Monday, 24 August 2009

Experimenting with Sauerkraut

Okay, this is more of a report than a recipe. I have never made sauerkraut before, although it's been on my to-try list for a number of years. Now that I have a nice cool storage room, which right now is the right temperature for fermenting, there seemed to be no reason not to give it a go. Plus, I found a perfectly enormous, beautiful cabbage at the market for $2.50, and there didn't seem to be a lot to lose. To my complete astonishment, that sucker provided 52 cups of hand-packed cabbage once shredded. That's a lot of kraut (or foul slime if it doesn't work). I sure hope this works.

In theory, sauerkraut is very simple stuff. Cabbage is packed into a salty anaerobic environment where certain bacteria endemic to brassicas can ferment and produce lactic acid, which preserves the cabbage including the vitamin C, and is beneficial to the human gut. That same salty anaerobic environment also keeps out harmful bacteria - if you do it right. It's more or less the same process as making dill pickles, but my general impression is that it is a bit trickier. It's important to keep the top layer of cabbage under the brine, and it's going to want to float. Much ingenuity is employed to find ways to do this, which is why sauerkraut is almost always made in a crock. However, I don't have a crock, or want a crock, so I decided to try making mine in glass canning jars.

Shredded Cabbage to Make SauerkrautThere it is; 52 cups of hand shredded cabbage. I should have used the food processor I suppose, but I didn't think I would like the texture as much. I just chipped away at it off and on throughout the day. Next to it is my jar of pickling salt. Be sure to use either pickling salt, kosher salt, or sea salt. Don't use regular, iodized salt, which also has anti-caking agents in it. These may affect the fermentation process in undesirable ways.

At this point, I'm going to refer you to some of the sites I read before making my sauerkraut, which have lots of good information. There's a ton more info out there about making sauerkraut - it turns out there's sort of a secret cult of sauerkraut makers. Fortunately for those of us who are new to it, it's an evangelical secret cult of sauerkraut makers; i.e. the only reason it's a secret cult is because 99% of the population never thinks about sauerkraut one way or another. The other 1% is plainly obsessed and happy to tell you all about it.

I have to say I was astonished at how much cabbage I could get into one wide-mouthed litre jar. I figure I got about 12 cup of hand-packed cabbage into a jar. By hand-packed, I mean I put the shredded cabbage into a large measuring cup, and pressed it in firmly but without any real pressure.

Cabbage Packed into Jars to Make Sauerkraut
Okay, let's make this stuff:
about 12 cups finely shredded cabbage per litre jar
2 1/2 teaspoons non-iodized salt
1 cup filtered water
small amount of spices as desired (optional)
- caraway seed, juniper berries, dill seed, chile peppers, mustard seed are typical

Shred the cabbage finely, ideally using a mandoline, but a good sharp knife and some patience will do the job. It can also be shredded in batches in a food processor, but you are likely to end up with rather small cole-slaw-y pieces.

Measure the cabbage, and put it into a large non-reactive bowl (or bowls, if your bowls are not as big as your cabbage.) Put the number of wide-mouthed litre jars that you think you are going to need into a canner, cover with water, and sterilize for 10 minutes.

Massage, with clean hands, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt into each 12 cups of cabbage. I added 8 cups of cabbage to my bowl at a time, and as I worked I also tamped it down using the granite pestle from my mortar and pestle. A wooden tamper is what is ideal; again, I don't have one and this seemed to work fine. You want to bruise it fairly thoroughly; it should start to look a bit juicy. Add the spices, if you want some spices in your sauerkraut. I added 3 tablespoons of Korean red chile to what I expected to be the last jar of cabbage, in the hopes of achieving a sort of mock-kimchi effect.

Once this has been done to all the cabbage, and the jars are ready, set them out and start to pack in the cabbage. I added it through the canning funnel to keep things neat, then removed the funnel and packed the cabbage firmly into the jar using the granite pestle again, a couple of handsful at a time. As noted, you will get a perfectly amazing quantity of cabbage in there.

Leave an inch and a half of headroom at the top of each jar. I left about an inch, and I don't think it was really enough. The cabbage will expand a bit while it ferments, they say, and boy howdy.

Finally, sterilize some lids and rings for the jars. They can be re-used lids, but should be in good condition.

While that's happening, make a brine of 1 cup of water and the remaining teaspoon of salt. It can be heated to dissolve the salt, but don't make it too hot. Pour this into the jar of cabbage, until the cabbage is covered by a 1/2" or so. You may not use quite all of it. Use a chop-stick to poke and move the cabbage a bit, so as to release any air-bubbles trapped in it.

Seal the jars with the prepared lid, but don't put them on too tightly. They should just be making good contact with the jar. Set the jars on newspaper in a cool spot (between 18°C and 22°C, or 65°F and 72°F.) The fermenting process will take 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the temperature. A cooler temperature will take longer, but there will also be less chance of spoilage.

While this is happening, you should check your kraut-to-be every day. As I said, the sauerkraut will expand as it ferments. This will cause the jars to overflow, which is why it should be sitting on newspaper. Change the paper once in a while, and open a jar or two to check the kraut. Make more brine in the 1 teaspoon to 1 cup water proportions and top it up if necessary. If any of the lids look bulgy, loosen them slowly and gently to allow the pressure of the built up gasses and liquid to escape. Warning: your room will smell like fermenting sauerkraut. Not an unpleasant odour if you like the stuff, but pungent.

Once the kraut is "sauer", you can keep it in the fridge until eaten. It can also be canned for longer storage. Put the jars, with new lids, into a water bath and bring up to a boil. Once it boils, boil for 50 minutes. Remove, cool, check seals etc. Or so I'm told. I haven't gotten to this stage yet, and likely won't - I'm planning to just keep mine in the fridge, as that will preserve all the trendy probiotics in it. Will report back in a few weeks... wish me luck!

Last year at this time I made Hazelnut Torte, White Chocolate Frosting, and Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting. Oh, and Apricot Mousse. Yeah, birthday cake.

1 comment:

Melynda said...

Love sauerkraut, this was very helpful. Thanks, I will check back.