Friday, 24 October 2008

Husbands who cook

Look at this amazing pot of choucroute or sauerkraut, if you're German. My husband made it for dinner the other night. We had our friends François and Caroline, and the couple who ran the local charcuterie until they retired a year ago. My husband Haralds is a good cook, he first wooed me with a lobster dinner, and choucroute is one of his specialties. The roots of his recipe are Latvian, he claims it's his mother's recipe but I doubt she would recognise it in its current incarnation. The only problem when he cooks is that he often makes so much we are eating the same dish for days. This time he made a perfect amount - enough for our dinner and for him to eat the next day.

You may be looking at this wonderful Staub casserole and thinking - that's a hell of a lot of choucroute! Well, look closely and you'll see that most of the centre of the pot is filled with a wonderful roasted ham hock. The great thing about being in Paris - is that in every market you can buy uncooked choucroute and any bit of pork you want, unsalted or salted, raw or cooked. This magnificent hock was straight from the rotisserie, while the slices of smoked bacon and the sausages were raw. Also hiding in that cabbage is a piece of cooked smoked pork. It is interesting to make

Haralds' recipe, as unlike the French one, his choucroute is sweeter, more flavourful and less acidic.
Like any good cold weather dish it takes time but is simple to make. Some onions and sweet apples are cooked in duck fat, the cabbage, already brined and sliced, is added along with juniper berries and a bottle of Riesling. My husband insists on German Riesling as it is a little sweeter than the French and then it is all cooked for a couple of hours. Next the meat is added, which also salts the dish, and then baked again in the oven for another hour or two. The sausages are added for the final half hour of cooking and we boil some waxy potatoes and cook the frankfurters in simmering water.

I love this kind of dish for dinner - most of the work is done ahead allowing the host to enjoy themselves as much as the guests and everyone can serve themselves taking as much or as little as they want. They can also pick out which pieces of meat and sausage they prefer, a perfect convivial dish.
Perhaps it was bit daring to serve choucroute to the charcutier and his wife; after all they did sell it in their store. Their verdict on my husband's version? The best they'd ever eaten and they weren't just being polite judging by how much they ate!

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