For the ultimate word on this German staple Michael Raffael turns to chef Claus-Peter Lumpp, who oversees the two-Michelin-starred restaurant at a luxury resort hotel in the Black Forest
Sauerkraut is shredded, lightly salted white cabbage that has fermented. A kind of vegetable equivalent to yogurt or cheese, it is preserved by the lactic acid that is produced during fermentation. In days before the potato arrived in Europe it was a staple winter food for peasants, keeping them alive when the ground was frozen and bread was in short supply.
Making it is a technique that hasn't changed in 2,000 years. Salted shredded leaves give up the moisture they contain, forming a brine. Naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria in this pickle ferment it, creating the sour taste. The length of time it takes to convert cabbage into sauerkraut depends on the ambient temperature: the warmer the weather the quicker it reaches the desired acidity. It may be anything from a few days to a month.
Raw sauerkraut may be pasteurised, sterilised or sold as it is. It can be eaten raw, but is nearly always cooked. As with ordinary cabbage, the method of cooking, and especially the length of cooking time, will affect taste and texture. After 30-40 minutes it will retain some bite. After an hour-and-a-half it will be quite tender, though still with some texture.
When buying it raw, chefs must be aware that the saltiness (anything from 1% to 3%) and the acidity will vary from supplier to supplier. Before cooking it, they should taste it and then either rinse or thoroughly wash the sauerkraut. This gives a measure of control over what it will be like when finished.
The cooking process itself is about gentle simmering with water or stock and flavourings. These may include wine (in place of some of the liquid) and herbs and spices, especially juniper berries and fried onions.
In the case of sausages and pork, the meat is cooked or reheated with the sauerkraut.
Because of its bulk, its texture and its tang, it is being used more and more often as the main supporting element to the protein in main courses. It has long been an accompaniment to confits of goose or duck, but it is starting to appear on menus with sweetbreads, scallops, turbot, pheasant and in composite dishes such as the French "choucroûte de mer". It is especially good with game birds.
In all these modern inventions sauerkraut plays an extra, unseen role: it is very easily digested, acting as a counterbalance to the rich food that is often served alongside it.
Photography by Lisa Barber (www.lisabarber.co.uk)
The Bareiss, deep in southern Germany's Black Forest region, is a luxury resort hotel that focuses heavily on its cuisine. Its six dining rooms range from the chalet-style regional Dorfstuben (rated 15/20 by Gault-Millau) to a two-Michelin-starred 30-seat restaurant that has been singled out by the guide as a possible future "3*".
For the past 15 years Claus-Peter Lumpp has been the Bareiss's executive chef. He had actually joined the hotel five years previously, at the age of 23, and was groomed for the post, being sent on a series of extended stages to work for Heinz Winkler, Eckart Wittzigmann and Alain Ducasse.
Cooking sauerkraut with sausages and bacon joints
Raw sauerkraut needs cooking, with or without wine and stock. For the traditional sauerkraut and sausages that we associate with French brasseries serving choucroûte garnie, or German bierkellers, the meat will be simmered in the pot with the cabbage, sometimes with potatoes or, in Polish recipes, carrots. Cooking time for this is often long, up to two hours, and done in large batches, destined for mammoth portion sizes.
German, Swiss and Austrian sausages
These contain more meat than British sausages and very little, if any, binder.
- Bierwurst Coarse-textured sausage flavoured with juniper berries and cardamom.
- Bockwurst Made with minced veal and herbs, smoked and scalded, looking like a large frankfurter.
- Bratwurst Smoked, spiced veal sausage.
- Frankfurter The real-deal German "frank" is made of chopped lean pork with a bit of salted bacon fat, and smoked.
- Knackwurst A must for sauerkraut: plump, lean pork or beef sausage.
Partridge breasts with foie gras and sauerkraut
Champagne sauerkraut base
Substituting Riesling for Champagne doesn't alter the quality of this recipe, but changes its character slightly.
(Makes a generous 1.5kg)
1kg fresh sauerkraut, uncooked
200g goose fat
300g onions, diced
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 bay leaves
12 juniper berries
1/2tsp white peppercorns
500ml light chicken stock
200ml Champagne (brut)
Rinse and drain the sauerkraut to remove any excess saltiness and acidity - don't soak it.
Melt the goose fat (2) in a sauteuse. Add the onion. Over a low to moderate heat, cook the onions without colouring until they start to soften (3). Add the diced apple and coat with the fat (4). Rain in the sauerkraut (5).
Make a bouquet garni with the herbs and spices. Put them in a muslin or similar cloth and tie them so they can easily be removed. Add them to the pan. Add the stock and Champagne (6). Cover it with a lid or foil. Simmer at about 80°C for 40 minutes, during which time most of the liquid will evaporate.
The sauerkraut (ready to eat) can be prepared to this stage ahead of service and finished according to the dish with which it is served.
