Traditions: Latkes and Choucroute

What we cook and serve at home is an expression of from who we came, where we’ve been…and who we’ve married. Fittingly, At Home includes recipes for both Henny’s Stuffed Cabbage, from my mother, and Ginny’s Meatballs with Tomato Sauce from Christina’s mother. We are a combination of traditions old and new, inherited and borrowed. Our table is who we were, who we are today and who we aspire to be. What follows is a “bottom note” about my traditions — it is one of the autobiographical notes that pepper the pages of At Home.

Latkes and Choucroute
Many years of demanding work, single fatherhood and a reclusive social life meant I was a near-celibate when it came to home entertaining. Christina changed all that. She has a wide range of friends and family and loves having them over. A very stylish entertainer, she always has a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator and her oft-repeated and perfected salt and pepper chicken is featured on page 157.

Naturally, Christina has influenced the shape of this book, just as she’s shaped my home entertaining attitude. She is from the KISS school of entertaining: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. Her philosophy is that by keeping it simple, you’ll be inclined to host more often and maintain the focus on your guests. For too long, I thought of entertaining as my art and guests were simply a welcome excuse to practice that art.

Married on November 29th, we decided on an early December holiday gathering. Worn out from our wedding and the demands of recipe testing, I was, frankly, hardly in the mood for extracurricular cooking. Yet holiday entertaining was a long-held Christina tradition and we wanted to celebrate married life with friends and family in a season of celebrations. Potato latkes (see page 340) were de rigueur. On my list of recipes to test was choucroute garnie, the traditional pork-laden sauerkraut dish that I made for Christina for our first New Year’s Day together. So, killing two birds with one stone, the choucroute garnie complemented our latkes, making for a reasonable Hanukkah and Christmas pairing befitting our respective holiday traditions. Dessert was lavender ice cream—leftovers from the batch I’d made for our wedding.

Choucroute Garnie
Choucroute garnie is a classic cold-weather tour de force. Making it well requires advance planning but no special skill, and you can’t help but feel proud placing this impressive display before your guests. (This is a recipe for a crowd, on the theory that if you’re going to this trouble, why not have a crowd enjoy it?) If you don’t have a very large pot, you can do the sautéing in batches in a skillet and transfer everything to a roasting pan covered with foil for the long oven cooking. The traditional accompaniment is boiled potatoes tossed with parsley.

do ahead Everything may be made up to five days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Before serving, reheat, covered, in a 350° oven until hot, about 30-45 minutes.

12 ounces sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
11⁄2 pounds kielbasa, cut into 1-inch pieces
11⁄2 pounds bratwurst or knockwurst, cut into 3-inch lengths
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
8 garlic cloves, crushed
4 pounds sauerkraut, rinsed well with water squeezed out
4 long lengths orange peel
3 smoked ham hocks
1⁄4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons juniper berries
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
3-4 pounds boneless pork butt or shoulder
4 bay leaves
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 fresh parsley sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 fresh sage sprigs
31⁄4 cups white wine (ideally Riesling)
1 cups chicken stock
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1 Place ham hocks in a large pot and cover with water. Add brown sugar, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until meat is tender, about 11⁄2-2 hours. Allow to cool. Trim away skin and fat and cut meat into bite-sized pieces. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid.
2 Make a bouquet garni by wrapping juniper berries, black peppercorns and coriander seeds in a small square of cheesecloth. Tie packet.
3 In a large Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, stir bacon over moderate heat to render fat and just cook through. With a slotted spoon, remove bacon and set it aside. In the residual fat, first brown kielbasa. Remove and brown bratwurst or other sausage. Remove and brown pork butt or shoulder. Be patient and brown everything well, leaving residual fat in the pot each time.
4 In the same pot with the same fat over moderate heat, sauté onions, carrots and garlic until onions lightly brown, about 20 minutes. Add sauerkraut, bacon, ham hocks, orange peel, bay leaves and the bouquet garni. Mix well.
5 Preheat oven to 300°. Place browned pork on top of sauerkraut mix. Place sprigs of thyme, parsley, rosemary and sage over top. Cover and bake until pork is very tender, about 3 hours. If serving right away, add kielbasa and bratwurst around the perimeter of pot to heat during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
6 Remove pork and set aside to cool. Remove and discard herbs, bouquet garni, orange peel and bay leaves.
7 To serve, cut pork into approximately 3⁄8-inch slices. Arrange sauerkraut on a large platter and arrange slices of pork down the middle; arrange sausages around pork. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. If you are serving potatoes and have a large enough platter, arrange potatoes around and just off the edge of the sauerkraut.
serves 10-12

See Recipe for Latkes.

Reading Terminal Moments – The Passing of Harry Ochs

Harry Ochs died a week ago Sunday. Harry was an un-sung hero of Philadelphia’s food renaissance. His Reading Terminal “butcher shop” — which his son Nick continues — has been the meat mecca of accomplished and aspiring Philadelphia cooks for generations.

If Harry was your butcher, you were a lucky cook. Harry’s knowledge added interest to countless Philadelphia tables. There will be a memorial service honoring Harry at 1 p.m. today in Reading Terminal Market’s Center Court.

A note on The Butcher from At Home:

Supermarket meat departments provide the most common cuts of meats and poultry. But there are wonderful uncommon cuts of meats that are often less expensive than the usual filets and steaks. If you get friendly with your supermarket butcher they may be willing to special order less common cuts. Better still, find a local butcher shop. Use your butcher’s knowledge to expand the range of cuts you use and add interest to your table.

Upcoming Book Signings

Today at Coopermarket
I will be at Beth Cooper’s Coopermarket from 3PM to 6 PM. Coopermarket is at 302 Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwyd.

Weekends at The Reading Terminal Market
I will be at Reading Terminal Market weekends between now and the end of the year. Look for At Home’s table in Center Court across from Meze on Saturday’s and near Spataro’s Cheesesteaks — across from the pig — on Sundays.

Saturday, December 19th at Weaver’s Way
I will be at Weaver’s Way in Mt. Airy on Saturday, December 19th from 11 AM to 2 PM. Weaver’s Way’s Mt. Airy is located on 559 Carpenter Lane.

Thanks for visiting.


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Filed under Family and Friends, Holidays, Memories, Recipes

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