Friday, March 11, 2016

Homemade Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut - just the mention of it will make children quiver in fear, at least that's what my sister and I did when it started stinking up the house when Mamaw and Susan put on a big pot of it. I mean we would run to my room, only because it was bigger and probably cooler (just sayin'), and stuff towels and dirty clothes under the door to seal off the room. My how times have changed.

Turns out sauerkraut is packed full of, not just tangy goodness, but also tons of helpful probiotics. Now I've enjoyed kraut on reuben sandwiches for years but you can put Thousand Island dressing on old sneakers and I'll wolf them down so that isn't giving kraut a fair shake. However, once I heard about the aforementioned host of probiotics I thought I'd give the old sour cabbage another shot - a shot on a brat - a shot all by itself.

Here's the great thing about homemade sauerkraut - it is SUPER simple! I can't think of many other things that have fewer ingredients than traditional sauerkraut. "How many?" you say. I'm glad you asked. Two. That's right, two ingredients. Cabbage and salt. That's really it. Now, you can add any number of other things to your kraut but the bare minimum is salt and cabbage. So let me put this recipe in a mathematical equation...

Shredded cabbage + a little bit of salt + time = delicious, tangy, crispy, healthy sauerkraut.

When I first embarked on the journey of homebrewed (remember it's fermented)  sauerkraut I was letting it do it's thing in an old salsa jar. You may laugh but that actually produced some really good kraut and it's not a huge batch. Honestly, half of a small head of cabbage could be packed into a quart sized salsa jar. It required brutalizing the cabbage after letting it sit for about 30 minutes with the salt and squeezing all the juice out but it fit. In fact, here is a link to the original source of my kraut adventures.

The salsa jar worked for a time but come Christmas of 2015 something far better was under the tree with my name on it - my very own stone crock. Now, I was ready to make some real sauerkraut. So here's my tried and true method.

Ingredients

- 1 to 1.5 heads of cabbage
- 3 TBL of salt (I prefer kosher or sea salt)

Step 1: Shred cabbage
We are blessed to have a shredding attachment for our stand mixer that makes this easy and fast. You do it however works the best just shred the bugger.

Step 2: Fill crock
I like to add about 1/3 of the cabbage followed by 1 TBL of salt and repeat 2 times.

Step 3: Press cabbage
I'm not sure if this is strictly necessary but I do it. When the cabbage is all in the crock I press it down with my fist so that the juices begin to seep out. I like a shallow layer of juice already on top when I go to step 4.

Step 4: Cap it off and cover it
For my purposes I use a small plate from our cupboard that fits perfectly inside the crock. So I place that right side up on the cabbage and put a quart jar full of water on top of it to hold it down. Then I lay a clean dish towel over everything.

Step 5: Wait
Here you have the hardest part of making homemade kraut. I set mine in the basement and let it make itself wonderful for at least 10 days. To me that is just about the absolute minimum time to let nature take it's course with the kraut. Evidently there is some science about this that I don't fully understand and I have left kraut for 4 weeks when I was using the salsa jar method. It was good too.

Step 6: Enjoy
After the prescribed time I take the crock, empty the contents into quart jars and place them in the fridge. Of course you'll want to sample some before it all gets put away. Once in the fridge the fermentation process will cease.

Warnings!
1. You will never want that nasty store bought kraut again. It just isn't the same and should have an entirely different name.
2. I cannot recommend freezing sauerkraut. I tried this with one batch and it just wasn't good when thawed. It was watery and just...just not good chow.
3. You may experience some fuzzy growth on your kraut during the fermentation process, this is not abnormal but go ahead and skim it off.

That's really about it. Whether you think you like sauerkraut or not you should give this a try. It is easy, cheap, healthy and downright delicious. It is also a valuable skill and another way to preserve an abundant harvest. So, I hope you'll give it a shot. Let me know what you think.

Christian

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