Note Timing isn't too significant and varies according to region. In southern Germany and Alsace it tends to be shorter (30-40 minutes) in the east, Bavaria and Austria, longer (more than an hour).
Partridge breasts with foie gras and sauerkraut This comes from the Bareiss's two-Michelin-starred restaurant.
Ingredients (Serves two)
10-12 spinach leaves, blanched
1-2tbs chicken mousseline (1kg chicken breast, 1 litre cream, seasoning)
2 x 20g batons goose foie gras
Salt and fleur de sel
Caul fat (crépinette) to wrap the partridge breast
40g clarified butter
180g Champagne sauerkraut, cooked
About 60ml Champagne (brut)
20g unsalted butter
50g buttered potato purée
Partridge jus (made from the carcass)
For the garnish 15g butter
10g shallots, diced
25g trompettes de mort
1tsp fried matchstick croûtons
1tsp fried matchstick lardons
10-12 Muscat grapes
For the apple foam (six to eight portions) 200ml apple juice, reduced by half
300ml whipping cream, reduced by half
Carve the breasts off the partridge and discard the skin. Separate the fillets. Butterfly the breasts and pat out to about 2mm thick.
Pat out the two fillets and remove the fibrous strands. (Roast the carcass and deglaze to make a basic game jus.)
Lay out the spinach leaves on a clean tea towel to form a rectangle. Coat an area large enough to wrap the foie gras with mousseline (about 1tsp). Put the foie gras batons on the spinach, season and cut out enough spinach to wrap up each one in a single layer (7).
Spread a very thin layer of mousseline on the breasts. Lay a spinach-wrapped foie gras baton on the breast. Cover with a partridge fillet (8). Enclose the foie gras in partridge breast and wrap up in caul fat to form two "sausages" (9).
Preheat the oven to 250°C. Melt the clarified butter in a pan just large enough to hold the partridge. Lightly brown the breast on top of the stove (10). Season and transfer to the oven. Roast about 10 minutes to an internal temperature of 56°C. Take out of the oven and rest (11).
Meanwhile, reheat the sauerkraut to simmering point. Add the Champagne and sugar. Boil off the alcohol. Stir in half the unsalted butter and bind with a little potato purée.
To prepare the garnish, sweat the shallots in remaining butter, add the trompettes de mort.
To serve each portion, spoon the sauerkraut into the centre of the plate (12). Trim the ends of a partridge fillet. Split it lengthways to expose the foie gras (13). Lay the two halves on the sauerkraut. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Surround with a garnish of trompettes de mort, croûtons, lardons, grapes and chopped herbs. Splash a little partridge jus around the plate.
Boil the reduced apple juice and cream with butter, and foam with a hand blender. Spoon around the partridge and serve.
Roast partridge with Champagne sauerkraut
A simpler, classic but equally delicious version of the above recipe is to serve a whole roast partridge (serves one) with the Champagne sauerkraut, the same garnishes and a roast partridge gravy (14).
Pike perch with sauerkraut and herb dumplings
This is a regional Black Forest dish that would be feasible in a good pub-restaurant or brasserie.
Ingredients (Serves one)
2 x 60g fillets pike perch (zander), skin on
30ml clarified butter
30g unsalted butter
180-200g Champagne sauerkraut, cooked
80ml whipping cream
1tbs whipped cream
8-10 herb dumplings (see below)
1tbs classic red wine sauce
Sprinkle a little salt on the flesh side of the fish. Heat the clarified butter in a pan and fry the fish, skin side down, for 5-6 minutes over a medium heat. Turn the fish and finish cooking (about two minutes more) (15). Add a little of the unsalted butter and baste it. Remove from the heat.
Heat the sauerkraut to boiling point with whipping cream (16). When dishing it up, fold in the whipped cream (17).
Fry the herb dumplings in the rest of the unsalted butter until they start to colour. To serve, place the sauerkraut in the middle of the plate with the fillets of pike perch on top. Surround with the herb dumplings. Spoon a little of the red wine sauce on to the plate for colour (18).
Herb dumplings (schupfnudel)
(Makes about 60 - 10-12 portions)
600g cold waxy potatoes, boiled and riced
200g plain flour
30g parsley and chives, finely diced
100g fried onion and streaky bacon, finely diced
2 medium-large eggs
Mix all the ingredients together by hand to form a dough, but don't overwork it. The texture is very similar to potato gnocchi.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Add a few dumplings at a time and cook (like gnocchi) until they rise to the surface. Drain with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Chef Lumpp buys sauerkraut raw and freshly fermented in 10kg containers from Claus Schumacher, an artisan producer outside Stuttgart.
It is prepared in smaller batches by the central production kitchen, ready to be finished to order.
•For information on buying sauerkraut contact the CMA Office UK and Ireland, 17a Church Road, London SW19 5DQ. Tel: 020 8944 0484. Website: www.germanfoods.co.uk.
Photography by Lisa Barber (www.lisabarber.co.uk)