So far in the series we have learned to make our very own fermentation jar, along with deli style lacto-fermented pickles. If you have already mastered these two projects, then sauerkraut is going to be breeze. In fact, its as easy as chop, salt, pack.
Let's gather our ingredients:
- 2 average size heads of cabbage (red or green).
- 2 tsp of salt per lb of chopped cabbage.
- 1 apple (optional)
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds (optional)
- 1 half gallon fermentation jar or crock. (Need a fermentation jar? Click here for my easy tutorial.)
Before we get chopping, let's take a look at these ingredients.
In my demonstration, I chose to use red cabbage to highlight its incredible color, but sauerkraut is more commonly made with green cabbage. In a blind taste test from the jars of red and green sauerkraut in my fridge, I couldn't tell them apart, so use what is most accessible for you, or what will be most visually appealing for your dish.
Next we look at our choice of salt. As with the deli pickles, I used sea salt, since it is what I most often have on hand for cooking. Any salt will work, but I would suggest using non-iodized salt, as it can sometimes cause a slight discoloration. If you don't have a kitchen scale, try to get a weight on your cabbage before leaving the store. We will be removing some outer leaves and the core, but it is better to over salt rather than under salt you sauerkraut.
Depending on your tastes, you can choose to add a chopped apple, caraway seeds or both. When I make sauerkraut, I tend to add apples to red cabbage and caraway to green so that I can easily tell the two apart. While the apples add only a small amount of flavor, the caraway is quite noticeable and may not be preferred by everyone. If you go with apples and would like a little more flavor, consider mixing in a little boiled cider just before serving.
Begin by removing the skin and core of your apple, then chop into small pieces. If you have an apple corer/peeler tool, you'll save yourself some time and waste.
Next, remove the outer leaves of your cabbage, but save the best one for later use.
Cut your cabbage into quarters as shown above. With the red cabbage, it's easy to see the white core, which will be cut away before finely chopping the rest of the segment. You can certainly choose to fine chop the core so as to reduce waste, but I find it to be a little tougher and prefer to just compost it. Additionally, you may wind up with too much cabbage for the half gallon jar if you use them.
After you finish chopping the first segment, sprinkle with 1/8 of your salt. Using a rolling pin or your hands, crush and squeeze the cabbage to allow for a release of its juices before adding to the jar. To see this technique demonstrated, click the video below:
Add 1/8 of your chopped apples or caraway seeds to the jar after each layer of chopped, salted and crushed cabbage.
With 2-3 segments of cabbage remaining, your jar will appear quite full, but that just means its time to pack the jar. If you have your grandmother's old sauerkraut tamper/pounder handy, then you can just start shoving and crowding your cabbage deeper into the jar. For everyone else, I recommend using a half pint mason jar. It may not have the maneuverability of the wooden pounder, but it will certainly get the job done. As you pack the cabbage, you will notice that it releases a surprising amount of juice thanks to the crushing you did earlier. Keep packing the jar until the brine crests over the cabbage when compressed by your half pint jar. (This is also demonstrated in the video above).
Now you will have plenty of room to fit the remaining cabbage. Chop, salt, crush and pack the last two segments until the brine covers your cabbage. If you do not have enough brine, just keep tamping to release juices. Even older heads of cabbage will make enough brine, so just be patient. To prove this point, the cabbage used in my demonstration were intentionally left in the refrigerator for two weeks before using, with an unknown time from farm to store. Though fresher heads of cabbage will release juice more easily, sauerkraut is the perfect solution to that cabbage that has been languishing in your fridge.
Now you'll recall at the beginning that I suggested that we keep one of the outer leaves of your cabbage for later use? We are going to use it to make a sort of 'cabbage umbrella' that will keep all of your floaty bits submerged below the brine so as to avoid encouraging any yeast or molds from developing. Just trim your leaf down a bit and place it over top of your shredded cabbage. You can tuck any overhang down into the jar, or just leave it as a bowl shape, as this leaf will be discarded a the conclusion of fermentation.
Now place your weight on top of the leaf and you should see that brine covers the entire surface. If anything is still peaking up, just give it a little trim. If for some reason, despite an amazing amount of effort to pack your cabbage you still lack enough brine to cover the top, add some water (you will have sufficient salt throughout your jar, so don't worry about dilution).
Apply your airlock lid and smile, you just made traditional, old world sauerkraut!
A word of caution, however:
Fermentation creates gases that we release through use of our airlock, otherwise we risk that our sealed jar might shatter under the pressure. Within 24 hours of packing your jar, your sauerkraut should become very active and could very well force brine up through your airlock. While any ferment can do the same, saurkraut is compressed into the jar, creating much more pressure. Always place your jar in a cake pan or plastic bin to catch overflow. Should this happen to you, remove the lid, clean your air lock and return the lid to your jar. Any small bits of cabbage left in your airlock will mold quickly, so check daily. If possible, burp your jar a couple times over the first 48 hours so as to lessen the chance of brine loss. If you do lose an excessive amount of brine, follow the ratio in NY Deli Style Pickles and fill until all cabbage is again submerged.
Taste your sauerkraut after the first week to assess its progress. I tend to like younger kraut which is done in 1-2 weeks, but many will leave the ferment going in excess of 6 weeks. Once it is to your liking, replace your airlock lid with a solid one and store in the fridge. I have enjoyed mine up to 6 months later, but the jar never lasts longer than that.
So go out and grill some Brats, cook up some Spatzel and crack open a fine brew. It's now Oktoberfest, anytime!