As I’m a total wide-eyed newbie in the world of fermented foods and beverages, I decided to try my hand at what’s probably the easiest fermented food in the world to make — sauerkraut.
I wanted all the health benefits of fermented foods but I wasn’t quite ready to jump into pickling yet (although I will just about kill for a well-done, crisp dill pickle), and homemade yogurt takes too long for my already time-crunched schedule.
Enter sauerkraut. There are just two ingredients: cabbage and salt. Some recipes advocate the use of whey, but again, my time-crunched schedule does not allow me to gallivant around town searching for organic whey, much less make my own!! Someday though, someday.
To be upfront, my first attempt at making sauerkraut was a total flop. I used a really small head of cabbage and WAY too much cheap bulk sea salt, and the resulting batch was inedible. Much, much too salty. No amount of rinsing would reduce the straight-from-the-Pacific-Ocean briney-ness. It was like gobbling up liquefied salt by the tablespoonful. Yuck.
THIS time, I used a much larger head of cabbage (if I had to guess, it was probably about 8 or 9 inches in diameter), and a much higher quality salt. Now, I don’t know much about all the different grades of salt, but here’s how this bag of Himalayan “culinary mineral salt” touted itself: “These gourmet salt crystals are ideal for seasonings and brines as well as creating luxurious bath salts, body scrubs and more.”
You mean I can eat it and then exfoliate my knees with it, too? What a deal! Sold!
Here’s how I made my second batch of sauerkraut:
Recipe for Homemade Sauerkraut in a Jar
This is a blend of recipes I found online, but mostly inspired by the recipe in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook.
1 medium head of organic cabbage
1 – 2 level tablespoons of high quality sea salt (I used 1 1/2 Tbsp.)
Wash cabbage thoroughly. Remove and discard outer layers of cabbage. Cut cabbage into large wedges at first, discarding core. Then slice cabbage wedges into very thin strips (or use a food processor to shred coarsely — not too finely!). Place sliced cabbage into large bowl. Sprinkle with salt. Using your CLEAN hands, massage the salt into the cabbage until cabbage begins to release juices. Warning: This part takes a few minutes and your fingers may start to freeze if you’ve left your cabbage in the fridge (where else would you keep cabbage??). Or, you can always use a thick wooden spoon or pestle to mash the cabbage instead.
Cover bowl loosely with paper towel and let sit for about an hour until the cabbage begins to soften and most of the water is released.
Again, with CLEAN hands continue massaging cabbage until there’s a good amount of juice in the bottom of the bowl. Pack cabbage firmly into clean quart-sized mason jar — some sources even say you should sterilize (boil) the jar before fermenting to (ostensibly) prevent the growth of botulism and other mold (shhhh….I didn’t! This guy says botulism via fermenting is virtually unheard of. Despite the crazy hairdo, I believe him!). Cabbage should be completely covered by liquid. Leave about two inches of empty space between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar (fermenting expands the cabbage). Seal jar with NEW lid and band.
Let sit on countertop undisturbed for at least 3 days. On the third day, take a bit out to taste. If it tastes ready — salty, tangy, oh so good! — go ahead and put the jar into the fridge. Enjoy cold, room temperature, or infuse your stew or soup with tons of flavor!
Have you made sauerkraut at home? Do you use jars or a special crock? Do you seal to ferment or leave exposed to air? How long do you let yours ferment? Let’s share ‘kraut stories!