Saturday, September 25, 2010
Growing up, I rarely ate sauerkraut. In later years, however, I eventually became interested in fermented foods. I reconsidered my indifferent attitude toward sauerkraut, and tried making some. Today my opinion is that sauerkraut is delicious, versatile, easy to make, inexpensive, and very healthy. And, of course, the 'raw' kraut that you make yourself will be superior to the pasteurized store-bought version.
Sauerkraut really makes itself. You slice up a mess of cabbage, pack it into a suitable vessel or crock with some salt, place a weight on the kraut to keep it compacted and submerged in brine, cover the whole thing with a cloth, and let it ferment.
- fermentation vessel. This could be a ceramic crock, a food-grade five gallon plastic bucket, or a glass container. Do not use metal containers, as they can react with acidic foods like sauerkraut. Ceramic vessels are traditionally used for making sauerkraut and kimchi, but they tend to be pricey. If you are a potter, you could make a crock. If you do be sure to use a glaze that is food safe. There are ceramics out there that have lead-based glazes, and these would be a bad choice for sauerkraut making, and for food in general. Food grade plastic is supposedly safe, but I prefer glass because it will definitely not leach any chemicals into the kraut, is easy to find and inexpensive. I bought a large cylindrical glass container, intended purpose unknown, for ten dollars at TJ Max.
-weight, to hold sauerkraut under brine during fermentation. A standard eight inch diameter plate fits perfectly inside my glass container, upon which I place a large glass jar filled with water.
-a clean cloth to cover the fermentation vessel.
-sea salt. Use good salt. A friend of mine who makes sauerkraut professionally recommends 12 tablespoons per 36lbs or 5 gallon container. Sandor Ellix Katz, author of 'Wild Fermentation', suggests roughly 3 tablespoons salt for five pounds of cabbage. I just add salt gradually and stop when it tastes salty enough.
-cabbage. Use good cabbage. minimum: about 4 small or 2 large heads. Experiment and find out how much cabbage can fit into your crock, you might as well make as much as possible.
- After you make plain kraut, experiment with adding any herbs, spices or other vegetables. I have been warned by a friend that kale does not ferment well, but rather turns into foul smelling "ooey gooey". Some possibilities could be tender green beans, onions, garlic, peppers, broccoli, apples, cauliflower, thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary. Red beets will turn the sauerkraut bright pink.
-a sharp knife and big cutting board
0. Make sure you have everything and that your fermentation vessel and everything is clean. Get out the big cutting board and a sharp knife.
1. Wash the cabbage and remove the outer leaves attempting not to break them. Set them aside.
2. Cut a cabbage in half and make two diagonal cuts to remove each half of the stem. My suggestion is to slice the cabbage as thinly as possible, but you can cut it up however you like. A sharp knife and full attention make this operation easy, safe, and enjoyable. Alternatively, it may be possible to shred the cabbage quickly with certain food processors.
3. Place the sliced cabbage in the crock as you work, sprinkling a little sea salt , and tamping it down as you go, using a large wooden spoon or some such thing. Don't over salt, you can always add more later.
4. When all the cabbage is in, tamp it down as much a possible. Take a few of the outer leaves of cabbage you saved in step 1, and arrange them as a thin layer over the sliced cabbage. Put your weight down on top. In my case, an eight inch ceramic plate fits perfectly inside the cylinder, and then a heavy glass jar of water sits on the plate.
6. Cover the fermentation vessel with a cloth and put it out of the way. After some time check to see how much water has come out of the cabbage. Press the cabbage down repeatedly to squeeze out the air bubbles trapped throughout the cabbage. You may have to add more water to submerge all the cabbage. Adjust water and salt as necessary.
7. Let the sauerkraut ferment for about a week or as long as it takes. The sauerkraut will ferment faster at warmer temperatures. You will notice the sauerkraut smelling more tangy as it progresses. The brine will become cloudy, and the cabbage will become more compacted and translucent. Taste it as you go, and when you decide it has gone far enough, transfer the kraut (always submerged in brine) into glass jars, and refrigerate. Save any extra brine for cooking, drinking, or starting a new batch of sauerkraut. The kraut will continue to ferment in the fridge, but much more slowly.
If you are interested in fermented foods, I recommend the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. It contains a wealth of traditional recipes from around the world.