Making sauerkraut – and tasting it – is an adventure. Making it is like going into the past and discovering a secret art that achieves results impossible with modern technology. Tasting it is like tasting wine – every batch is different, with its own particular complexities of flavor; and when it is good, it is very, very good.
Sauerkraut is not difficult, but it takes time and careful attention to detail, just like wine, beer, and yeast bread. For the past five years this recipe has succeeded for me, and I began at the very beginning with absolutely no experience in making sauerkraut except for a trip to Germany where a plate of steaming, delicious, buttery fried kraut was placed before me, and it left me wanting more.
A few key points to remember:
1. Use the correct ratio of salt to cabbage, and be sure it is mixed thoroughly (this is not difficult to do). The ratio is five pounds cabbage to 3 tablespoons pickling salt. Five pounds will make 3-4 quarts of sauerkraut.
2. Keep the kraut covered, check it every day and clean off any mold that forms.
3. Keep at room temperature. Between 60 – 80 is ideal, although I have made excellent kraut even when the temperature rises to 95 during some of the days it is fermenting.
Ingredients and special tools:
• One clean 3-gallon crock made of glass, plastic or stoneware. If you have more cabbage, use a larger crock.
• A large, very sharp knife or cabbage cutter
• A plate just large enough to fit inside the crock (Or plastic zip-lock bags filled with brine)
• A wood plank or glass plate big enough to lay over the top of the crock as a lid
• 17 to 20 pounds of white winter cabbage with dense heads, picked that morning if possible. You will need 15 pounds of shredded cabbage, and you need to start with more because you lose some in processing – you take out the core and the outer leaves, and any bad spots.
• 9 tablespoons of pickling salt
• Caraway seeds (optional)
• Canning jars and canning equipment
Shred, Mix & Press
Work with 5 pounds of cabbage at a time. Discard the tough outer leaves. Shred the cabbage very thin, about the thickness of a dime. I used to shred cabbage with a large meat cleaver, but this year I got an antique wooden kraut board, and my sauerkraut turned out really, really good. I like the super-thin shreds. You can also use an electric meat slicer. Put the five pounds of shredded cabbage in the crock and pour three tablespoons of pickling salt over it. Mix it with your hands, stirring and turning the cabbage for a minute or two, to be sure the salt is evenly distributed throughout. When thoroughly mixed, press the cabbage down firmly in the bottom of the crock to make a solid flat surface. I use a potato masher to tamp it down good and solid. This becomes the bed upon which you mix the next layer of cabbage; if you press it down firmly enough it will not pull up when you mix the next batch of cabbage on top of it. The other reason to press it down is to help release liquid from the cabbage; it will be very juicy by the time you have finished pressing it. Now, repeat this process two more times, each with five pounds of shredded cabbage and three tablespoons of pickling salt. Make sure to shred the cabbage very thin, mix the cabbage and salt thoroughly, and press down firmly with your hands or a potato masher to get as much liquid out of the cabbage as possible. By the time you are done with the third and last layer, there should be enough liquid that the cabbage is submerged.
Now it is time to set the cabbage aside to ferment. It must be submerged to prevent exposure the air. The best way to keep it submerged is to place some plastic zip-lock bags in the top of the crock, filled with brine (1 – 1/2 tablespoons pickling salt in 1 quart water) in case of a leak. I put three one-gallon bags filled with brine (each one double bagged). Another way to keep the kraut submerged is with a glass plate over the top of the cabbage, and a canning jar or two filled with water (and capped tightly in case they tip over), setting on the plate, which holds the plate below the surface of the brine. It is very helpful to put a wood board or large plate over the top of the crock to prevent air from entering; this cuts down tremendously on mold formation. If mold forms you will recognize it by its whitish spiderweb-cobweb look that grows and spreads over the whole surface. Unchecked, this mold will continue to grow and will destroy your kraut, so be sure to remove it the day you discover it, and wash the plate and weights.
Check for Fermentation
Your kraut will be ready in 2 – 4 weeks if curing at 70 – 75 degrees; in 5 – 6 weeks at 60 degrees. You may eat it at any time; green kraut is good too. When it is fully fermented, it tastes like sauerkraut and is a golden color with a rich, tart flavor. Add caraway seeds at this time or while canning, if you wish.
Pack the room-temperature kraut semi-firmly into sterilized canning jars and fill to 1/4” from the top with boiling brine. If you do not have enough brine, make some up by mixing 1 – 1/2 tablespoons pickling salt for every quart of water. Cap jars tightly with two-piece lids and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Store in a cool, dry place.
• Sauteed sauerkraut. Drain and squeeze sauerkraut until as dry as possible, then sautee in a little butter just until hot. This is sooooo good!
• Reuben sandwiches. On two slices of caraway rye bread, lightly spread mayonnaise and mustard, place thin slices of pastrami, Emmental cheese, and drained and squeezed kraut. Close the sandwiches, butter the outside and grill just like a grilled cheese sandwich. Serve with dill pickles.
• Spaetzle and sauerkraut. Mix fresh, hot spaetzle and sauteed sauerkraut, top with grated Emmental cheese and browned onions. To make spaetzle, bring a large pot of water to boil. Mix 1 cup of flour, one egg, and enough water (start with about 1/2 cup) to make a very soft dough; its texture should be somewhere between bread dough and pancake batter. Place a cheese grater over the boiling water (sharp edges down), take a handful of the dough and lay it on top of the grater. Push it through, sliding your hand back and forth until all the dough has been pushed through into the boiling water. Repeat until all the dough has been processed. As soon as the dough bits rise in the boiling water, they are cooked – this will take just a couple of minutes. Drain spaetzle and use as desired.
To can, you will need:
• Kerr canning jars – can be found at most grocery stores, or online here.
• Date dots. I used Katniss style.
• Lehmans.com – An interesting store that carries cabbage cutters and fermenting crocks and much more
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