I've become known in some circles as a bit of a fermentation guru. I'm no Sandor Katz, but I've done a fair amount of pickling and have a pretty decent understanding of the science of fermentation. I have been asked time and time again for help with the basics of making sauerkraut and was disappointed with some of the other kraut recipes out there. I developed this little tutorial to help the beginner kraut maker. I think it's easy, and I know it works. Give it a try.
At it's most basic sauerkraut is cabbage and salt, left to ferment into a tangy condiment. The fermentation is completed by a wide variety of bacteria that turn the sugar in the cabbage into acid that in turn preserves the cabbage from spoilage. The live bacteria in unheated sauerkraut provide immense benefit when eaten including better digestion, increased gut health and an immune system boost. I recently read that the healthy bacteria that live on your skin and in your gut outnumber your body cells 10 to 1 - doesn't it make sense to make sure they are the right kind of bacteria?
Here are my instructions for making one quart of jar fermented sauerkraut. This is a great size to start with because it is big enough for everyone to try it a couple times, but not enough that you feel overwhelmed. After your first batch, make a second and try some variations. I'll list some of those down at the bottom.
Phase one: Shopping
1. Find good quality, organic green or purple head cabbage. Look at the grocery store or at farmers markets. Even non-organic ones will ferment just fine, but buy organic if you can. One 8 inch diameter head will be more than enough, but it's not a bad idea to pick up more than you think you'll need. You can use leftovers in a recipe like this soup from Nourishin Days. Weigh your cabbage at the grocery store and remember this number.
2. Buy good quality sea salt. I use Real Salt and highly recommend it because it is "real" salt with micronutrients, but isn't going to break the bank either.
Phase two: Cleaning and Chopping
1. Get a quart size mason jar with a lid. You can either buy 6 or 12 of them new with lids, or find one at a thrift store and buy new lids and rings at the grocery store. You might even have some at home already. Wash it well with soap and hot water.
2. Core and chop your cabbage. Commercial kraut is often made with really finely shredded cabbage. I prefer a little bigger shreds.. more or less as small as I can get them with a knife.
3. As you chop your cabbage stuff it into the jar.. with no salt.. this is just for measuring. Don't pound it in, just stuff it as stuffed as you can get it. When the jar is full pull the cabbage out into the biggest mixing bowl (or a big cooking pot) you have. Add another handful or two of shredded cabbage.
Phase three: Salting and Packing
1. Remember how much your head of cabbage weighed at the grocery store? Do a little mental math estimating how much of the cabbage you used, and multiply that by 2 tsp per pound. For example, your cabbage weighed 2 pounds and you used 3/4 of the head. You used 1 1/2 pounds of cabbage so you need 3 tsp of salt. Figure out how much salt you need and sprinkle that over the cabbage. No need for a calculator here, just guestimate.
2. Toss the cabbage and the salt with your hands, squeezing and crunching the cabbage. You should start to see some liquid coming out of the cabbage. Keep kneading and squeezing, thinking about how yummy and healthy this kraut is going to be and how much you love your family for a couple minutes. Alternatively, you could pound the kraut with a wooden pounder or meat tenderizer for a shorter period of time like Jungleen is doing in this photo from Cheeseslave. Either way, the point is to allow the salt to draw the liquid out of the cabbage. Don't give yourself carpal tunnel syndrome, but do allow the cabbage to get wet.
3. Taste the cabbage.. it should be distinctly salty. If it is pleasantly salty, add some more salt. If it makes you want to gag add some more shredded cabbage :)
4. Rinse your hands off and start packing the jar. Use a wooden spoon or wooden meat pounder or small ladle to help you really pack the cabbage into the jar. You want to push any air bubbles out. Pack it in a small amount at a time until the cabbage is within 1/2 an inch of the bottom of the threads of the jar.
5. Push on the kraut one last time. If liquid isn't rising above the level of the cabbage then make a brine of about 1 tsp of salt per cup of water (this should also be too salty to be pleasant but not salty enough to make you gag). Slowly pour a little of this over the cabbage, giving it time to sink in, until it is at or above the level of the cabbage.
6. Screw the lid on tight and put in a warmish place in your kitchen. On top of the fridge, the cupboard above the microwave, etc. Do the dishes and leave the cabbage for the day.
Phase Four: Fermenting and Ageing
1. The next day, open the lid of the jar. I recommend doing this over the sink. Did the jar "pop" or fizz when you opened it? If not, that's OK. Taste the kraut. Put the lid back on and put it back in the warm spot.
2. Repeat the last step every day until it truly is popping of fizzing. Taste it again, and then put the lid back on and put that jar in the fridge.
3. Let it sit for at least one more week and then test again. Sour yet? No, let it go anothe week. In the fridge this stuff will last for weeks and months and just get sourer and sourer. Most likely after 2 weeks in the fridge it will be quite sour, but since you've been tasting it the whole time you know what it's like and when you are going to enjoy eating it. I recently found 6 month old kraut in my fridge and it was sour like vinegar pickles. The salty cabbage will eventually get sour, you just need to give it lots and lots and lots of time if thats what you want.
Phase Five: Making the next batch...
Repeat from the beginning, adding some of your sauerkraut juice to the cabbage as your are packing it or instead of the brine.
Once you get the hang of this kraut method you can start making variations. Adding caraway or juniper berries is pretty traditional, as is sliced or grated turnips or carrots. Other vegetable or seasoning options are as limitless as your imagination. Try onions, garlic, seaweed, greens like kale or brussels sprouts, roots like burdock, horseradish or beets. Try mustard seed, dill, curry or hot peppers of some sort. If you add garlic, ginger, chiles and onion you have kim chi but if you use oregano, chiles and cumin you have cortido. I recently made an apple cranberry sauerkraut that is so wonderful. Experiment, it's your kraut!
Please feel free to post comments with your kraut questions, your kraut experiences and your favorite flavor variations. Your question may end up in my future post, Kraut FAQ :)