3 February 2013

Sauerkraut


During the Soviet Union times my mom used to make large batches of the sauerkraut with autumn cabbage, enough for the whole winter. This was a way to preserve cabbage for longer, plus have a very tasty and, as I found out much later in life, extremely healthy and nutritious condiment. We used to make it in a huge enameled pot and sometimes would put the whole cabbage as well along with the shredded one. The whole cabbage leaves later in winter went down as a special treat. Sometimes we would add whole apples too, and that was another special treat everybody wanted to get their hands on.



When I made my first batch I used my favorite book on fermentation ''Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Katz for guidance.


When using a new recipe I always recommend reading it up to the end first to make sure you have everything you need and the process is clear to you.

Ingredients:

2 kg of organic cabbage
2 large organic carrots
1 large organic apple (optional)
approx 2 tbsp unrefined sea salt ( 1 tbsp salt / 1 kg shredded cabbage)





Equipment:

2 glass jars (approx 1 litre each) with lids
1 large (min 5 litre) mixing bowls (glass or metal preferred)
potato peeler
large chef knife
chopping board
mandolin (optional)
carrot grater (if not using mandolin)
wooden rolling pin without handles (or any other suitable tool for pressing the cabbage down the jar - optional but very useful)
small bottles to use as weights (1 per jar, the bottle should be narrower than the mouth of the jar)
tin or tray (to collect brine that might overspill)
scales for weighing (optional)


Start by cleaning the cabbage and shredding it as you prefer. I find it tastes better if julienned very finely along with carrots, I use a mandolin for this, it's quicker and more consistent. 


Peel the carrots and grate them or julienne using your knife or a mandolin if available / preferred. If using the apple, peel it and set it aside separately.

At this point, it is good to weight your cabbage in order to determine how much salt you would need. The ratio is 1 tbsp salt per 1 kg of shredded cabbage. I usually measure the salt in a small bowl so later it is easier to use.

Take the second bowl and put some cabbage in it with some carrots and grate a bit of the apple (if using), now sprinkle some salt over it and using your hands knead the cabbage so it releases the juices. The salt pulls water out of the cabbage (through osmosis), and creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting. The salt also has the effect of keeping the cabbage crunchy, by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it.

Now put the next layer of shredded cabbage, carrots and grated apple (if using), sprinkle some salt over it and again knead it with your hands mixing everything together and helping to release the juices. Continue doing this layer after layer. Now you have your cabbage nice and juicy.

At the next step you need to pack the cabbage into the jar/s. You can use 1 large jar or a crock to ferment the sauerkraut in and then transfer it to smaller jars for storage convenience or do it in smaller jars with no need to repack the sauerkraut later. Use clean jars to pack the cabbage, add little at a time and tamp it down with your fist or using some kitchen utensils like rolling pin without handles, this helps to pack kraut tight in the jar and force the brine out of the cabbage. When you pack the jars leave some space of about 2 inch (4 cm) from the mouth for juice to rise.

Using clean glass bottles filled with water press down on the packed cabbage to weigh it down and submerge it under the brine. It is very important to keep it submerged under the brine to prevent rotting. Now cover the whole thing with a cheese cloth to keep the flies away and optionally place the jars in a tray to collect any brine that might overspill.





Place the jar/s in an unobtrusive corner of the kitchen counter where it won’t be in anyone’s way but where you will not forget about it and leave it to ferment.

Generally, it will be done in 3-4 days, but I suggest fermenting it for at least 20 days so you take advantage of all the beneficial strains of lactic acid. This depends on the temperature in your kitchen, the warmer the temp the quicker the fermentation. You can sample the sauerkraut on the second day and see how you like it. In the process you might see some scum forming at the top of the jar/s, you can just clear it away and not worry if you leave some behind this is just the result of contact with the air, rinse your weight (bottles with water) if needed and don’t forget to try the kraut. Then replace everything and leave it to ferment till it reaches the desired taste.

You can ferment sauerkraut longer if you want as it will develop a deeper flavour, basically, it is up to you and your tastebuds.

When it is ready, close the jar/s with the lid and store them in a cool place like a pantry or cellar to slow down the fermentation process. I usually store mine in the fridge. Remember that the fermentation process is still going on even in the fridge, but just much slower.

Sauerkraut generally keeps quite well in the fridge for up to 1 year. It can keep longer but I usually make small batches of 2-3 kg and eat it quite fast so never got to test the longevity. But if kept for longer than 1 year it will become soft and flavour will turn unpleasant.

And now enjoy!!!

Side note:

As you progress in making sauerkraut you might want to add more flavour to it. You can use red cabbage and other vegetables like garlic, onion, seaweed, greens, Brussels sprouts, whole heads of cabbage, turnips and beets in any combination. You might also want to add the apple in slices or whole and / or incorporate spices and herbs like caraway seeds, dill seeds, celery seeds and juniper berries. Anything you like will work, just experiment and have fun with it.