Fermentation is a miracle that beer enthusiasts often subconsciously relegate strictly to the realm of beverage, when in reality, fermentation plays a part in the production of countless and diverse foods: Soy sauce, sour cream, pickles, and yogurt are a few common refrigerator staples that could not exist without microbiological activity that not only preserves, but imparts unique flavors, just as in the production of beer.
Perhaps one of my favorite fermented foods–as per my polish upbringing–is sauerkraut. Typical grocery store sauerkraut is often lackluster. In fact, some of your cheaper varieties are made by simply adding vinegar to salted boiled cabbage, and the real-deal kraut is usually flash pasteurized, leaving a somewhat tasty but dead product. Just as I prefer my beer to be a living product, teaming with live yeast and/or bacteria, so I would like prefer my sour cabbage. Thus being said, I have been fermenting my cabbage the old fashion way, just like my ancestors did…and let me tell you, the freshness factor makes the minimal amount of work that goes into it worthwhile.
In layman’s terms, here is how I make my sauerkraut:
The tools needed are: A sharp knife, a fermenting vessel (pros will recommend a ceramic crock, but I just use one of my stainless steel boil kettles), and some sort of a weight (as you can see in the pictures a plate with a few mason jars filled with water work fine).
The ingredients needed are: Cabbage, sea salt. Yup. That’s it. Bacterial cultures are not necessary as they are naturally occurring on and between the leaves of cabbage.
To make sauerkraut, first one must slice the cabbage in thin slices (but don’t keep the core). I prefer mine a bit wider than the average store-bought sauerkraut. As I slice my cabbage, I put it aside in a pile. After all your cabbage is sliced (I use 3-5 heads, but if you use red cabbage you may want to use less as it is more dense and you will get a higher yield. After all your cabbage is sliced, you start adding it to your fermenting vessel a few handfuls at a time, sprinkling in some sea salt over top of each layer. The amount of salt used may vary to preference. I use a heaping 1/2 teaspoon per one pound of cabbage. After all the cabbage and salt is in the vessel, mix well and then tightly pack down and compress the mixture. This mixture must remain compressed, as your kraut will need consistent water coverage. You will not add any water, as the salt will pull the water out of the sliced cabbage through a process called osmosis. Within 24 hour you should see your cabbage covered in this watery solution called ‘brine.’
Now, you just wait and push your weight down every day or so as needed to keep the cabbage covered in brine. You will see foamy bubbles emerge when fermentation really kicks in. After about two weeks, a very delicious sauerkraut that far surpasses the stuff on the shelves a Walmart is ready to eat. I put my kraut in jars (but don’t pressure cook them…I want them to be an evolving product that gets more sour over time) and store in the fridge. I put apple chunks in one batch and it tastes fantastic.