Saturday, February 05, 2011

Gut Food: Sauerkraut

Yes yes, I know: if I’m trying challenge preconceptions about German food then Sauerkraut is a bit of a funny place to start. It's just it also feels like exactly the right place to start: I wanted to try out a couple of classic German dishes first before charging headlong into unchartered culinary territory (unchartered by me, that is), and, well, you can’t get much more German than Sauerkraut*. And since fermented, shredded cabbage is a staple of the German menu, and partly also because it's probably the one thing on the menu that people like me make a determined effort to avoid, I thought I should take the cabbage by the horns and get stuck in.

Image curtesy of Me So Hungry. My own Sauerkraut photos were horrible.

The thing is, and I say this without even the tiniest batsqueak of irony, it turns out that Sauerkraut is delicious. No I haven't gone mad: of course when B and I have gone out to dinner I've had to push aside the odd tangy, stringy mound of distinctly unpleasant-looking soggy stuff that's accompanied otherwise pleasing plate of food, yet combined with the right ingredients I’ve discovered that Sauerkraut can be mouth-wateringly more-ish and a very tasty complement to a number of other flavours. It offers health benefits as well: aside from its famously high vitamin C content (remember scurvy?), it's rich in iron, calcium and vitamin B too; plus it assists in lowering cholesterol. Knowing all this, one almost begins to wonder what one’s been missing out on. (Almost.)

Jars and tins of Sauerkraut are available everywhere you look here, but it's not hard to source in the UK either (at Sainsbury's, for starters. I'm afraid I don't know enough about food shopping around the rest of the world to know which websites to check, although I do know the stuff is very popular in the US so you shouldn't have any trouble finding it there). I did however briefly research how to pickle cabbage from scratch, just in case, and it sounds like it’s in fact an extremely simple process: shred cabbage; add salt; cover very firmly in a barrel and leave... for six months. But there’s such a thing as running before one has learned to walk, and also such a thing as upsetting one’s neighbours by stinking out the building with the smell of fermenting cabbage, so I went for the ready-made stuff.

The following recipe for cooked Sauerkraut is based on one I found in the November 2010 issue of Alnatura magazine. (Alnatura is a friendly organic/health foods supermarket akin to Fresh & Wild or Trader Joe’s, bursting to the seams with hugely overpriced produce that you can’t generally find elsewhere. I love it.) Theirs was actually a recipe for Sauerkraut with potato noodles ("Schupfnudeln"), but my potato noodles didn’t turn out quite as, um, expected, so I thought I’d better work out where I went wrong before I recommended the recipe in its entirety. I've kept the basic ingredients and the method the same, just furnished them with my own clarifications.

Sauerkraut is mostly served with pork here - either ribs ("Rippchen") or knuckle ("Eisbein") - and, naturally, a big old pile of carbs. It could also accompany pheasant or partridge, and closer to Alsace it’s apparently often dished up alongside steamed white fish. The most traditional accompanying carbohydrates are either Schupfnudeln or Spätzle, which in Germany you can buy fresh from the supermarket if you aren’t up for making them yourself. If you can’t get hold of either of those I imagine it would be an extremely comforting meal to heap your cabbage upon a big pile of mashed potatoes.

This recipe of course can be happily tinkered with. It seems that popular additions include, though are by no means limited to: sliced apple, juniper berries, bay leaves, caraway seeds or cloves; vegetarians can omit the bacon; and alcoholics could swap the apple juice for cider or Riesling. Any other recommendations?

So then, here we are. Would you believe it, I’m recommending a recipe for Sauerkraut. Might there be any chance at all that I could persuade you to give it a go?

These are the ingredients for both the Sauerkraut and the Schnupfnudeln, but you can pick out the Sauerkraut ingredients using the list below

Ingredients (serves 4):

3 tablespoons vegetable or sunflower oil
2 white onions
100g finely diced bacon ("Speck")
600g Sauerkraut
2-3 tablespoons raw cane sugar ("Rohrohrzucker")
100ml vegetable stock
100ml apple juice
Salt, pepper, nutmeg ("Muskat")


Heat the oil in a large pan before adding the bacon and onions, then cook slowly on a low heat until lightly browned. Add the Sauerkraut, gently pulling it apart as you move it around the pan. (Warning: at this point your kitchen will start to smell not unlike a damp horse. Sorry.) Sprinkle in the sugar, stir, and leave to caramelize and cook through completely (Note: the recipe didn’t specify length of time but the Sauerkraut should retain some bite and be neither burnt nor a soggy mess, so don’t cook it on too high a heat or for too long). Finally, add the stock and apple juice and stir constantly for one minute until the Sauerkraut has taken on a nice light brown colour. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

*I know somebody is going to want to tell me that Sauerkraut is not really German. Pickled cabbage seems to have originated in China and wound its way round to Germany via Alsace, however the Germans have made Sauerkraut their own in the same way that the French concocted Choucroute and the Koreans came up with Kimchi.


cliff1976 said...

