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Kraut!

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No, I'm not slinging ethnic epithets, I'm talking about my favorite fermented vegetable (which includes such variants as kimchi) and soliciting opinions and suggestions.

I've mentioned that I encountered Choucroute Garni on New Year's Eve, 1974, prepared by my boss's Alsatian-sourced wife, and that I vowed to have that as THE N.Y. dish henceforth, and mostly did so. This last one I gave it a miss because of Mrs. O's having gone veggie, and last year's attempt using fauxsages did not go well: they were okay first time around, but get nastier and nastier with each reheating, the opposite of what real pork things do.

I have made some smaller ones for myself, enough for one supper when she's away and perhaps one or two lunches after. Today I made a smaller one than usual, after I found a nice package of "Country-Style Ribs" in the Manager's Special bin for under five bucks. I didn't bother to get any sausages, just spent my money (about $7) on a 28-oz jar of German sauerkraut, Kühne's Gundelsheim. As usual with European kraut I had to pierce the lid to release the vacuum before I could budge it, and as usual it was packed so tightly what came out made a pile a good bit bigger than the jar. Unfortunately, also usual was how bland and flat the flavor was.

It's been years since I've had to follow the instructions to "rinse and drain the kraut," and I can't understand why. Used to be that a freshly-opened can or jar would perfume the whole kitchen, and there was never any need to add salt to a dish containing it. With this, I just piled it into the mesh colander (which it didn't need, being so dry) and cut the meat into four big chunks, dried and salted them, then browned them in some duck fat. Removed them, heated and turned the kraut in the fat and then buried the meat in it. Poured over a cup of warmed white wine, put it into a 275º oven and did something else for the next two hours. With some mashed potato about a third of it made a very pleasant lunch; it would have been more interesting if I'd cooked chopped onion and apple before the kraut, but this was a sudden inspiration.

Has anyone else noticed the blandness of sauerkraut these days, or is it just my taster/smeller growing old and dim? The very good (and less expensive!) Kruegermann kraut, made right here in Los Angeles by folks from Berlin, does have more noticeable acidity and sharpness, but that I just drain without rinsing.

Maybe I should try using kimchi! Any other thoughts?

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  1. I've noticed that the German kraut I have easiest access to is milder than the Polish or PA Dutch versions I can also find easily.
    I prefer the milder German stuff to eat on it's own and the Polish for bigos/choucroute/etc. (The PA Dutch stuff is a lot like the Polish but twice as expensive)

    1 Reply
    1. re: caganer

      When Kroger was responding to their customers' apparent interest in a wider range of foods back in the '90s, they set up International sections in the stores in more upscale areas, and suddenly shoppers in Nashville were being offered European canned and bottled goods, including both German and Polish sauerkraut. That was 20 years ago, and I don't remember the brand, but the Polish stuff was the best I'd ever tasted. And of course I should have bought a lot, as it didn't sell and lasted about a month there.

    2. My younger years spent in Philadelphia, I grew up on Kissling sauerkraut. It was only available in bags, stored in the refrigerator case at markets. It had a real tang and was very salty. I would never use it without rinsing & draining. It's flavor & salt lever were too intense to use it straight out of the bag. Now I call Florida home. Kissling is not available here. What's in the store here, is Silver Floss. I get it in cans. Very mild & less sodium compared to what I was accustomed to. I don't rinse it because it's so mild. I just drain the juices from the can. The change I've noticed was a result of switching to a different brand. Different companies must use different recipes.

      1. Love choucroute and make it several times over winter. Bubbies is my favorite kraut - no additives, and it's the only one that doesn't smell sulfurous when you crack the lid open.

        The choucroute should be picking up flavor from onions, carrots, juniper berries, bay leaves and white wine (as well as duck and pork fat). Do you have a recipe you usually follow?

        1. Such a choucroute garni fan and you don't make your own sauerkraut? There have been a number of threads here on the subject. An advantage of making your own is that you can make it to your own taste, whether that means super-sour and fermented or crisp and fresh.

          1 Reply
          1. re: LorenzoGA

            I might try that someday – my cooking grandpa got his family recipe out once and did it the old-fashioned way, burying the crock in the yard, but he had to eat it all himself! – though I generally leave most basic food processing to the pros. At this point I'm just enjoying the feedback, and the recommendations.

            @ drgreg: by now it's more a process than a recipe; though I have one on file, I never bother to print it out anymore unless someone wants it. Once you've learned the basic processes it just comes down to choosing good ingredients and not mistreating them! I usually start with cooking onion and apple in some kind of fat and then braising the kraut with some pork butt and a cheesecloth bag of juniper berries buried in it, adding browned sausages later in the game, and/or cooked ones near the end. The last New Year's one I did I made holubky, the Slovak name for the same cabbage roll made all over eastern Europe, burying them fairly early, and Mrs. O (not yet gone veggie) and I thought it was easily the best ever.