Make Sauerkraut!

It’s not a suggestion! Sauerkraut was my gateway fermentation project many years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s super easy, requiring a knife, some salt, a head of cabbage, and a jar. Alternatively, you can use bagged cole slaw mix and brine to create delicious, nutritious sauerkraut. You can embellish as much as you want with vegetables and even fruit, or use fancy tools to make and cure it (I have some suggestions at the end), but fundamentally, sauerkraut is one of the simplest ferments to make, and tastes light years away from the store-bought stuff.

Here are the simple instructions:

Acquire a good-sized head of cabbage. Can be green or red, store-bought or from the garden, organic or conventional.

  1. Cut it into quarters, then slice each quarter into strings. Your choice for thick or thin strings, and you can cut it up more if you like. I think they’re easier to work with if they’re cored, but even that’s entirely your call, and nothing you do here will impair fermentation in the least.
  2. Put your chopped or shredded cabbage into a large bowl or stock pot, whatever’s convenient, and sprinkle one or two (again – your choice) tablespoons of salt onto it. I prefer it closer to the two tablespoon mark, but these days I also usually use a variety of spices, which may make the salt more subdued in the mix.
  3. Massage the salt into the cabbage. This will take a while, and it’s messy and primal. Your whole hands are working to soften the plant matter, work in the salt, and release the liquid in the cabbage. The juice will become your brine. Your own skin is contributing lactic-acid forming bacteria in this exchange. It’s sloppy, but more than a little bit beautiful.
  4. Once the cabbage has become moist and softened, pack it into a jar (or two, depending on how much you have). You’ll want to press in a layer, then press it down again. Keep tamping it down to help draw out juices. There are tools that can help this process, plus many improvisational approaches.
  5. As you approach the shoulder of the jar, you’ll have two choices. One is to devise a weight system – I like a smaller jar or a shot glass pressed into the cabbage, with a rubber band to maintain tension if the lid won’t fit on. If the lid fits, tighten it, then back it off a quarter turn. If the lid doesn’t fit, cover with a towel, coffee filter, or paper towel. A rubber band will secure it and keep bugs out.Choice #2 is a hack I’ve found myself using with kraut making these days. I mix up a batch of brine (in a four-cup measuring cup, mix one or two tablespoons of salt and four cups of water until the salt is dissolved. You can do this in a quart canning jar as well, shaking to mix). I have Pickle Pebble glass fermentation weights, so I drop one of those bad boys in to hold everything down, then top off with brine. It beats building a compression system and allows the jar’s lid to be used, but it does require that the jar(s) go into a bowl or baking dish to catch overflow. And they will overflow if you use this method.
  6. Let it sit and ferment. You can start tasting it after a few days. I’m impatient and usually get into the first jar after a week or so while the rest sit out. By the time I start the last jar, it’s nice and sour and it’s time to think about making a new batch.

Here’s a slideshow of my most recent sauerkraut adventure, featuring a gifted cabbage from a neighborhood small farmer.

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