Introduction: Ukrainian Style Sauerkraut
This is my childhood's sauerkraut. The big jar of fermenting cabbage with a precariously balanced stack of smaller jars weighing it down is pretty much a staple in any Ukrainian grandmother's kitchen, and I have very fond memories of sneaking samples from the giant jars (regardless of how close to done they were) while my grandmother was busy elsewhere.
This version is dryer, crispier and generally milder-tasting than the German-style sauerkraut. While it's incredibly delicious raw, it's also the main ingredient in the tasty but underrated sour cabbage soup (Sour Schi in Russian, or the similar Ukrainian and Polish Kapusniak), and also makes for a nice stewed cabbage side dish (half sour/half fresh cabbage).
Step 1: Supplies and Ingredients
To make this sauerkraut you will need:
A jar, large bowl, or bucket. Whatever you choose, you'll need to find something heavy that will cover as much of the surface area as possible. For a bowl or bucket, a plate works best provided it's the right size to smoosh down the cabbage and you can balance anything you want on top for extra weight.
Cabbage -- regardless of how much kraut you plan to make, whether it's just a single jar or a bathtub's worth(that works too if you have a spare tub), I recommend getting small, firm cabbages rather than the larger ones. The younger cabbages tend to have more juice and produce a crunchier final kraut.
Salt -- I've always used kosher salt, but I'm sure table salt would be fine too.
Cranberries -- are optional. I didn't have any on hand, so I didn't use any but they're a nice addition if you do. Just toss a few in as you're packing the cabbage.
Step 2: Chop Chop Chop
1.Chop up your cabbage. I use the thinnest setting on my Borner mandoline, my father can slice the cabbage almost as thin by hand and my grandmother likes her kraut chunkier -- it's really a matter of opinion. I feel like it reaches completion much faster if cut thinner.
2. Grate your carrots. Some people add their carrots after the cabbage has pickled all the way, but I prefer it when it's all done at the same time.
Step 3: Smoosh and Stuff
Add 1 tablespoon of salt per head of cabbage.
Thoroughly mix carrots, cabbage and salt together with your hands, squeezing all of the liquids out of the cabbage as you go. Once your cabbage has lost all of its fluff and crunch, you're ready stuff it into the container of your choosing.
Line the top of the jar with a piece of plastic wrap(mostly to keep flies and things out), and place your weight on top of that.
The best weight is a small plate or saucer slightly smaller than the surface of the sauerkraut with something heavy balanced on top. A common sight in my home is a bowl of sauerkraut with a plate, pickle jar full of water and a cast iron teapot all teetering on top. Whatever you use, the important thing is that none of the cabbage is exposed to air, and that it's kept compressed as tightly as possible. The more fluids you squeeze out, the more crunch your sauerkraut will ultimately have.
Since I was making a relatively small batch, I used a swingtop jar and a large wine bottle. In the photos you can see how I've packed the cabbage tightly into the jar, then compressed it further with the wine bottle. Basically, press the cabbage down as far as it will go (juices will flow!) and do everything you can to keep it at that level.
Step 4: Wait Wait Wait
While you wait, you should keep an eye on it a little bit.
- There should always be a layer of liquid above the layer of cabbage. If there isn't, you're probably not compressing it enough. If you're using a tiny container like I was, you'll probably have it overflowing a bit.
- Keep your container at room temperature. If you're comfortable without pulling on a sweater or turning on the AC, odds are so is your cabbage. A cooler climate will yield longer fermentation times, and a hot one increases your chances for icky, soggy cabbage.
- About a day in, give the liquid a taste. If it tastes TOO salty, if the salt overpowers any other tastes, unpack your container, give it the lightest of rinses, and pack it back in.
Once finished, this sauerkraut will keep in the fridge (or in a particularly cool cellar) pretty much forever. I've never had to keep a batch for more than a few months since it's a staple of eastern European cuisine, but in theory it should keep very well.
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