I have a taste for sour and fermented foods. Always have.
Dill pickles, pickled beets, miso, sauerkraut, kimchee, green tomato chow chow…You name it I eat it. Fermenting foods is an ancient practice that requires no energy to preserve its freshness. The natural fermentation process does all the work for you and transforms it into a nutritious and tasty food that can store potentially for years. Since I’m trying to avoid store-bought foods that I can make myself I thought I would try my hand at sauerkraut. There are more recipes for sauerkraut than you can imagine but mine is based on a version from Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation; it is considered by many to be the bible of fermented foods. He also has a great website, http://www.wildfermentation.com/
Many of the recipes I found online were as simple as: slice cabbage, pound cabbage with salt, let cabbage sit. The following is what I did but remember that you really can’t do this wrong, nature follows its own rules here.
I used only half a cabbage, enough to give me two one litre glass jars of sauerkraut; but make as much as you need.
- Choose a medium-sized head of fresh cabbage, any colour or variety is fine. Split in half and cut out the heart. Either chop finely or shred, I prefer the texture of chopped. Layer in whatever you like for flavour and colour – grated carrots, onion or swiss chard work well. For spices, carraway and dill are classic but choose any combination you enjoy.
As you are chopping you can either throw the cabbage pieces into a large bowl or directly into jars. Sprinkle each large handful with salt, roughly half a teaspoon is what I used. Press down on each layer of cabbage – you want to push out the air as well as get the salt working to pull water out from the cabbage cells.
- Begin pounding the cabbage to draw out the moisture and compact it even more.
I used the blunt end of a rolling-pin but any flat heavy implement will do, including your fists. You should see liquid beginning to form at the bottom of the jar at this point. If you let the cabbage sit for a few hours the salt will do most of the work drawing the moisture out for you, alternatively continue pounding until the brine level comes close to covering the cabbage. What you want to happen is for the cabbage to be completely covered, this allows for anaerobic(no oxygen) fermentation which is what kills the bad bacteria and allows the good bacteria to begin breaking down the cabbage.
- A heavy weight on top of the cabbage will keep the air out. Try using a plate with a (clean) brick sitting on it or a glass jar fitted into the mouth of your jar as I have done here.
If after all that pounding you still don’t have enough brine to cover, just mix a little more water and salt and pour over. Your sauerkraut needs time to mature now. The cooler the environment you keep it in the slower the fermentation process will be. Over the next few weeks gas will escape in the form of bubbles rising to the surface. You may also develop a bit of haze on the surface of the brine, this is just from surface contact with air and can be easily removed. The sauerkraut will probably be ready in a few weeks but taste periodically to find the level of sourness you like. Once you’re happy with the flavour cover and keep in the refrigerator where it will store quite happily for several months.