Sauerkraut is one of the great fermented vegetable dishes of Europe. Originally developed as a way to preserve the cabbage harvest during the long winter months, kraut is now often prepared with roasted meat dishes to cut through both the fat and the richness. Truly fermented sauerkraut has not only vitamin C, but is filled with probiotics, as the bacteria, lactobacilli, will do good work for your digestion and amazing work for your palette. If I haven’t convinced you to try sauerkraut already, I should let you know that it’s dead easy.
Cabbage (however much you’d like, I’d say at least one full head of cabbage, but I used two)
Salt (3-4% of total weight of cabbage)
First, you want to rinse the outside of the cabbage to remove any possible dirt and remove a couple of the outer leaves. Next, cut your cabbage into quarters and slice the core out of it. Unfortunately, I did all this before we started taking pictures, but it’s pretty easy. Next, you want to shred the cabbage into ribbons.
After you’ve sliced all your cabbage, which may take a while, transfer it to a large, non-metallic vessel that has a lid. You don’t want to risk metal ruining the flavor of your kraut and you need the lid to protect it from falling particles. I used a prep cube. You’ll want to add the salt. Remember, your total amount of salt should be 3-4% of the weight of your cabbage. Use 3% if you’d like less or more salt if you want to be absolutely certain that you get your ferment right the first time. If this is your first time making sauerkraut, I’d recommend the higher percentage and you can rinse the sauerkraut if you find it overly salty.
Now, with your well-cleaned hands you want mix the salt in with the shredded cabbage. At the same time, you want to squish the cabbage a bit to start the process of breaking it down and removing its water. Pretend this cabbage did something terribly wrong to you and you’re wringing it’s neck. It’s important that you don’t tear the cabbage (this would leave forensic evidence on our pretend crime scene, as well as cause too much water to leak out) but you do want to break some of the cells and bruise it a bit.
After you’ve massaged the salt into the cabbage, just walk away. Leave the cabbage alone for about half an hour (or an hour). While you’re gone, our cabbage will release it’s liquid and create a brine for us.
After the time has passed, your cabbage will have released quite a bit of water. This is a good thing.
Then you want to put some sort of weight to keep the cabbage below the brine, creating an anaerobic environment our friends, lactobacilli, to grow up. Traditionally, a clean heavy stone would be used, but I prefer to fill a plastic storage bag with brine and use that. I fill it with brine so that if the bag breaks, it won’t dilute my sauerkraut mixture.
As the second to last step in our kraut adventure, place the bag over the cabbage in your vessel, make sure that the cabbage is pushed down and the brine completely covers the cabbage.
Finally, we wait about seven to ten days for the bacteria to turn our boring, dull cabbage into amazingly preserved sauerkraut.
I let mine go for eight days and then decided that it was sour enough for me. The kraut will develop based on ambient temperature and the amount of lactobacilli already present on the cabbage when you purchased it. You should avoid ambient temperatures above 70° F, as this can cause yeast to grow and make your sauerkraut soft and funky. If you see mold on the very top of the liquid (not even close to the kraut — all above the bag), you can scoop it off and throw it out. If the mold is touching the cabbage or is below the bag, say adios to that batch and start over. Fermentation is a natural, wild process and all fermenters have had a batch turn on them, so don’t let it upset you. Just dump it out, clean the vessel well and start over.
This was my first post on Reclaiming the Good Name of Epicurean and I hope you enjoyed it. Now get out there and ferment something.