Sauerkraut is a food that instantly makes me think of my childhood. Growing up in a predominantly German and Scandinavian family meant that this tangy veggie showed up often. But it was usually limited to brats and reuben sandwiches more out of tradition than anything. I heard so many stories about how grandma used to make it, but no one in my family was carrying on the tradition. Giant Red Wing pottery crocks designed for just this purpose sat in the corner filled with decorative branches. Out of curiosity more than anything, I decided to take up the challenge and see if I could make it myself.
This last year, I have been on a fermentation quest. I started thinking about gut health and probiotics and why we eat sour foods, and it hit me. Most of the convenient shelf stable sour foods we buy at the store are no longer alive, and we have processed all of the health benefits right out of them. When you open your fridge and take inventory of the condiments you keep on hand, the majority of them began as home fermented foods. A brief list would be things like hot sauces, mustard, pickles, kimchi and of course, sauerkraut. When these foods are consumed in their "raw" fermented state, they are teaming with amazingly good bacteria that our bodies crave.
My first batch of sauerkraut was a test. Well, it was so good, that now I try to keep at least one fermented food ready to consume at all times. Lately, it's been a trade-off between sauerkraut and kimchi. I'll share my formula for kimchi with you all some time. But today my focus is on sauerkraut. Enjoy!
1. Gather your ingredients
- Green cabbage, fresh and tightly formed
- Kosher Salt
- Large nonmetal bowl
- Kitchen scale
- Fermentation vessel
3. Sauerkraut formula
The ratio of cabbage to salt should be 2%. Weigh your cabbage and then calculate what 2% of that would be to find the amount of salt you need. Don't own a kitchen scale? Just weigh the cabbage at the grocery store and write it down. If you're working in grams, it's 20 grams of salt for every kilogram of cabbage, and in pounds, you'll use one tablespoon of salt for every pound of cabbage. This cabbage weighed 1,667 grams, so the salt needed is 33 grams.
4. Cut and core the cabbage
Cut the cabbage into quarters and then remove the tough core. Next, slice the cabbage how you like it. I prefer to chop the cabbage by hand. It gives me control of the size of the shredded pieces. The sauerkraut you buy is shredded extremely fine, but when I started trying to make it myself, I discovered the joy of bigger bits. They maintain their crunch and add a fantastic texture to salads and sandwiches. I will say that if you're in a hurry, the finer you shred the cabbage, the faster it will ferment.
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage and the salt. At this stage, your cabbage will be light in color and appear dry. Knead the cabbage for a few minutes to encourage the mixture to start releasing juices. Cover and return every 15-30 minutes to massage it again. You'll notice very quickly that the volume of the cabbage drops in half and a pool of brine will start to form in the bottom of the bowl. This can be easily seen in the two pictures above. The goal is to encourage enough brine to develop so that when you pack it into the jars, the liquid will cover the cabbage.
6. Pack the cabbage in fermentation containers
This 3.6 lb cabbage fit nicely in two, one-quart mason jars. Fermented foods bubble, so it's important not to overfill your jars. I like to fill the jar about 2/3 full of tightly packed cabbage, and then evenly distribute the brine between containers. You'll want about an inch of brine above the cabbage.
7. Ferment and Dream of Sauerkraut
Making sauerkraut is simple. Being patient and waiting for it to be ready is not. Seal your fermenter following the instructions and place it in a dark place that maintains a temp in the 65-70 degree Fahrenheit. After a few days, you'll start to see bubbles at work in your kraut. This is the good bacteria eating the sugars in the cabbage. It's working!!! Keep an eye on the brine level and push down any cabbage that has floated to the surface. As long as the cabbage stays below the brine, its chances of growing mold are slim. But make sure that if you do open your fermenter, you use clean utensils, so you don't contaminate your brew.
After about a week, the fermentation will subside. In about three weeks it'll take on that familiar sour flavor and will be good to eat, but if you want to up the funky flavor, you can let it continue to ferment for up to six weeks. After that, move it to the fridge, and you are good to go. If somehow your sauerkraut isn't consumed in a week, it'll be good in the refrigerator for months before it starts to take on a less vibrant flavor. Enjoy!
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