31 July 2012
Adventures in sauerkrauting
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.
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.)
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.
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?