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Growing up, that would pretty much sum my attitude towards fermented cabbage. Luckily for me, at 18 I promised myself I would try all the food I came across at least once. As I’ve traveled, that policy has lead me to sample everything from sea cucumbers to yak; so by those standards sauerkraut was exceptionally tame. The homemade sauerkraut I had in Germany is so much different than the pre-made stuff we get here in the grocery store or at ball parks! It’s crunchy, flavorful and, best of all, easy to make.
Sauerkraut is a great place to start if you’re considering fermenting at home. You can buy a special crock if you’re really serious about it, but I just use regular ol’ mason jars. Lacto-fermentation, the process by which cabbage and salt become sauerkraut, is time tested and safe (as long as everything is clean!). Besides extending the shelf life of your veggies, lacto-fermentation creates a ton of probiotics that are good for digestion and keeping your gut healthy!
Even though this recipe is very simple and really doesn’t require any special equipment, the one thing you should keep in mind is time. At minimum, you need three days to start getting that sour flavor. You can add in spices like peppercorns, caraway seeds or garlic if you’d like, but I like to keep it simple during the fermentation process then serve it up sautéed with white wine and onions – Swabian style!
- Large cutting board
- Chef’s knife
- Mixing bowl
- Mason jars
- Weights (I use whiskey stones)
- Cloth/cheesecloth (to cover the jar)
- Rubber band (to secure the cloth)
- 1 head of green cabbage (cut into eighths), reserving 2 whole outer leaves in good condition.
- 2 tablespoons of coarse salt (Peter brought me pretty pink Himalayan sea salt this time, but I normally use kosher salt)
- Clean your jars, weights, bowl and wash your hands thoroughly.
- Slice the cabbage into thin ribbons. Place cut cabbage into mixing bowl.
- Sprinkle in the salt, then massage the cabbage and salt until a brine is formed and the cabbage has more of a limp, coleslaw consistency (about 10 minutes). If using any spices, add them now.
- Pack cabbage into the mason jars, stopping occasionally to smoosh it down. No matter what size jar you use, leave a few inches at the top of the jar so you have room for the weights and brine.
- Use the lid of your mason jar as a stencil to cut the outer leaves into circles, then cover the shredded cabbage. Place the weights on top of the cabbage circles; this will help ensure the sliced cabbage stays fully submerged in the brine (eventually).
- Cover the mouth of the mason jar with cloth, then secure with a rubber band. During fermentation, store in a cool place and out of direct sunlight (I keep mine in our pantry).
- After about 24 hours, check on your soon to be sauerkraut. The cabbage should have reduced in volume and be completely under the brine. If liquid has not yet covered the cabbage, make a quick solution of 1 tsp salt in 1 cup of water. Pour enough into the jar to submerge the cabbage.
- Check your jar(s) daily. If any little pieces have escaped the circle cover and floated up to the top, press them back down. After a minimum of three days, taste the sauerkraut. If you like the flavor, perfect! Otherwise continue to the let the cabbage ferment until you achieve your desired taste. When you’ve decided you’re “done”, remove the cloth, screw on the jar cap and refrigerate for up to two months.
You did it! You made sauerkraut! To eat it raw, you can treat it like a condiment as we do here in America, or go full German and serve heaping portions on the side of your entrées! It’s not super authentic, but when I make the Swabian version I mentioned at the top of the post I also like to fry some bacon up, use the grease to sauté the sauerkraut and throw the diced bacon in with the white wine and onion! Guten Appetit!
Concerned about what could go wrong? Fortunately, this is pretty foolproof. Per thekitchn.com, “you may see bubbles coming through the cabbage, foam on the top, or white scum. These are all signs of a healthy, happy fermentation process. The scum can be skimmed off the top either during fermentation or before refrigerating. If you see any mold, skim it off immediately and make sure your cabbage is fully submerged; don’t eat moldy parts close to the surface, but the rest of the sauerkraut is fine.”
Recipe inspiration taken from Mimi Sheraton’s “The German Cookbook”, thekitchn.com, and quickgermanrecipes.com. The graphic is my own.
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