I grew up in a small town in western North Dakota settled way-back-when mostly by German immigrants. Not surprisingly, sauerkraut has always been a part of my family’s meals. My grandmothers, aunts, and my mom have always made their own. I can’t tell you how many times in my childhood I had to trudge down the stairs to the cool basement to retreive another jar of kraut from the shelves packed with canned goods. It was always there– an endless supply. I loved sauerkraut as a kid, and still do. I’m that person who orders it on pizza any chance I get. My favorite way to eat it is simply really cold, in a bowl. I like my sauerkraut to have a lot of crunch to it.
I don’t exactly make my sauerkraut the same way the rest of my family does. My version tastes the same– I’ve nailed down the technique that gives that deliciously tangy and crunchy sauerkraut. But, I don’t can my batches. There are so many good, healthy things happening when you ferment food, that I just can’t bring myself to ruin those benefits by heating it up too much. Instead, I make small batches and let it ferment for a few weeks at room temperature, and then refrigerate. If you’re not familiar with fermentation and the health benefits, be sure to look into it.
I’ve made saurkraut in a traditional crock in th past, which though seemingly fun, didn’t give me the results I was looking for. I loved the idea of the crock sitting out and fermenting for all to smell and see, but there was no crunch when it was all said and done. I’ll find another use for that crock, though.
I’ve found that my sauerkraut turns out precisely how I want it when I pack it into mason jars and let it ferment on the counter for a couple of weeks. It becomes deliciously tangy and stays crisp and crunchy. Every few days in the beginning of the fermentation process, I’ll open the jar to release some of the gas. It doesn’t take long for the cabbage to take on that tell-tale sauerkraut scent. The first time or two that you do this, there will be quite a lot of bubbles and fizzing action. Exciting! After about 2-3 weeks of sitting out at room temperature, I test it out and when it’s the perfect tanginess– I put it in the refrigerator, ready to eat. Then I start another batch, and the process just rolls along. I always have fresh sauerkraut to use in my favorite dishes, such as this Rustic Potato, Sauerkraut, and Beef Galette. Or mix it into this beautiful Ham, Bean, and Sauerkraut Soup by Fresh Tart. I hope you give this a try. It’s ridiculously easy and the rewards are fantastic.
The Recipe: Easy Homemade Sauerkraut
(makes about 2 quarts)
5 pounds of fresh cabbage, cored and sliced into ribbons (not too thick, not too thin). Reserve a couple of the large outer leaves to use later.
3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt (nothing with chemicals, please)
2 sterilized mason jars with lids (preferably regular mouth jars– the “shoulders” on the sides will keep the cabbage pressed down and submerged in the liquid better)
I’ve found that if I slice my cabbage too thin, it doesn’t have the crunch that I’m looking for. Too thick, and it’s awkward to chew. Using a chef’s knife works the best for me. Slice it into not-too-thin, but not-too-thick ribbons (use your best judgement and refer to the photos).
Place the sliced cabbage in a huge bowl and sprinkle with salt. Use a masher, if you have one, to mix the salt and cabbage together. Bruising the cabbage a bit with the masher with soften the cabbage up and release some of the water from it. Inevitably, I turn to my hands and massage the cabbage and salt together. Let it sit for about an hour, or so. Keep massaging it a couple of times throughout that hour, or place a plate directly on top of the cabbage and something heavy on the plate to weigh it down. The pressure will release the water faster. There should be a pool of liquid that has formed. Pack it into the mason jars and push down– the liquid should come above the cabbage. Next, fold the extra cabbage leaf and place on top of the cabbage. This will push your cabbage down so it remains in the liquid to ferment. Put the cover on the jar and wait. After a day or two, open the jar and let the gas out. There will be a lot of bubbles and fizzing action. This is good! It’s beginning to ferment. Check it again every couple of days. Occasionally, mold may form on top of the cabbage. This is fine and normal. Just scoop it out and continue to ferment. I’ve found that mold occurs more often when using the crock method, as opposed to mason jars.
After about 2-3 weeks (depending upon how tangy you like your sauerkraut), remove the cabbage leaf and place the jar in the refrigerator to use. I’m not exactly sure how long it will last in the refrigerator, as we always use ours before it’s even a question. It should be fine for a few weeks, possibly a couple months. Enjoy!
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