Home Cooked – Sauerkraut

I’m not sure the wisdom of starting a new category on the blog with a misnomer in the title, but, well, here we are.

For years I’ve enjoyed cooking, but it’s really only been the last few months that I’ve started developing it from an abstract interest into a full-on hobby. As I’ve really only had one “hobby” for the last two years, it’ll be nice to have another topic to blog about.

And thus the reason for this category (and the inaugural post in it) — I’m going to start sharing some of the experiences, recipes and photos that evolve out of this interest.

I’m not much of a purist when it comes to cooking, nor do I have a super-human palate that gives me some great epicurean insight. I dig food and drink though, and enjoy creating things (whether from my own head or, as is more often the case, blatantly stolen from someone more skilled that myself). I warn now, recipes may (not) be overly detailed, focused on the wrong things, or just altogether useless. I use recipes like I use guide books, just as a way to get a feel for things, and so the recipes I share are likely to follow that ideology.

Anyway… there’s the introduction to the category, lets get on to the food.

On The Menu: Sauerkraut

I’m going to ease into things here with quite possibly the simplest thing I’ve ever made — sauerkraut. I love me some sauerkraut, and erroneously believed it took years and a dozen elves to produce. Nope, 2 ingredients (+1), 10 minutes of prep and a bit of patience is all. It’s dead easy.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 good clean glass jar
  • 1 head of cabbage. I’m in China, and used 大白菜
  • 2-3 tsp of salt (non-iodized)
  • Some caraway seeds (optional)
  • A big bowl
  • Time (not to be confused with “thyme”)

How to make it:

  1. Boil your jar: I actually didn’t do this, nor did I have a proper canning/Mason jar on hand, so I winged it with what I had (see the photo) and it turned out fine, but you’re probably supposed to.
  2. Slice up the cabbage: I sliced mine decently thin using a regular knife, but if you have a food processor or mandolin, that’ll work too. Slice ‘er up and put it in a big bowl. It’ll seem like quite a bit of cabbage, but we’re going to take care of that.
  3. Salt & Pound: Add your salt to the bowl. We have to break up the cabbage a bit so that it’s not so tough/fibrous, and so the salt can start pulling out the liquid in the cabbage. I think it’s common practice to use a tenderizing mallet to mash up the cabbage, but I just used my hands, crunching the hell out of it all until it had reduced in size considerably and a lot of the juice began to come out. Basically, get it down to a sort of consistency/texture of what you feel sauerkraut should sort of look like.
  4. Mix in the caraway seeds: This is completely optional, but I like the slight anise taste it gives the kraut. I happened to have caraway seeds on hand (somewhat of a rarity here in China), but thinking about it now, I could have easily used star anise (八角) which is everywhere here.
  5. Jar it: Place your mixture in your jar, pushing each handful down as you do, so it is quite compacted. The bulk of the cabbage should be below its liquid — add a bit of purified water to assure it is. Most recipes I’ve seen call for some sort of weight to be placed on top of the mixture to keep it below the liquid, but I didn’t have anything to weigh it down, so I just filled it right to the rim, so there was no air in the jar — air is our enemy. Put your lid on — tight or loose, I’ve seen recipes for both. My jar only had one option — air tight.
  6. Store it: The fermentation process is going to create gas in the jar, which will force air and liquid out of the jar if your lid isn’t tight. As such, best to put your jar on a tray or plate that can catch the liquid. If you’re using a Mason jar, you’ll need to release some of the pressure in the jar every couple of days in the fermentation process. All that’s left is to stick it someplace out of the way (not in the fridge) and wait.

The amount of time the cabbage will take to ferment depends on your room temperature, lower temps will take longer, and higher temps shorter. Additionally, the amount of fermentation can be somewhat of a personal preference. I live in a warm climate, and I liked the taste of mine after about 6 days. Seven to 10 days is common. After 5-6 days, give it a little taste to see how it’s doing. I was advised to use a plastic or wood utensil instead of metal, as apparently metal can screw with the chemistry of the fermenting process. I have a two year old — plastic forks are not a problem here.

The Results + Benefits

As I mentioned, my kraut took about 6 days before it reached a taste that said “sauerkraut” to me. Admittedly, my affinity to the stuff largely comes from heaping it on brats or ballparks bought street-side, so I’m not sure where my tastes fall on the authenticity metre.

Also note that if you use a jar similar to the latch kind I used, I found a lot of the liquid was pushed out the top from gas expansion during the fermentation process. I have seen recipes call for adding more purified water to replace it. I didn’t add anything.

Alright, so you might be asking yourself why go to all this fuss to make sauerkraut, and you may also be asking yourself why you just read a rather long and none-too-concise “how-to” about it. Well, in a phrase: home-grown probiotics. Gut flora is your friend, and raw sauerkraut is all about it.

Don’t let my long-winded explanation fool you, I was blown away with how easy making the stuff was. I can’t wait to try it with some other veg and see what the results are, eventually working my way up to making my own kimchi. If you have any experience with fermenting vegetables, or other tweaks/tips, please let me know in the comments.


3 Responses

  1. Pingback: Home-made sausage | Ryan McLaughlin

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