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Friday, April 15, 2016

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

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Choucroute Garnie for eight, ready for serving.
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 a both a beautiful place to tour and relax and an excellent place to wine and dine.

The Alsace is in North-Eastern France with Germany 
on its Northern border and Germany and Switzerland on its Eastern border.
The most well-known Alsatian dishes.

Number one among the most famous Alsatian dishes is their version of sauerkraut, pickled cabbage, called Choucroute and that humongous, in fact, ginormous meal, called Choucroute Garnie.

Traditional Cuisine à l'Alsacienne
Cuisine à l'Alsacienne includes:  Tarte Flambée, (the dish the locals call Flammen Kuechen);  Timbales, pies; Foie Gras, fatted goose and duck liver; Carpe, carp, the fish, dishes; Baeckeoffe, the Alsace’s peasant stew that made the big time and many goose dishes. Then come excellent cakes beginning with 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 my annual visits to the Alsace over many years, I  found great value when dining; the Alsace has many great chefs and they are not only found in the most expensive restaurants. To this add some of the best white wines in France and the production of some 40% of all French beers.

Dining in the Alsace with tradition:

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 meats; that will be beef, pork, and lamb with goose as a possible fourth option.  Here the Baeckoffe is accompanied by potatoes and a salad mesclun, a salad made with at least five different salad greens. 

A Baeckeoffe.
Baaekenof de Poissons   This is the Alsatian baaekenof meat 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 Noir -   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; Alsatian recipes with pork were replaced by goose 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 itself 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 cooked slowly in the oven or on top of the oven, 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
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 apparently a French word that neither I nor my dictionary new. The fish was excellent and I said to the other diners this is cod;    it is made with rehydrated cod or a member of the cod family. The name I finally discovered is Norwegian. Norway was one of the main suppliers, to France, of salted and hydrated cod in the years before refrigeration. The more usual 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 Rôti au Four,
Cannelloni Poireau-Pommes de Terre
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.

Escargot à l'Alsacienne. (Served out of their shells).
Foie Gras de Canard Maison Avec sa Gelée au Riesling Fattened duck liver very lightly fried and served with a jelly made from its natural cooking juice and Riesling white wine. This is 100% duck liver.
Terrine de Foie Gras Chutney de Poire au Pain d’Epices – A foie gras 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 interchangeable with the word pate. 

Terrine de foie gras with baby onion marmalade,
sansho pepper, umeshu vinaigrette reduction and warm toasted brioche.
Kugelhupf  -  Kugelhopf, Kouglof, Kugelopf, Kougelhopf, Kouglouf, Gugelhupf, Guglhupf or Gugelhopf. This cake under its many names 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 apfel strudel.  Kugelhopf’s are mostly made as relatively large cakes and easily identified by their distinctive ring shape with a corrugate form on the outside and 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 which contains raisins, almonds and Kirsch (cherry brandy).  The Alsatian version is a little drier than that I remember my grandmother making.  She also made them sweeter, but whether this was for us children or the original recipe, I do not know. 
Kugelhopfs have become a specialty of the Alsace region and every May/June in Ribeauvillé a town on the Alsace wine route and near to Colmar there is a Kugelhopf Festival.  The village is on the Alsace wine route and just 18 km (12 miles) from the town of Colmar.

The Tourist Information Office of the villages of Ribeauville and Riquewihr have an English Language website:
Ganzeltopf – A traditional goose recipe, that was once at the center of most Alsatian Christmas dinners. Today ganzeltopf may be on Alsatian restaurant Christmas menus, while in their homes many of the locals will be dining on roast turkey. Preparing a ganzeltopf 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, leeks, onions, potatoes.
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 also tried a different Alsatian white wine to accompany the tarte.  Every day we also had a different designated driver.

Tarte Flambée Traditionnelle (Flammeküeche).
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 here with a per person surcharge. Munster is the Alsace’s very special AOP cheese; it is ivory-colored cheese that will be on the cheese board and included in many dishes.
Salade Strasbourgeoise – A Strasbourg salad has many recipes, but the most usual will be a cold potato and hard-boiled egg salad served with sliced gherkins, Strasbourg sausages (knacks) and a vinaigrette sauce. On many menus, cervelas, pork sausages, and Gruyere cheese may be added or replace the Strasbourg sausages.
Saucisses de Strasbourg  IGP (Knacks)  - The Alsace’s boiled and smoked beef and pork 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 and never, ever, should be called a “Hot Dog.” 

Saucisses de Strasbourg (Knacks).

The Alsatians and Brasseries.
Over the last 150 years, Alsatians 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
A short history of the Alsace
The region of Alsace along with 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 be employing a German dialect called Allemand Alsacien or Elsässerditsch. (See Langues Française).
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 wines are likewise among the very few AOP wines known by the names of the grapes used. Aside from their dry and semi-dry white wines 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.
Cremant d’Alsace.

Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace

Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace as well as 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 Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine

France’s new regions:

Since Jan 1, 2016, France’s 22 regions were folded into 13 new regions to improve administration and cut National expenses. The names of the new regions are composed of the names of the old regions so that everyone knows approximately where they are.

The new region of Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine
in the upper right-hand corner.
Connected Posts:

Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010,2016.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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