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Sauerkraut and Choucroute

To embark on a full gastronomic excursion into the hearty, artery-clogging terrain of Alsatian cuisine, your tour should probably start with flammekueche—a flat tart stuffed with bacon, onions, cream cheese, and heavy cream. The next stop is baeckeoffe, marinated pork, mutton, and beef simmered in wine with potatoes and onions, sometimes with a round of creamy Munster cheese melted on top. And to finish up, land with a thud on a hefty slice of Kougelhopf, a butter-rich ring-shape brioche cake with almonds and raisins.

If, however, you have neither the constitution nor the inclination for such culinary heft, there is one dish that sums up the whole of Alsatian cuisine: choucroute garnie. Borrowed from the Germans, who call it sauerkraut, the base definition of choucroute is cabbage pickled in brine. In more elaborate terms, this means quintal d'Alsace, a substantial variety of local white cabbage, shredded and packed into crockery and left to ferment with salt and juniper berries for at least two months. Beyond this, any unanimity regarding the composition of choucroute garnie breaks down. In addition to sauerkraut, however, the essential ingredients seem to be salted bacon, pork sausages, juniper berries, white wine, onions, cloves, black peppercorns, garlic, lard or goose fat, potatoes, and salt pork—pigs' knuckles, cheeks, loin, shanks, feet, shoulder, and who knows what else? No matter—the taste is unforgettable.

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