One of the hardiest prejudices about sauerkraut cooking is that you only can use it with sausage or other heavy duty pork – nothing could be more wrong than this. Today I finally called my mom and asked how she did her oven dish with sauerkraut, fish and potato puree.
Why? Because I remember loving this dish from as long as I remember anything. And it is not my childish predilection for impossible food combinations that dictated this love: the original recipe comes from a hefty mid-fifties tome Seefisch – schmackhaft und pikant (sea-fish, tasty and savoury) by Rudolf Rösch. Its cover illustration depicts Fish and Ships. From the foreground, an unhappy vertical green Haddock stares at you with round, orange eyes, as if telling the reader: this is serious business.
I actually thought that the original recipe came out of Lilo Aureden’s little cookbook called Was Männern so gut schmeckt – what men find so tasty. I also thought that there was another book as well: Was Frauen so gut schmeckt. This is not so: the other book, I am told, is ‘what kids find so tasty’. They’re both from the housewife-y late fifties when men, in Bremen, were out building ships, cars and trams, and couldn’t tell a fridge from an oven. These books contain some of the yummiest recipes imaginable in any case.
The instructions I got over the phone left some room for improvisation. I proceeded to test the impact of this magical dish – with a few additions and corrections that I found appropriate – on Robin, a person with a decidedly non-krauty past. I think I am entitled to say that it was a success.
For three, you need around six medium-sized potatoes, a few cups of sauerkraut, 1/2 onion, at least 4 tablespoons of butter, a cup of grated Gouda-type mild cheese (or half a cup of grated parmiggiano), some milk, olive oil, a few nice fillets of any kind of lean, flaky textured fish, a bay leaf, two crushed juniper berries and a few sage leaves.
1) Heat some olive oil in a pan that is big enough to hold the kraut later. Chop half an onion and sauté the onion bits in the oil until translucent but not brown. Meanwhile, rinse the sauerkraut with cold water and drain. Add to the pan, stir, add a cup of water, the bay leaf and juniper and cover. Cook slowly for about an hour.
2) Meanwhile peel and boil the potatoes in water with some salt. Make a mash using the butter, some of the cooking water and some milk, check for salt. Mix in the grated cheese and set aside.
3) Check the fish fillets for bones.
Pre-heat the oven on 210C/410F. Check the sauerkraut for salt – most likely it is fine as it is. Take a wide oven dish and cover the bottom with sauerkraut. A layer of a cm/a third of an inch is the minimum. Distribute the fish evenly on top of the kraut. Sprinkle with some salt, oil and some dried sage. Cover all this evenly with the potato-cheese goo. Take a fork and ruffle the surface. Sprinkle quite liberally with olive oil.
Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes or until the crust gets golden brown.