the Alsatians have created very tasty versions. Their distinctive ring shape quickly identifies Kugelhupfs with a corrugated design on the outside and a hole in the center.

There are many different recipes, but today the most popular ones on sale in the Alsace seem to be those made with a soft yeast dough that contains raisins, almonds, and Kirsch (cherry brandy). The Alsatian versions are usually a little drier than that I remember my grandmother making. She also made them sweeter, but I do not know whether this was for us children or her original recipe. 

Kougelhopf, Kouglof
Photograph and recipe courtesy of Recettes-Alsace.   

Ganzeltopf  A traditional goose recipe that was once at the center of most Alsatian Christmas dinners. Today Gangelhoff may be on Alsatian restaurant Christmas menus, while many of the locals will be dining on roast turkey in their homes. Preparing a Gangelhoff requires lots of work. The ganzeltopf is a goose cooked slowly over a twenty-four-hour period to remove most of the fat; only then can it be prepared for serving with masses of vegetables including carrots, leeksonions, and potatoes.

Ganzeltopf - Alsatian-style Goose with Foie Gras and Chestnuts
The Alsatian-style goose recipe is stuffed with ground veal and pork and foie gras. It is the perfect main course to serve for a holiday or special occasion dinner.
Photograph courtesy of D'Artagnan

Matelote à l'Alsacienne - A freshwater fish stew. The matelotes of the Alsace, like the one in the picture below, include anguillle, freshwater eel; brochet, pike; perche, freshwater perch; truite, trout; and sandre, zander, or pike-perch. Sometime shrimps or shellfishmay be added.

Matelote à l'Alsacienne
Recette de la Matelote à l'Alsacienne par Pascal Lanoix
Photograph courtesy of Alsace Nouvelles Gastronomiques. 

Tarte Flambée Traditionnelle (Flammeküeche) -  The original tarte flambée is a rolled out, very thin, pâte à pain, bread dough, covered with crème fraîche and a soft white cheese. The soft white cheese used is usually a local cheese called bibeleskaes, and to this are added thinly sliced onions and lardons, smoked or fried bacon bits. All will be baked in an oven for about ten minutes and served. Some visitors call a Tarte Flambée the Alsatian Pizza; however, this is a very different creation; a tarte flambée is not an Alsatian Pizza. When we first spent ten days in the Alsace, we enjoyed a different Tarte Flambée every day at lunchtime and tried another Alsatian white wine to accompany the tart. Every day we also had a different designated driver.

Tarte Flambée Traditionnelle (Flammeküeche).
Photograph courtesy of janebelindasmith

Tarte Flambée Gratinée à la Munster. Salade Verte Mélangée (supplément par personne) – A traditional tarte flambée where in addition to the usual ingredients is added Alsace’s signature Munster cheese. A mixed green salad is offered with a per person surcharge. Munster is the Alsace's very special AOP cheese; it is ivory-colored cheese that will be on the cheeseboard and included in many dishes.

Salade Strasbourgeoise – A Strasbourg salad has many slight differences in its recipes. Still, the most usual will be a cold potato and hard-boiled egg salad served with cornichons, Strasbourg sausages (knacks), and a vinaigrette sauce. On many menus, cervelas pork sausages, or boudin blanc sausages, and French Gruyere cheese may supplement the Strasbourg sausages.

Salade Strasbourgeoise
This Strasbourg salad includes potatoes, slices of Strasbourg sausages, cornichons, in a mayonnaise and mustard sauce with parsley accents.
Photograph courtesy of Davigel

Saucisses de Strasbourg IGP (Knacks)  - The Alsace's boiled and smoked beef and pork sausage. A larger, and usually very much longer, version of the Frankfurter sausage. The sausage's nickname is knack (pronounced nack). The word knack is associated with the sound produced when the diner's tooth bites through the sausage skin. This sausage is considered to be firmer than a Frankfurter. Strasbourg, the town, is the home of the European Parliament and the prefecture, the capital of the Alsace. The locals are as proud of their sausage as they are of their town's political importance, so do not call this "Hot Dog." While locally, in the Alsace, the name for this sausage is knacks or knackis; use the local name carefully as it can also mean convicts.

Saucisses de Strasbourg (Knacks).
Photograph courtesy of Saveurs d’Antoine.

A short history of the Alsace

The old regions of Alsace and Lorraine changed rulers and citizenship between France and Germany many times in the last few hundred years. The towns, villages, households, and household names; the recipes, local dialects, and traditions all show the influence of their intertwined French and German history. The visitor will notice that the Alsatians speak perfect French, but, among themselves, they will often be employing a German dialect called Allemand Alsacien or Elsässerditsch. 

An Alsatian export to the rest of France.

Over the last 150 years, many Alsatians have moved to other parts of France; some of them had been the owners and chefs of the original brewery-based restaurants called brasseries. Today, a brasserie menu may have no connection to the Alsace, while another may give away its origins with particular Alsatian dishes on the menu.

A Parisian Brasserie
Photograph courtesy of Jamin Gray

The Wonderful Wines of the Alsace, France.

The wines of the Alsace include some of the best white wines in France, along with their excellent sparkling Cremant d’Alsace. The Alsatian wines are likewise among the very few AOP wines known by the names of the grapes used. The Alsace produces only one AOP red wine, a light Pinot Noir, but their white wines from dry and semi-dry are among France’s best; the Alsace also has some of France’s best dessert wines. If all these white wines are not enough, try the local beer; nearly 40% of all the beer in France is produced in the Alsace.

Le Crémant d’Alsace Brut Wolfberger
Photograph courtesy of Je Cuisine

Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace

Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace and the official seat of the European Parliament, a status that it shares with Brussels, Belgium. Strasbourg is also the home of the European Court of Human Rights. Strasbourg is now the capital and largest city in the new region of the Grand Est.

France’s new regions
Map courtesy of About-France
Since Jan 1, 2016, France’s 22 regions were folded into 13 new areas to improve administration and cut National expenses.
Where is the Alsace?
The Alsace is in northeastern France; it is part of the region of the Grand Est.
Map courtesy of
 (The region marked PACA is Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur). 


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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016, 2021
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog, write to Bryan Newman

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