Adventures in sauerkrauting ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

31 July 2012

Adventures in sauerkrauting

homemade sauerkraut

Why is fermenting food so intimidating?

I've been meaning to ferment something or other for a good three years at least. I love all kinds of fermented foods, from miso to sourdough to kimchi to tempeh, so it's not as though I had no reason to make them myself. But somehow the only fermented or cultured food I'd ever tried to make was yogurt, and that only once, due to lack-of-candy-thermometer fail.

Clearly the lack of an everyday fermentation tradition is the problem. So. Let's fix that by making a start, shall we?

Two weeks ago, I decided to take on a fermentation challenge and make a batch of sauerkraut. I followed the classic sauerkraut recipe from Sandor Ellix Katz's Wild Fermentation.

These instructions sound very easy. You do need appropriate equipment and a place to put everything during the fermentation process--but the process is clearly doable. It goes like this.

1. Shred cabbage.
2. Mix with salt.
3. Pack into crock.
4. Weight down/ensure things are covered with brine.
5. Let sit around for two weeks or until delicious.

That doesn't sound so hard, right? So I acquired a crock and a cabbage and got to work.

green cabbage

I cored and shredded a green cabbage. This particular one was pretty small. I don't have a scale, but I'd estimate it weighed about two pounds.

Shredding a cabbage by hand is not that big a deal, in case you were wondering. It's not a sufficient reason to get a food processor. (Cashew cheese and its ilk might be, however.)

shredded green cabbage for sauerkraut

I mixed the cabbage with salt and packed it into a large glass jar. Since the rim of the jar was a bit narrower than the body, I couldn't fit a plate inside to weigh down the cabbage. So instead I found an empty ziploc bag, washed it, filled it with water, and weighed the whole shebang down with a smaller jar of water. I hear that if you use this weighting method you're supposed to use salt water in your plastic bag, just in case it bursts. I didn't, but then my bag didn't burst, so that turned out okay.

After about 12 hours my cabbage and salt had produced enough brine to cover itself, so I didn't need to add any additional salt water.

sauerkraut crock with shredded cabbage

Then I just left the entire deal on my kitchen counter, out of the sun and covered with a dishcloth, for two weeks. I checked on it every few days, and shifted my weights a bit to let the bubbling gases escape. The gas from the bubbles smelled sort of milky or whey-like. However! The fermenting sauerkraut didn't smell of anything at all at any other time. We'd been worried that fermenting would really stink up the house, but it totally did not do so in any way whatever. Qualms overcome!

After two weeks, the bubbles had largely subsided, and it was time to try out the finished product. The result was a tangy mass of slightly crunchy sauerkraut, with a young but distinctly correct kraut flavor. It's a far cry from the slimy, translucent, and overpowering mass-produced sauerkraut you get at the grocery store. I'm going to let it keep fermenting for another week or so to get a stronger finished flavor before putting it in the fridge. And then! I will eat it over chili, and with seared sausage, and maybe I'll make up a batch of sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies to stick in the freezer for future dinner application.

Hooray for sauerkraut!

Have you guys ever made fermented food? How did it go?


Jes said...

Yay for awesome home-fermented kraut! Love making that stuff, yours looks tasty fo sho!

Rebecca said...

I have been learning about sourdough and various other preferment processes for breadmaking! Current favourite is old dough, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like (you save a hunk of last week's dough, feed it through the week with more flour and water, and add it to this week's batch, and the flavour you end up with is more interesting and complicated than it otherwise would have been, and the crumb is beautiful!).

Cured meats involving fermentation are what I have my eye on next, although with some trepidation, since it seems like it might be liable to kill someone. We just moved to a house that has a cold room in the basement that is the right temperature and humidity for curing such things. SAUSAGES FOR ALL.

Eileen said...

It is indeed tasty! SAUERKRAUT PARTY.

Sourdough is definitely on the list--Veronica even has a culture going, so I won't have to start one from scratch. Yes! But cured meat is way beyond my current ambition. My brother was talking about making his own bacon awhile ago, but I think he chickened out due to aforementioned trepidation. You must try it out and report back! FOR SCIENCE!

Catherine said...

I have never made anything fermented, but I'm thinking yogurt, buttermilk, and sour cream are all going to be on my agenda soon. And homemade butter! :)

(I got a book from the library, obviously.)

Hannah said...

Thank you for this inspiration! I finally have a sourdough starter after a few years of talking about it, and now sauerkraut is on my list. I got Wild Fermentation to help me get going in this whole new world. I'm hoping it becomes something I don't even think about and just do, then eat and enjoy! So many terrific forms of fermenting to try...Your sauerkraut sounds delicious.

Veronica said...

Interesting... I'd never enjoyed sauerkraut before, but maybe I'd like this! And while the sourdough is sleeping right now, it's going to get a lot more of my attention after I come back from Chicago.

I've been tempted by yogurt (but doubt I can eat enough yogurt to make it worth it). And of course there was the time I made ginger wine....

Stephanie said...

So funny. I was considering doing a post on this myself. I have sauerkraut fermenting in my basement at the moment. It was my first time too! I thought it was so fun. I haven't tasted it yet, but I've been checking on it and skimming from the top. I used the book Canning for a New Generation. Lots of fun!

Kat said...

Ooh, I've been meaning to experiment with fermented cabbage! I completely agree, the store bought sauerkraut is the worst, complete mush and totally unlike the real deal. I love crunchy sauerkraut!

Hannah said...

Homemade sauerkraut is the best! I always make mine with red cabbage and very thinly sliced red onion- the flavor and color areole nothing else you can find on store shelves.

Joanne said...

I would have thought fermenting was way more difficult than this! The sauerkraut looks totally doable!

kristina said...

I was a German major in college and I've still never eaten Sauerkraut! Is that embarrassing or what? I really need to try making this, I bet I'd really love it since I like kimchi so much.

Also, how long does it keep in the fridge?

Lena Mumenthaler said...

Ive been meaning to experiment with fermented food, too. Well, besides yogurt, but that seems to be in a whole different league. But kimchi and sauerkraut somehow scare me. I'll have to give this a try, and it is good to know that it doesn't make your house smell. Relieved and encouraged to go and make it now.(Or maybe later, after my vacations)

Vrylena said...

Oh, I'm so jealous! I never loved sauerkraut until I made it a few years ago (maybe I just hadn't given it a chance?) but I'm excited to make it again this year-- it's delicious and makes for an incredibly easy dinner.

Madison Metricula said...

Hi! Kevin recommended your blog to me and I JUST salted and shredded my cabbage. :) Thanks for the inspiration!