Sandor Katz is the long-time proponent of everything fermented. I remember trying out his recipes twenty years ago when I was looking for new preserving challenges. It turns out that fermenting is not so challenging. Just a few points to keep in mind: keeping the vegetables under the brine, scooping out the old, or "bloom" as Katz calls it, tasting the ferment often to judge when to slow it down or refrigerate it. I've now made many a sauerkraut and kimchi and enjoy sharing with family and friends.
Ingredients (for 1 gallon):
- 5 lbs cabbage, outer leaves removed and cut into wedges, remove the core
- 3 tbsp sea salt
- 2 lbs carrots (I used yellow and orange carrots), peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
- 1 bunch green onions, trimmed
- Using the slicing blade of your food processor, thinly slice the vegetables. You can also chop or grate them by hand, thinly or a little thicker, if you prefer. Place cabbage, carrots and green onions in a large bowl as you chop it.
- Sprinkle salt on the vegetables as you go. The salt pulls water out of the cabbage (through osmosis), and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting. The salt also has the effect of keeping the cabbage crunchy, by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it. Three tablespoons of salt is a rough guideline for 5 pounds of cabbage. Katz says he never measures the salt; just shakes some on after chopping up each cabbage.
- You could add other vegetables such as onions, garlic, seaweed, greens, Brussels sprouts, small whole heads of cabbage, turnips, beets, and burdock roots. Or, you could choose to use only cabbage. You can also add fruits (apples, whole or sliced, are classic), and herbs and spices (caraway seeds, dill seeds, celery seeds, and juniper berries are classic, but anything you like will work). Experiment.
- Mix ingredients together and pack into a crock. Pack just a bit into the crock at a time and tamp it down hard using your fists or any sturdy kitchen implement. The tamping packs the kraut tight in the crock and helps force water out of the cabbage.
- Cover the kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the crock. Place a clean weight (a glass jug filled with water) on the cover. This weight is to force water out of the cabbage and then keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep dust and flies out.
- Press down on the weight to add pressure to the cabbage and help force water out of it. Continue doing this periodically (as often as you think of it, every few hours), until the brine rises above the cover. This can take up to about 24 hours, as the salt draws water out of the cabbage slowly. Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, simply contains less water. If the brine does not rise above the plate level by the next day, add enough salt water to bring the brine level above the plate. Add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
- Leave the crock to ferment. I generally store the crock in an unobtrusive corner of the kitchen where I won’t forget about it, but where it won’t be in anybody’s way. You could also store it in a cool basement if you want a slower fermentation that will preserve for longer.
- Check the kraut every day or two. The volume reduces as the fermentation proceeds. Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Many books refer to this mold as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. Skim what you can off of the surface; it will break up and you will probably not be able to remove all of it. Don’t worry about this. It’s just a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. The kraut itself is under the anaerobic protection of the brine. Rinse off the plate and the weight. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months and months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.
- Enjoy. I generally scoop out a bowl- or jarful at a time and keep it in the fridge. I start when the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavor over the course of a few weeks. Try the sauerkraut juice that will be left in the bowl after the kraut is eaten. Sauerkraut juice is a rare delicacy and unparalleled digestive tonic. Each time you scoop some kraut out of the crock, you have to repack it carefully.