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Choucroute Garnie: It's a real mouthful

Choucroute Garnie is a flavorful meal of sauerkraut, meat and potatoes with a touch of northern France. Photo by Sue Doeden1 / 2
Any remains of Choucroute Garnie make a filling grilled sandwich the next day. Add some cheese and sliced red onions or bell peppers. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

The heady aroma of simmering sauerkraut is not what typically arouses me from my morning slumber. But on the day I planned to serve Choucroute Garnie for lunch, sauerkraut in my slow cooker definitely won out over the familiar fragrance of freshly ground coffee beans brewing in my coffee maker.

Choucroute Garnie (shoo-KROOT gar-NEE) is a hearty Alsatian dish of choucroute (the French word for sauerkraut) with a garnish (garnie) of potatoes and a variety of meats, usually pork and sausage, cooked with white wine and juniper berries.

My first experience with this one-pot meal was more than 10 years ago, when my husband prepared the meal using a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens. It's one of those scrumptious, satisfying meals that soothes the soul and warms you from head to toes on a cold winter day.

Most traditional recipes for Choucroute Garnie will instruct you to slowly bake the menagerie of familiar ingredients like kraut, potatoes, apples, onions, pork and a variety of sausages in a large Dutch oven. Pork chops and smoked sausage become meltingly tender when simmered in a slow cooker with white wine and chicken broth along with an apple and vegetables. Not quite the French tradition.

Not every grocery store carries juniper berries on the spice shelf. They are small blue-black ripe round berries, or cones, from the evergreen juniper. They have a piney, refreshing aroma reminiscent of gin. For this reason, gin works as a substitute for juniper berries. Juniper berries are always a nice complement to dishes with red cabbage, rabbit, goose or duck.

To prepare Choucroute Garnie in a slow cooker, it's most convenient to start the night before by browning the pork chops and sautéing the bacon, onions and garlic. I layer the meat, kraut and sautéed vegetables in the crock the night before cooking, seal it tight and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, all that's left is to cut up the apple and potatoes to add them to the crock and pour wine and chicken broth over the whole thing. Just plug in the slow cooker, turn the dial to low and let it simmer all day long. The one-pot supper will be ready and waiting when your family is ready to gather around the table.

Choucroute Garnie is a mouthful to say, but just think of it as good old sauerkraut, meat and potatoes with a touch of northern France. Even the sauerkraut squeamish in your family will discover the cabbage is slightly sweet, the potatoes are tender and the sausage has added just enough smoky flavor to warrant at least a small portion devoured.

Any remains of Choucroute Garnie make a filling grilled sandwich the next day. Add some cheese and sliced red onions or bell peppers. Serve some grainy mustard on the side.

I doubt that I will ever make this slow-cooker version of Choucroute Garnie for lunch again. I prefer the earthy aroma of coffee to waft into my nostrils first thing in the morning. Next time I'm ready for this French adventure, I'll be serving it for supper.

Choucroute Garnie

4 slices bacon, chopped

1 large onion, chopped, about 2 cups

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 pork loin rib chops, each about 3/4-inch thick

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 (24-ounce) bag refrigerated sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

1 pound kielbasa

1 apple, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 pounds red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon juniper berries

1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

5 whole cloves

4 whole allspice

2 bay leaves

1 cup white wine

3/4 cup chicken broth

In heavy skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate. Add onion to hot bacon grease in pan and cook until tender, but not brown, stirring often, for about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Transfer onion and garlic to a small plate and set aside. Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to skillet. Brown chops in oil over medium-high heat 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Spread the sauerkraut in the bottom of slow cooker crock. Layer half of onion and garlic mixture over the sauerkraut, then the pork chops, kielbasa, remaining onion and garlic mixture. At this point, crock can be covered and refrigerated until morning.

Scatter apple and potatoes over meat in the crock. Tie juniper berries, peppercorns, cloves, allspice and crumbled bay leaves in a small cheesecloth bag or lock them into a tea ball. Bury them in the food in the crock. Pour white wine and chicken broth over the top. Cover the cooker and set it on low heat. Cook until pork is falling off the bones and the potatoes are fork-tender, about 8 hours.

Arrange meat, potatoes and sauerkraut on a platter. Serve with dark rye bread, mustard and horseradish.

Tips from the cook

--If you can't find juniper berries in your favorite supermarket, check out specialty spice shops or other stores where herbs and spices can be purchased in bulk.

--An extra bay leaf and ¼ cup of gin can be used to replace the juniper berries.

--Maybe it's the German in me, but I like to add some caraway seeds to the mix of whole spices.