Making Sauerkraut Pt. 1

One of my favorite classes at this year’s Organic Growers School was on lacto-fermentation of vegetables.  In this process wild Lactobacillus bacteria (along with Leuconostoc and Pediococcus) ferments vegetable matter that is suspended in a brine substance.  This results in a unique sour characteristic of the vegetables.  The class was great for a number of reasons, 1. because I had been given a copy of Sandor Katz’s fantastic “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” for Christmas which had sparked my fascination in vegetable fermentation and 2. because the hands-on question and answer format of the class really helped my get an idea at how doable some of my own vegetable ferments could be.

The classic lacto-fermented vegetable is sauerkraut, that sour and stinky cabbage stuff that seems to be forever associated with German foods (even considering that it is made and used by a lot of different nationalities as a major part of the cuisine).  I have enjoyed sauerkraut for years.  I cannot really remember when I first tried the stuff but I suspect that I was pretty young.  Since about as long as I can remember my family has been making a dish, which we refer to as “pigs in a blanket” (though not the hot dogs croissant rolls kind) which is basically cabbage leaves stuffed with ground meat (preferably pork) and rice with significant spices (especially caraway, garlic, pepper), all cooked in a bed of sauerkraut.  I remember being real fond of having sauerkraut on hotdogs with a generous amount of spicy brown mustard.  I have even been known to just munch on the stuff all on its own.

As such it took no arm twisting to convince me that I wanted to try to make my own sauerkraut.  So this past weekend I bought six small cabbages at the Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery and last night I finally got down to production.

A major appealing aspect of making sauerkraut is that in theory it is pretty damn easy.  The only essential ingredients are cabbage, salt, and water (I choose to add some caraway, dill, and mustard seed as well).  Beyond the three simple ingredients all else that is needed is some vessel to ferment the cabbage in, a crock being the classic choice though any food grade plastic container will work as well (though never use metal, as this will result in corrosion and off flavors basically ruining the fermentation).  You also need a weight to keep the vegetables submerged in the brine.  This is an important thing as the process is anaerobic fermentation and contact with air can result in spoilage.  Beyond that the only other thing that is needed is a bit of storage space and some patience for the time it takes the fermentation to get going.

In my process, I chopped one cabbage up as a time, making pretty small shreds and discarding the hearts.  I sprinkled some salt on the shredded cabbage to begin drawing the liquid out of it.  After each two cabbages chopped up I pounded the shreds with a potato masher, the bruising intended to aid the motion of moisture out of the vegetable.  I also added my caraway, dill, and mustard seeds (not a lot, just enough to add a little flavor to the whole thing).  Then I began to add the cabbage to my crock.  After adding a few handfuls of cabbage, I’d sprinkle on some more salt and pound it all tight-packed with the potato masher.  Once all the cabbage had been put in the crock the container was about three-quarters full.  I finished by really packing it down and sprinkling on a last bit of salt.  Then I let it sit for over an hour.

Ideally the liquid from the cabbages would have leaked out enough to cover all the vegetables in a salty-veggie brine, but because these cabbages were a bit older I think they had been a little dehydrated and as such I mixed and added some of my own brine (just some salt dissolved in water).  I added just enough to put about an inch of liquid over the packed cabbage.  Then I placed a plate on top of the vegetable and a weight on top of the plate (the plate and weight hold the cabbage down below the brine).  I covered the whole thing with a kitchen towel to prevent dust from getting in it and then placed it in the corner.

And now I wait.

As this was last night all I have down so far is check the stuff this morning to make sure that the cabbage is still underneath the brine (it was).  This afternoon I will check it again and probably give it a first taste.  Both Mr. Katz’s book and the teacher of the class at the Organic Growers School recommend tasting daily to determine preferred flavor and crispness of vegetables.  There is really no “right” amount of time for the stuff to ferment.  Depending on how much salt was added and how warm or cold the environment is, the process can take longer or shorter.  Basically it comes down to personal preference.  I am really looking forward to seeing how this stuff turns out.

I have some photos that I will try to upload later.  I will also write Pt. 2 of this post once the sauerkraut has reached a desired flavor and I progress to the next step.  I am also looking forward to making some homemade kimchi soon with our bok choy, radishes, and carrots.  I’ll keep you posted on that.

Wish me luck, I’m hoping this stuff comes out awesome.

~ by Nathaniel on March 14, 2012.

5 Responses to “Making Sauerkraut Pt. 1”

  1. Awesome. I’ve been making it for awhile, and it’s great stuff!! Can’t wait to hear how yours turns out!

    • Cool! So it works out for you pretty well? Have you tried using differnet herbs and spices for flavoring or adding other types of veggies? That is what I am really looking forward to.

  2. Yes, it worked great for me! I do have one of those jars with the little plastic air valve on top, though… Haven’t done too much with different spices, but I have done kimchi a couple of times, and it’s great!

  3. […] I promised in the previous post here are some photos of the whole process. These are the six small cabbages that I used in making […]

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