Strasbourg by Train

DonQui is off on his travels again. This time he is going to Strasbourg — one of his favourite European cities.


He has rather gone off flying these days. Except for those far too rare occasions when he manages to upgrade to business class, he finds airports and aeroplanes increasingly unpleasant.

Encouraged by the success of his trip to Spain by train last year, DonQui again decides to take the Eurostar from London and the super fast TGV (train à grande vitesse) on to Strasbourg.


Rather than changing trains in Paris he takes a tip from the kindly Man in Seat 61 and goes to Lille where he can change trains at the same station. He booked his tickets through Loco 2 which makes trans continental booking all very simple.

It all goes very smoothly. The 30 minutes between the Eurostar’s arrival in Lille and the TGV’s departure to Strasbourg is more than enough time. Changing in Paris necessitates a change of stations which involves more of hassle, uncertainty and time.

So why Strasbourg and why this time of year?


Well it is cold — bitterly so from DonQui’s perspective even if his Canadian relatives might beg to differ. Claiming the title of ‘Christmas Capital’ Strasbourg hosts the oldest constantly running Christmas market in Europe, dating back to 1570.


Some of the decorations are a little bit ‘over the top’ perhaps so much that they start to become ironic. Despite the cold weather the atmosphere is congenial and there are plenty of places to warm up with waffles, Glühwein and even hot spiced orange juice.


Packed full of excellent restaurants serving hearty Alsatian fare washed down with excellent local wines (Alsatian riesling is the best in DonQui’s opinion) there are plenty of great excuses to get out of the cold and settle in for a couple of hours.


The wonderfully compact medieval centre of Strasbourg is made for strolling although a boat tour around the circumvallating River Ille is well worth it in DonQui’s opinion. With its mix of French and German culture it is the sort of place to wander around, discover hidden secrets down a cobbled ally, and take in the atmosphere. It is just the sort of place DonQui loves returning to.



Choucroute Garni

Having been a bit distracted by other things of late, DonQui has been a bit remiss in posting.

Fear not! Today he has the pots and pans out and is going to try to create a classic winter’s dish that he has never attempted before.

It all started when Duchess decided she liked sauerkraut. Now DonQui has a sort of love/hate relationship with sauerkraut. Properly cooked like they do it in the Rhine valley – simmered in Riesling with lots of smoked meats infusing it with their deep flavour – then it is love. Taken straight from the jar and still sour, or cooked with caraway seeds, then it is hate.   To be certain, to get the sort of sauerkraut he loves then there was no doubt that he would have to prepare it himself.


So after searching through a myriad of different recipes and casting his mind back to the tastes he remembers from meals he had in Alsace and Baden, DonQui creates his own version of Choucroute Garni. This roughly translates as “Dressed up Sauerkraut” –  Choucroute being a gallicisation of Surkrutt , the word used in the local dialect on both sides of the Rhine for sauerkraut.

One of the hurdles DonQui had to overcome was to find suitable smoked meats and sausages to give the right flavour. Heavily smoked bacon, pork and proper German style sausages are really hard to find in Britain. The influx of recent Polish immigrants may help in the future but for now DonQui was going to have to rely on doing some online shopping.

Melbury and Appleton furnished authentic Frankfurters and Bratwürste  (DonQui put the latter aside for another day)


The German Deli came up with the all important Geräucherter Speck (smoked pork belly) as well as Kassler (smoked and cured pork loin) and some Schwarzwälder Schinken (Black Forest Ham)

Black Forest ham.jpg

For those who don’t know, real Black Forest ham is like a super smokey version of Italian dry cured Parma ham. What is peddled under that name in some other countries (especially in North America) is nothing like it.

So to the Recipe for 2 people. More people will allow a greater variety of meats:

About 250-300g Sauerkraut, depending on size of appetite
A good piece of smoked Speck cut into 1cm wide chunks (although nothing like as good, smoked lardons, available from supermarkets in the UK, can be a reasonable substitute)
1 thinly sliced carrot
1/2 a finely chopped onion
butter mixed with a bit of duck or goose fat or dripping
1 bay leaf
around 10 peppercorns (DonQui used soft pink peppercorns for their delicate flavour and so as not to loose a filling when biting into one)
around 8 juniper berries (a few more or less do not matter)
about 200 ml Alsatian Riesling (no other wine works quite as well)
about 100 ml non-salted chicken stock (leave this out if you cannot find an unsalted version otherwise, with the addition of the cured meats the taste will be far too salty).

A selection of smoked and cured meats such as:
Smoked sausages (at least 1 or 2 per person — DonQui used 2 long frankfurters which he cut in half)
Kassler or smoked gammon (DonQui used the former)
Smoked Black Forest ham (Next time DonQui would leave this out as unnecessary)
Pork Knuckle (Not used this time)
Confit Duck legs (Not used this time)
Smoked pork ribs (Not used this time)


Drain the sauerkraut and soak in cold water for 15 to 20 minutes. Squeeze out as much water as possible. Pick it apart to separate the strands.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Stir-fry the speck, carrots, and onions in butter/fat slowly in a casserole for 2-3 minutes until they begin to colour. Then cover and simmer for around 8 minutes.

Add the sauerkraut and when it is well covered with the fat and vegetables, cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes more.

Choucroute Garni.jpg

Add the herbs and spices. Pour in the wine, and enough stock to just cover the sauerkraut. Add the kassler or any other uncooked meats that will benefit from a long simmer. Cover, bring to the boil then put in the middle of the preheated oven. Turn down to 160 degrees and then let it cook slowly for 2-3 hours. Check every once in a while and if it is beginning to dry out add a splash more wine.

Twenty minutes before serving add the frankfurters to the pot or any other meats that need a little less cooking such as duck confit if you are using it. If you want to try using bratwürst then it is better to fry or grill them and add them at the last minute.

At the same time boil some potatoes. When they are done, swish them around in butter and add some chopped parsley

Five minutes before serving add the Black Forest Ham to heat through and allow its smokiness to permeate the dish. Next time DonQui will leave this out as he did not think it quite worked.

choucroute garni 2.jpg

Served with the sauerkraut heaped on a plate with the meats draped over it and surrounded by the boiled potatoes, it met with Duchess’ approval.


Wash it down with the rest of the Alsatian Riesling (chilled)