We just did Sauerkraut for dinner last night and I'm about to tuck into the leftovers for, brunch. We follow a recipe from my mom, which I think she got from my dad's Slovakian aunties many years ago. Our recipe has many of the same elements as yours, but in different forms:

apple chunks instead of juice

sliced sausage (Rohpolnisch or something kielbasa-y) instead of bacon; our recipe calls for 2lbs. of that but we've cut that down to as little as 300g over the years -- just don't neglect it, because you need the salt and fat for flavor

chunks of potatoes in the stew instead of prepared separately in the form of Schupfis

Ours is a very flexible recipe: you can cook it all on the stove, use a slow cooker (easiest, if you have one) or bake it in the oven, too.

Frau Dietz said...

Great suggestion, thanks Cliff, that sounds really tasty. Thanks for the link to the full recipe as well, will be bookmarking that! My slow cooker is sadly sitting in my dad's shed in England but I really like the idea of baking the dish. Will you be making your own polish sausage from now on?! :)

fiona said...

Me & the kids felt inspired by your marvellous attempt at getting stuck into German food. As a tribute we have tackled another classic - cake from a box. Injuries aside (burnt fingers - Hamish, trapped in drawer fingers - Orla) we count it as a success, especially as our 'horsey' cake tin turned out to be too small for the cake mix and overflowed massively on to the baking tray. I won't show you photos, better you just imagine I'm Nigella Lawson.

german-gems said...

Love sauerkraut, but admit that we have never made it from scratch. It usually comes from the can or jar, when in the US or in Germany.

Anonymous said...

My Mum adds pineapple to the Sauerkraut. Also being from the western part (NRW) of Germany I must add that here you will not find Schupfnudeln or Spaeztle as a sidedish. We mostly eat mashed potatoes with the Sauerkraut.
Also being abroad for quite a while now I really miss some of those german specialties...

Jen said...

I never touched the stuff in the U.S., but in Germany it's really good! Will have to try cooking it now.

Anonymous said...

have you ever tried sauerkraut salad?

this is our family's favorite recipe:

¾ lb sauerkraut (jar, foil or can)
squeeze out the juice and cut if necessary, put into salad bowl,

1 - 2 apples, peeled, cut and shredded
½ cup raisins
1 cup pineapple, chopped

mix in a cup:
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon mustard
1 pinch sugar
1 pinch salt
your favorite seasonings

pour over sauerkraut and fruit
and mix.

you can also add sliced or chopped tangerines, oranges, sliced almonds, walnuts, bananas - just try.

if you like dooked sauerkraut better, don't cook it until mushy but al dente and add 1/2 to 1 whole ground raw potato and cook for a few minutes.
the potato will moderate the acid and top off the taste.

good luck!

Anonymous said...


"dooked" was meant to be "cooked"

Frau Dietz said...

@Fiona: thank you for making me laugh so hard... though I shudder to think what Lawson making a cake in a box would look like ("I like to make this my own by adding four pats of butter and three pints of extra thick clotted cream whilst covering myself in the chocolate mix").

@German Gems: I'm with you on that - I can't imagine I'll ever actually get around to making Sauerkraut from scratch!

@Anonymous 1: pineapple?! Sounds interesting, perhaps I should give it a go! And thank you for sharing your side-dish know-how, much appreciated - I am certainly on a very steep culinary learning curve in a very large country!!

@Jen: you absolutely should, I can't believe how good it is! And let me know how it goes :)

@Anonymous 2: wow, the second fruity Sauerkraut suggestion of the post! I have to admit I am a bit nervous about the fruit/cabbage combination but I suppose I should just throw caution to the wind and give it a go!

Thank you all for stopping by, reading AND leaving me messages :)

Frau Dietz said...

p.s. Whilst we're on the subject of chocolate cakes and Nigella Lawson... (see above!)

click clack gorilla said...

We always like to use it when we make vegetarian "burgers" as it is a really really good way to get them to stick together well. Anyway, in America we wanted to make some of our delicious black bean burgers for my family, but the sauerkraut we were able to get at the American grocery store was the most disgusting thing EVER. So gross that we actually threw out the entire batch of dough for the patties and started over.

Frau Dietz said...

@click clack gorilla: That is the most brilliant idea, I would never have thought of using Sauerkraut in burgers (vegetarian or otherwise)... am totally going to try that. Thanks!!

Laurel said...

You are a brave, brave women, but glad it turned out. I'm not a sauerkraut fan, but perhaps I'll break down one of these days and try making it :)

Frau Dietz said...

Haha Laurel you should give it a go... honestly! Let me know if you ever try it :)