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Cuisine d'Alsace

 
 

...comfort food for
 le winter!

   

 

Wissembourg, Schirmeck, Obersteinbach, Kaysersberg.  These picturesque villages nestled in the verdant, gently sloping hills of the Vosges mountains with the decidedly Teutonic ring to their names are actually French, part of Alsace, a region which graces the eastern shoulder of Gallic territory.  A lovely fertile area fed by the powerful Rhine River which snakes along the French-German border before majestically emptying into the North Sea near Rotterdam, Alsace has long been coveted by both Germany and France.  Monasteries and old castles look down from high on vineyards on the lower slopes.  Along with neighboring Lorraine, it has changed hands countless times over the centuries in a dizzying game of territorial back-and-forth.  Hearty Alsatian food is a marvelous melding of France’s refined cooking and more robust German fare, a wonderful instance of culinary syncretism -- a savory, satisfying option as winter approaches and the thermometer begins its seasonal plummet.

 

While Alsatian cuisine has seafood dishes such as rollmops (marinated herring in cream sauce) and trout almondine, it is le seigneur cochon (the noble pig) that rules!  And the famed Choucroute Garnie is the quintessential Alsatian meal.  This rich, winter dish has a lush bedding of sauerkraut flavored with garlic, juniper and any number of spices (cumin, caraway, coriander, celery seeds) generously heaped with ham and sausages such as bratwurst, knockwurst, or traditional frankfurters.  Cafe d'Alsace on the Upper East Side does a superb choucroute, as it is referred to colloquially in French: the sauerkraut is gently braised in Riesling with juniper berries and accompanied by smoked pork breast, sausages and potatoes.  You can also déguster a good choucroute at Les Halles, that downtown purveyor of all things carnivorous, or at the more formal L'Absinthe uptown, whose Choucroute Royale Alsacienne includes smoked ham hocks as an option.

 

Vineyards decorate many of Alsace’s valleys, producing some excellent white Gewurztraminer and Rieslings, but the region also produces several hundred artisanal beers: one can happily marry either beer or wine to a warm choucroute.  The New York Times says that Cafe d'Alsace: “...brings the fetishism and free-association usually reserved for wine to the exaltation of beer.  It has more than 110 kinds.”

 

Cafe d'Alsace also prepares the wonderfully over-vowelled tongue-twister baeckeoffe, a traditional Alsatian beef stew slowly cooked in wine with a variety of seasonal vegetables: this one a particularly rich version of the dish made from lamb, oxtail and pork braised in a Pinot Noir with onions and thyme.  In midtown at The Modern, head chef Gabriel Kreuther has updated traditional baeckeoffe, taking the dish a creative step forward with an unlikely and intriguing trio of base ingredients: lamb, tripe, and conch!  The Strasbourg-born Kreuther also uses Gewurztraminer to advantage in steaming loup de Mer or seabass, which he accompanies with spaghetti squash and a caramelized jus made with shallots.  Part of the fun of dining at The Modern is in identifying where Kreuther's Alsatian touches pop up on the menu (and in knowing that one could walk off the food in MoMA’s sculpture garden or the galleries above!)

 

Curiously enough, it was an Alsatian from Colmar, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty.  So we recommend trying at least one choucroute garnie this winter and making a toast to freedom, perhaps with an Alsatian wine!   

 

Eat: Cafe d'Alsace

 

Eat: Les Halles

 

Eat: L'Absinthe

   

Eat: The Modern

 


Chicken in Riesling, via gourmet.com

 

Cook: Chicken in Riesling, gourmet.com

 


 

 

 

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