Introduction: Easy Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut made at home has live probiotics for your GI tract health, good source of Vitamin C (or why Viking raiders didn't get scurvy on long sea journeys, despite having no citrus), has no nasty phthalates or BPA from can liners because it isn't canned, and is very economical. If people knew how easy it is to make, no one would ever buy it. So here goes!
Step 1: Tools and Materials
You will need:
- fresh cabbage,
- a way to shred it finely
(a food processor, or a hand-crank cone shredder of good quality, are both easy and quick), - salt
[so far as I can tell, it doesn't much matter what kind you use. That's a personal taste issue. It all makes kraut, because the purpose is allow fermentation by lactic acid-producing bacteria rather than spoilage by other bacteria, and all salt will do this]
The proportion of salt to cabbage I follow is roughly
3 TBSP salt to every 5 lbs cabbage.
I know that Kosher salt will measure differently than standard table salt, but Kraut is so forgiving, it really doesn't seem to matter. Let taste be your guide, and use less than the full amount, then taste, and add the rest if it seems desirable.
-a place to store it.
I use a glass gallon pickle jar, and it holds 4-5 heads of cabbage. Others may use a food-grade plastic bucket (but is there *really* such a thing as a food-safe plastic? Inquiring minds wander...er, wonder.) or if you are lucky, you have a stoneware or wooden crock specially made for pickling and fermenting. You will need something to weight the kraut down with, but more on that later.
It needs to be at a cool temperature, ideally in the 60-degree range, but can tolerate anything except "wam" and "cold" at which point, it will either spoil because it's warm enough that other microbes take over, or it will cease fermenting properly because it's too cold. That's why kraut was traditionally made in the fall. I keep my jar in the northeast corner of the basement. If you are unsure of the temperature you are keeping it at, a cheap weather thermometer helps. Just set it by the jar. Over about 75 or under about 60 degrees F may yield poor results.
Step 2: Shred Your Cabbage
The cone shredder I have is one I bought from a West Bend Waterless Cooker demonstration, and I paid an embarrassing sum for it, but it has been worth it over the years. The cones aren't sharp enough to cut my fingers, never need sharpening, yet somehow do the job effortlessly. I admit to being stupefied. It's a heavy, gleaming hunk of chrome, and can go through a whole head of cabbage in short order, and 4 heads of cabbage before I get tired. You may find a food processor does the trick for you. But in case you have a cone shredder, use the slit cone, because that makes lacy shreds perfect for coleslaw and sauerkraut both.
I can't imagine how much work this would be, trying to slice the cabbage by hand. A mandoline might also work well for this though not as fast.
Step 3: Add Salt and Seeds (if You Like Seeds)
Once you have your cabbage shredded, place it in a large nonreactive container and add your salt and, if desired, caraway, dill, or other savory seeds. I added dill seeds I grew and harvested last summer, and caraway I bought. You can also add seeds to half the batch and leave the other half plain, and ferment separately in jars. It's all up to you.
Step 4: Mix It Up
And, if you have any, pour a little left over kraut juice into your new batch. This will get things going faster. Kind of like sourdough in that respect.
Step 5: Pack It, Punch It, and Weight It Down (oh Nooo...)
If any time elapsed between salting and mixing it, and packing it into the fermentation jar, you will probably notice the texture is changing already, and there is more liquid forming. That liquid is good. As you pack it into the jar, punch it down and let the liquid rise over the cabbage.
Then place something on top to keep the cabbage submerged under the liquid, such as a clean smooth stone, a plate with a weight on it if you are using a bucket, or a smaller jar full of the same liquid (in case a spill happens) as I have shown here.
Then cover against flies and dust, with cloth or loosely placed lid.
Step 6: Find a Cool Spot
Place your jar somewhere protected from light, where it will be cool, but not cold. I use the northeast corner of the dirt-floored basement now that the weather is warmer, but in winter, the kitchen counter is fine. A thermometer can tell you if your kitchen counter is fine (think 60-65 degrees) or not (80 degrees is definitely too hot, and much below 50 may retard fermentation).
Depending on whether it ferments at the warmer or cooler range, and how much salt was in it, it may be ready in little more than a week, or it may take a month or longer. Taste it, smell it. If it smells and tastes like yummy kraut to you, it's ready. I noticed the color change to yellowish as it matured.
At that point, I transferred the contents to quart jars to cap and keep in the fridge, but you can also keep the remainder in the jar in the cool spot to continue developing. Since all fermentation is essentially going bad in a way we find good, use your own senses to judge what is ready.
This stuff is great in sandwiches, as a condiment, alone, in soups, and as a gift. Don't forget to save some juice to speed up the next batch!