This recipe is presented as part of the Jefferson Thanksgiving Challenge. We asked alumni chefs to create Thanksgiving dishes using only the ingredients that would have been available at Monticello during Thomas Jefferson's time.
Chef’s Note: The ingredients should be of the highest quality—it doesn’t cost that much more to buy a bag of great potatoes at the farmer’s market than it does to buy mass-produced ones at a brand-name store.
Ingredients (serves four, though you'll end up with plenty of sauerkraut, butter and crème fraîche)
For the sauerkraut:
1 green cabbage
For the sweet cream butter:
The highest quality local cream you can buy
For the crème fraîche:
Ideally raw milk from a dairy farmer; you can also use a combination of high quality cream and a touch of buttermilk.
12-15 small local potatoes
1-2 firm, tart apples, like a Winesnap or Granny Smith
2-3 sweet yellow onions, depending on size
1 bottle of first growth Bordeaux —because Jefferson would approve
Make the sauerkraut a week or two prior to cooking. Shred or thinly slice the cabbage, then toss with a good handful or two of salt in a large bowl. Wait about an hour and transfer to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid. Place a heavy pot lid or plate on top of the cabbage to press it down. The salt will draw out the water of the cabbage; the lid or plate will help to keep the cabbage submerged in that liquid. Cover tightly, wrap the entire container in plastic wrap several times and leave to ferment in a moderately warm place.
Make the butter and crème fraîche a day or two prior to cooking. For the butter, let it come up to a bit under room temperature and pour into a stand mixer or food processor. Mix at medium speed until the butter separates. Strain the butter off and squeeze repeatedly to wring as much liquid out as possible. Now make a very cold water bath and “wash” the butter curds. Squeeze again, dry and store for later use. (Chef’s Note: homemade butter doesn't hold up over time like store-bought butter; use it sooner rather than later.)
For the crème fraîche, if you have access to raw milk, scoop the cream off the top of the unhomogenized milk and pour into a clean jar with a lid. Let sit in a warm place for a day or so until the natural cultures thicken the cream and sour it to taste. If you don't have access to raw milk, combine 1 cup of good local cream with a touch of cultured buttermilk. Mix and store covered in a warm place for 24-48 hours.
The night before cooking, make the dehydrated sauerkraut powder and onion ash. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and line a sheet tray with a nonstick baking mat. Take a good handful of sauerkraut from your container, and squeeze most of the liquid out. Wrap in paper towels and squeeze again. Spread the sauerkraut on the nonstick mat and bake until dry, probably 2-3 hours. When dry, place in a coffee grinder and powderize. Store in a dry place.
Cut 1-2 of the onions in quarters and place on a foil sheet. Turn up the oven temperature to 300-320 degrees and roast overnight. After 6-7 hours they should be jet black and entirely dry. Blitz in the grinder and reserve in a dry place.
When ready to finish the dish:
Open the bottle of wine and decant for 45 minutes while you cook. Enjoy a glass now if you cannot wait, and continue to enjoy the wine throughout the rest of your meal.
Make the onion crème fraîche. Take half a raw onion and grate it with a microplane into a small bowl. Strain the pulp through a chinois and reserve the “juice.” Mix in a dollop or two of crème fraîche and season with salt and more onion juice to taste. It should have a long aftertaste of raw onions and not be overly bitter.
Gently scrub the potatoes under running water and dry well. In a charcoal grill, start a little fire and wait until very hot. Add chunks of hard smoking wood, like olive or mesquite or hickory, and let them burn until hot. Place potatoes and several teaspoons of fresh butter in a cast-iron skillet, and place over the smoking fire. Cover and roast for 30-40 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally to gently brown and finally “blacken” the butter. Do not let the butter burn and use caution at all times around the very hot pan. When potatoes are tender and taste of the grill, transfer to a small bowl with a spoonful of black butter.
Peel and cut the apples in 1/3 inch thick wedges. Place another skillet on a cooler part of the grill and add a dollop of butter. When melted, add the apples and cook gently for 2-3 minutes, until the apples are soaked with sweet butter. They should still be crunchy but a bit soft and less acidic. Transfer to a warm plate.
To plate: Liberally dust the black butter potatoes with sauerkraut powder and mix well to coat them. Dust the buttered apples with onion ash on one side only. Spoon some onion crème fraîche onto a plate and artfully arrange the potatoes and apples. Finish with a few paper-thin slices of raw onion. Enjoy, and drink plenty of wine to your heart's content.
Chef’s Note: This recipe can also be done on a stove indoors, but it will be missing a bit of the smoky flavor from the wood grill. Remember to use the leftover sauerkraut, butter and crème fraîche.