Most people start their fermentation journey with sauerkraut. It is such a simple and tasty ferment with a long history and the flavour combinations are seemingly endless.
- Juniper berries
- Caraway seeds
- Bay leaves
- Coriander seeds
- Mustard seeds
- Cumin seeds
Preparing The Cabbage
- Fresh cabbage head(s) –
- 1 – 2 tablespoons of natural salt e.g: pink, Celtic etc … per head of cabbage
- Approximately 1/2 – 1 tsp of spice per head of cabbage
- Rain, spring or filtered water (chlorine kills the bugs)
- Large bowl
- Weights for jar method*
- Wide mouth glass jars with fitted lids or a fermentation crock, all should be washed, dried and sterile.
- Before you begin wash your hands thoroughly with natural soap then rinse and dry well. Alternatively you can wear food preparation gloves.
- Discard any wilted outer leaves and reserve a few large outer cabbage leaves.
- Cut the cabbage heads in half with the core longwise and then into quarters. Cut out the tough core and stem.
- Slice the remaining cabbage with a vegetable mandoline or with a sharp knife keeping the slice relatively fine. I use a 1.5cm blade on my mandolin.
- Put all the sliced cabbage in a large bowl, sprinkle with salt and now use your muscle to massage the cabbage until liquid is released and the cabbage becomes softer and shiny. You will find that the fresher the cabbage the greater the liquid.
- When the cabbage has softened and released liquid it is time to fill your jars or crock.
- Fill jars with cabbage making sure that it is packed tightly. Ensure that the cabbage is underneath the liquid brine by a few centimetres.
- If there is not enough brine you can make up a little more by adding 1 generous tsp of salt to 500mL of non-chlorinated water and salt and top up the jar.
- Place a piece of one of the reserved cabbage leaves cut a little larger than the diameter of the jar over the sauerkraut and then press down to ensure the brine comes up a few millimetres over the leaf. This will stop the little pieces of cabbage from floating up and being exposed to air. I call these my “cabbage caps”.
- Place a weight over the cabbage leaf and then seal the jar ensuring there is no cabbage above the brine level. If you choose not to use a weight you will just have to make sure that you keep an eye on the ferment and make sure the cabbage cap dies not rise above the brine.
- If you do not have brine you can make up a little more as described above and add just enough to cover the cabbage with a few centimetres to spare.
- Place the jar(s) out of direct sunlight in an area within view. You are going to have to remember to “burp” them each day, this simply means that you loosen the lid and release the fermentation gases and then reseal it. this is a chance to also ensure there is no cabbage above the level of the brine.
- Ferment the sauerkraut for at least five days, you can definitely go longer (for a week or two more), just test the kraut and ensure that it is to the right level of sourness for you (see “How Do I Know When It Is Done” below).
- When it is to your taste transfer the jar(s) to the fridge.
Traditional Crock Method
- Pack prepared cabbage (see above) into the crock ensuring the cabbage is covered by the brine with room for the weights to be covered also with a few centimetres to spare.
- Cut an outer cabbage leaf that you had reserved to fit the circumference of the crock with an additional few centimetres. Fit cabbage leaf over the shredded cabbage, below the brine, tucking the edges down the side of the crock.
- Place weights over the top of the cabbage leaf and ensure they are below the brine too.
- Place lid on crock and fill the moat with water.
- Ferment the sauerkraut for at least five days, you can definitely go longer (for a week or two more), just test the kraut and ensure that it is to the right level of sourness for you (see “How Do I Know When It Is Done” below). When checking also make sure that the weights are still underneath the brine, If you do not have brine you can make up a little more by adding 1 generous tsp of salt to 500mL of non-chlorinated water and add just enough to cover the weights with an extra few centimetres
- Ensure the water moat is topped up each time after checking.
- Once you like the the taste you can pack the kraut out of the crock into clean sterile jars, seal them and then refrigerate.
What To Expect
Once fermentation is under way you can expect to see bubbling a some frothing of the surface liquid. Your kraut should smell a little funky however should taste clean and and sour with the typical kraut tang. If you are using red cabbage your ferment will change to an amazing pink colour. A little white mould or white yeasty film is usually harmless and can be scraped off, you will know it is ok when the kraut still tastes and smells good.
If the brine is no longer in sufficient quantity to fully cover the cabbage and weights with room to spare just make some more brine solution as described above and top it up. Remember when you are checking your kraut to wash and dry your hands and use clean utensils.
Could It Be Off?
You will know if your ferment goes off for some reason (eg: high temperatures in the room, contamination during preparation/checking ..) as it will smell rotten and putrid – cabbage is high in sulphur and will therefore give off a rotten egg smell. Any mould that is black or brightly coloured and a kraut that becomes very slimy also indicates that you need to turf it.
How Long Does It Last?
Once your sauerkraut is done you can keep it in the fridge for six months or more however, it is best eaten within three months as after this time it loses its brightness and the texture can become mushy. It is worth noting that keeping your kraut in the fridge will slow the fermentation down however not completely stop it so your kraut will become more sour the longer you keep it.
Enjoy your Sauerkraut “Any Which Way”!