The beauty of sauerkraut is there is no wrong way to make it. Green cabbage or red, classic or creative, this traditional ferment is a cinch to put together and packed with nutrients. The hardest part is waiting for it to be ready.
You may have noticed that fermented foods have seen an uptick in popularity recently. Restaurant menus feature house pickled beets, or offer artisanal sausage with homemade kraut. Drinks like kombucha, hard cider, and mead – not to mention beer – are no longer obscure specialty items, but can be found in cafes and bars across the country.
Sandor Katz has been largely responsible for this revival of fermentation in the food scene. His recent book, The Art of Fermentation, won a James Beard Award and earned him international recognition as the expert in this ancient technique. In his book he explains the global prevalence of fermentation as a method for improving the nutritional quality and storability of a wide variety of foods. Cultures everywhere have long histories with this funky-fresh technique.
Fermented foods have become popular with nutrition-conscious eaters as well. By consuming live fermented foods we diversify the microbes in our bodies, making our guts healthier and our immune systems stronger. Think of how many people you know currently taking probiotics for one reason or another. Personally, I prefer the enjoyment of eating my microbes over swallowing them in a pill. Don’t you?
Sauerkraut is a great way to try your hand at fermentation. It is virtually impossible to mess up, and allows for total creativity. Once you get comfortable with it you can try mixing just about anything into a batch.
I would recommend starting with the classic German-style green cabbage kraut because it is simple and you’ll know what to expect when it comes time to take the first bite. This affirming familiarity will help you feel secure that you did it right.
The process is very simple, and does not require exact measurements. To help you get started, though, here is how I usually make it. After you’ve tried my method, throw caution to the wind and start experimenting. Is it better with more salt? Would apple be good mixed in? How about caraway? At the moment I have a batch brewing with green cabbage, granny smith apple, and fresh thyme. I’m not sure how it will turn out, but it’s hard to imagine that combo being bad. Remember, there are no rules. It’s edible playtime. Get creative. Ferment.
Makes 3/4 quart
I use a 1-quart wide mouth mason jar for the fermentation stage. This produces a manageable amount of kraut, which I recommend for beginners.
1/2 Green Cabbage, washed
1/8 cup non-iodized sea salt
- Peel off the outer cabbage leaf and set aside.
- Slice the remaining cabbage head into thin strips, approximately 1/8 inch wide.
- Put the cabbage strips into a large mixing bowl, and sprinkle with the salt.
- With clean hands, massage the mixture until it starts to break down, and brine begins to form, about 5 minutes.
- Stuff the cabbage into your mason jar, using your fist to pack it down. Push hard, so the brine rises up above the cabbage level. As long as all of the cabbage stays below the brine, it will not mold. It should have risen well above the cabbage by the second day of fermentation, if not sooner.
- Trim down that outer leaf to a circle about the width of the jar, and tuck it over the top of the cabbage, below the brine. This will help keep small pieces from floating up to the surface.
- Place a weight on top of the cabbage to hold it down below the brine. I usually use a tall, narrow jar filled with rocks. It doesn’t matter what you use, as long as it’s heavy.
- Place on a shelf away from sunlight and high heat, and forget about it for 4 days.
- On the fourth day take a bite. If you like the taste and crunchiness pull out the weights, put on the lid and store it in your fridge. If you’d like it to keep fermenting, put it back on the shelf until it tastes the way you want it to! Keep in mind, the longer you leave it the more pungent it will smell.
Remember: 1) keep the cabbage below the brine, and 2) make sure gas can escape. You never want to put a lid on the kraut until it is done and ready to go in the fridge.