Today was the day, I set aside my baking bowls, spatulas, and muffin tins and opened my arms to the millions of microbes floating around my kitchen. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my very first raw sauerkraut.
This adventure actually began a few weeks ago when a package arrived at my doorstep containing the book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz (i.e. my personal hero). Now here is a man who makes his living by fermenting anything he can get his hands on: veggies, honey, milk, dough, goat meat...Come on, are you not just a little jealous?
My mother had sent me a copy of his book, and, upon receiving it, I had promptly sat myself down and read it cover to cover. I swear, the book reads almost like a novel (as least as far as cooking books go). As I turned each page, I kept hearing myself think, "my gosh, what will those microbes do next?!" By the time I had reached the final riveting recipe, I considered myself to be a true expert on the art and science of fermented foods. The only problem, of course, was that I had never fermented anything before in my life. "Alright folks," I proclaimed to the helpful microbes serenely bobbing through my kitchen. "It's time to make my very first sauerkraut."
Sauerkraut usually takes 1-4 weeks to finish, depending on how sour you like your kraut to be. Below I've included my (somewhat haphazard) interpretation of the basic steps given in Mr. Katz's book.
(makes roughly 1 gallon)
Ingredients and Equipment:
5 pounds of cabbage (green or red - but red's my personal favorite)
3 tablespoons sea salt
1 ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket
1 plate that fits inside the crock or bucket
1 weight such as a jar filled with water or a cleaned rock
1 cloth cover such as a towel
Chop or grate cabbage and place in a large bowl.
Sprinkle salt on the chopped cabbage as you go.
Add other vegetables, herbs, or spices. I decided to be a purest on my first attempt, so I went with bare cabbage.
Mix everything together and then pack it bit by bit into your crock or bucket. I had a lot of fun with this step by using my fists, jars, a mallet, and anything else that seemed sturdy enough to tamp the cabbage down. The overall idea here is to squeeze as much water out of the cabbage as possible, with the help of the salt, of course.
Cover the shredded cabbage with the plate or another object that fits fairly snugly into the opening of the crock or bucket.
Push down on the weight every time you pass by your crock or bucket (or just whenever the tasty kraut happens to be on your mind). Within 4 to 24 hours the brine (the water and salt mixture that has been drawn out of the cabbage) should cover all kraut. Cover the bucket with the towel so that no mischievous bugs get any ideas about settling down and raising a family in your fermenting culinary delight.
Leave the sauerkraut alone in a corner of your kitchen to ferment, but check on it every day or two. If a mold appears on the surface of the liquid, just skim it off and don't worry. Your sauerkraut is carefully protected beneath the brine. Start tasting it after about a week, and when it reaches the right degree of tang for your tastebuds, scoop it out and enjoy!
You can store the sauerkraut in a jar in your refrigerator after it's done fermenting.
Stay tuned for the finale of this microbial adventure in a few weeks time.