Before we get into the making of sauerkrat, a little background. The word comes from the German language and means sour cabbage, pretty accurate. Souring cabbage is a great way to prolong its shelf-life. I read that Captain James Cook brought 'kraut on his ocean voyages and that the vitamin c content kept his men healthy and their gums intact. In my high school textbooks there was talk of limes preventing scurvy but sauerkraut makes more sense in terms of accessibility and storage. The bottom line is that sauerkraut is pretty fantastic.
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that the modern term sauerkraut comes from Germany, soured cabbage actually came from China. Those familiar with kimchi (that is for another post) would recognize it as a spicy, delicious form of soured cabbage. Supposedly Mr. Genghis Khan brought it over with his pillaging hordes. I am happy he did because sauerkraut is delicious and makes cabbage infinitely more digestible, speaking of which, onto the recipe.
1. Start with a beautiful cabbage. If you look on the Wild Fermentation site it calls for an awful lot of cabbage. I started with half a small head so if it went to hell in a moldy hand basket I would only lose a little bit of yummy veggie. Shred the cabbage finely.
2. The next step is to pack the cabbage into a ceramic or clay pot with salt. Simply put a little cabbage in, put a little salt in, put a little cabbage in, put a little salt in, until your pot is full. The salt helps to release moisture from the sauerkraut and also creates a nice pH for the good bacteria to grow.
3. Once your pot is packed with salted cabbage, take a plate or a bowl that fits into your pot and use it to press down on the cabbage so that it is firmly packed into the container. This helps to further release moisture. Then, with the plate or bowl in the crock, place some sort of weight on top and leave your cabbage for 24 hours. Some recipes call for airtight conditions. I put a double layer of tea towel (clearly not airtight) on my cabbage and then put my french press on top to act as a weight.
4. After 24 hours, check your cabbage. Mine was still bone dry for some reason! I guess I managed to pick a piece of cabbage that was devoid of moisture. In this situation, take a cup of water and add a teaspoon of salt to it and use this liquid to fill up your container until the water rises above the cabbage. Again, weigh it down and leave it. The cabbage will be fermenting away on its own but you do want to check the water level every couple days to make sure the cabbage is submerged in brine (salty water).
5. Voila! A simple homemade sauerkraut! I left mine to ferment for two weeks, though you can start to eat it earlier. I was housesitting so my sauerkraut got a little extra time to itself and I have to admit that it was (and is) delicious. There was a slight hint of carbonation, and I don't know if that is a good or bad sign, but I ate it three days ago and I am still alive to tell the tale so it clearly didn't kill me. In the future I am going to use an airtight container.
The next big question. How did I enjoy my first sauerkraut meal? On a hot dog of course! I bought a spicy italian sausage from Save-On-Meats and a white hot dog bun from cobs (there is no need to mess around with whole wheat for this purely indulgent meal). I gently sauteed the sausage and then placed generous mounds of sauerkraut on top with sriacha sauce on the bottom. Simply delectable!
- My version of sauerkraut is as simple as it comes - salt, water, cabbage. I plan to experiment with different spice combinations, think fennel seed, caraway, dill.
- I also want to try adding different veggies, beets perhaps, broccoli stalks, brussel sprouts. Check back to see my new experiments!
"sauerkraut, n.". OED Online. March 2012. Oxford University Press. 15 April 2012 <http://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/171354>.