Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is the perfect way to begin making naturally fermented food at home. It's simple to prepare and the complex lactic acid tang of sauerkraut makes it a versatile addition to a number of dishes. Once you've got a few batches under your belt, it's fun to experiment with new flavors by adding spices, fruits and other vegetables.

At its heart, the process of making sauerkraut is simple. Salt extracts the juices from shredded cabbage, covering the cabbage with a brine. There, in the absence of air below the brine, naturally occurring microorganisms consume sugars from the cabbage and produce the lactic acid that gives sauerkrauts its distinctive sour bite. This lactic acid, along with the salt, then helps to preserves the cabbage from spoilage.

Ingredients makes 5 quarts

Instructions Images

  1. Remove the green outer layers from the cabbage and trim off any damaged, soft or discolored spots. Rinse the whole head under cold water, scrubbing off any visible dirt with a brush. Rinsing the cabbage before it’s shredded helps to preserve the natural microorganisms responsible for fermentation.
  2. Quarter and core the heads. Cutting pole-to-pole, thinly shred with a mandoline or knife.
  3. Working in batches, weigh 500 g of shredded cabbage into the steel bowl on the scale, zero the scale, and then measure in 10 g of salt. The goal is a ratio of 2% to 2.25% salt to shredded cabbage by weight. You can work with more or less at a time, but this “500 g / 10 g” ratio is easy to remember.
  4. Throughly toss the salt with the cabbage while gently bruising the shreds with your fingers to help work the salt into the cabbage and release its juices.
  5. Pack the cabbage into the crock by pressing down firmly on the cabbage with your fist. The goal here is to eliminate any air pockets in the crock, which could lead to spoilage.
  6. Repeat weighing, salting and packing the cabbage in batches. Leave at least four inches of space between the cabbage and the top of the crock.
  7. Place the crock weight on the cabbage and push down to further press out air and squeeze more brine from the cabbage. If the cabbage is fresh and finely shredded the brine will cover the weight. If not, don't worry, but be sure to check the crock in 12 hours. If the brine isn't above the weight, add enough 1.5% brine solution, made of 1.5 g salt and 1 L of suitable water (see ingredients for link), to cover the weight by 1/2 inch.
  8. Cover the crock with the cloth top and move to a cool place. 70° is ideal for sauerkraut, but warmer and cooler temperatures are fine, cooler will slow fermentation, warm will speed it up.
  9. Check on the crock every day for the first five days. Skim off any foam or bubbles from the brine. After that, check on the crock every few days to ensure the cabbage and weight are below the brine. If not, add enough 1.5% brine solution, made of 1.5 g salt and 1 L of suitable water, to cover the weight by 1/2 inch.
  10. At 70° the sauerkraut will be fermented in 3-4 weeks, at which point you can pack it into jars, taking care to push out any air pockets, and store in the fridge for up to three months.

Notes

  • We've come to prefer the texture of very thinly sliced sauerkraut, so we always use the mandoline to shred the cabbage, but the flavor is the same no matter how you cut the cabbage.
  • A finer shred also makes it much easier for the salt to extract the water from the cabbage, producing much more brine much faster. When we first made sauerkraut, we were always baffled that we almost always had to add some brine to cover the cabbage, but the first time we made a batch with the fine shreds from the mandoline, it made so much brine it was completely covered right away.
  • It is possible to add salt by taste, but it's harder to get consistent results and since we have the scale on hand to make the brines for pickles, we always use the scale when preparing sauerkraut. When salting by taste, aim for the saltiness of well seasoned french fries.

Tools & Equipment

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