Stage 9 Mountains of Choucroute

by Jeanne

Choucroute_alsacienne Gérardmer – Mulhouse, 171 km; 105.6 miles

The first of the class mountain climbs today. There’s now only 177 riders competing. If you’re keeping track–and if you are reading this to do so well I encourage you to go here or here for updates—this here is just one woman’s justification for abandoning everything for three weeks without losing sight of its purpose. Michael Rasmussen (Denmark) and his KofM polka-dotted self won today–by a long lead. I’m impressed with the CSC team this year. Right from the beginning with the blazing yellow-jersey winning speed of Zabriskie (USA) and then today’s Jens Voight (Germany) won the malliot jaune today. And let’s not forget Bobby Julich (USA) and Ivan Basso (Italy) to top world cyclists. Unfortunately Zabriskie abandoned today, saying "his body is not recovering." I can’t even imagine the anger, sadness and frustration that races through a rider at this point of decision. The only American to win a stage in each of the three major tours. And he has a dry sense of humour.  He’s only 26–someone to watch. 

Team Discovery is down to 6 (from 9) leaving Armstrong with 5 teammates, that includes Savoldelli, Azevedo (Portugal), Hincapie (USA), Popovych (Ukraine) and Rubiera (Spain). But after yesterday’s performance the team has rallied.  And for those of you who are new and now are thinking that Lance has no chance–the race has just begun.  The pressure is off him now. He feeds off this type of focus. Overall Lance is third; Hincapie is 10th; Landis (Phonak-Tyler’s former team) is 12th; Popovych in 14th. No TDF tomorrow–a rest day for them and the rest of us crazy fools.

The Alsace region, is located on the eastern border of France, and shares a border with Germany and Switzerland. Its capital and largest city is Strasbourg. The region is France’s smallest, nestled between the Vosges Mountains to the West and the Rhine river to the East.

Pork rules here in the form of choucroute. The charcuteries offer delicious hams and sausages such as cervelat (smoked pork), Strasbourg (pork, beef and caraway) or Montbéliard (lightly smoked pork). Some of them make their way into choucroute, probably the best-known regional dish. Choucroute refers both to the sauerkraut and to the finished dish where a mound of white cabbage is liberally garnished with sausages, smoked meats and potatoes.The specialty has been contemporized with choucroute de la mer where fish and shellfish replace the pork.

Savuer let me know that the word choucroute has also come to mean "the show-stopping dish, definitive of Alsatian cuisine, of sauerkraut topped with copious portions of pork in myriad forms — but it translates simply as fermented cabbage. The earliest reference to sauerkraut in Alsace dates from the 15th century. For hundreds of years, until the early 1900s, Sürkrüt-schniders, or sour-cabbage cutters, toured the countryside, shredding cabbage to order. Today, the process is left to professionals."  It involves copious amounts of cabbage.

In these mountains pot au feu is given a special twist with the dish of boiled beef being served with an array of salads radish, celeriac, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets and horseradish sauce.  According to food historians it was here that the first pâté de foie gras en croûte was created in Strasbourg in 1780 and which gained favor with the king.  In Southern Alsace, where there are a lot of ponds filled with carp, fish and chips or  carpes frites, are prepared by dusting the fish in soft wheat semolina for a crunchy exterior, then pan-fried or deep-fried and served with French fries or a green salad.

Souffleopot It’s also in this region that Soufflenheim ceramics in the Alsatian village of the same name is made. Soufflenheim.  This pottery has a hand-painted floral pattern on a smooth background and comes in colors of blue, ochre, green, yellow, and brown. The Emperor Barberrouse granted Soufflenheim’s potters the right to extract their clay from the Haguenau forest, a right that continues to this day. Today there are some 20 workshops in Soufflenheim. Although beautiful it is also practical as all the pieces are cast to be used in the oven.

Savuer article on Gewurztraminer

Image: Frankenreich

Choucroute Garnie à l’Alsacienne

Sauerkraut Garnished with Smoked, Cured, and Fresh Pork

excerpted from Saveur Cooks Authentic French

1-1/2 lbs, fresh ham hocks
1/4 cup goose fat
3 small yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
4-1/2 lbs. sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
3-1/4 cups Alsatian riesling or other dry but fruity white wine
1-1/2 lbs. boneless pork loin
1 lb. smoked ham
1/2 lb. slab bacon
Bouquet garni with 1 head garlic, 3 whole cloves,
   6 juniper berries, and 5 coriander seeds added
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 medium red bliss potatoes, peeled
6 fresh pork sausages, such as saucisses de Strasbourg
3 blood sausages (optional)
1 tbsp. peanut oil
6 smoked pork sausages

Place ham hocks in a large pot. Cover with water and simmer over medium heat for 1-1/2 hours. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt goose fat in a dutch oven, or a large heavy pot with a lid, over medium heat. Add onions, cook until soft, 10-15 minutes, then add sauerkraut, wine, ham hocks, pork loin, ham, bacon, and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook in oven until meats are tender, about 1-1/2 hours.

About 35 minutes before serving, place potatoes in a pot of salted water over medium-high heat and cook until tender, 20-25 minutes. Drain and keep warm.

Prick fresh and blood sausages, if using, with a fork, then place in a skillet, cover with water, and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Drain. Dry skillet, add oil, and heat over medium heat. Brown fresh and blood sausages (if using), turning occasionally, then remove. In the same oil, adding more if necessary, brown smoked sausages, turning occasionally, then remove. To serve, spoon sauerkraut onto a large platter, discarding bouquet garni. Slice pork loin, ham, and bacon, and arrange on platter with ham hocks, potatoes, and all sausages.