It is time to get the gears rolling again, so I suppose now would be a good time to discuss some of the non-brewing stuff I have been up to lately. Notably, I have gotten really excited about some of the other forms of fermentation, especially food-related. Pickling seems to be the current hot thing–all the cool kid restaurants around me offer artisanal pickle spreads–and I have always been found of sauerkraut, so I thought it would be fun to try it out myself. Having just kicked off my first batch I am just getting started, but I thought I would share what I have learned so far.
Without going too far down the rabbit hole of adding spices and exotic vegetables, making sauerkraut (and most pickled things) is pretty simple: all you need is cabbage and salt (and a container, I guess) and nature does the rest. Like I mentioned in a few of my quick sour posts, the microscopic bacteria Lactobacillus lives on pretty much every inhabitable surface–vegetables especially–and will quickly move in to start fermenting the cabbage, lowering the pH and pairing with the salty cabbage-brine to preserve the cabbage from spoilage. Many spoilage organisms can tolerate neither low pH nor high salt environments, so we get the double benefit being an optimal environment for long-storage and a delicious pre-seasoned food. 👌
Here is what you need to get started:
- A half-gallon wide-mouth Ball Jar
- A fancy lid/airlock like the Homesteader’s Supply Pickle-Pro or you can probably get away with leaving the default lid lightly loosened.
- Two fresh cabbages (about ~3 lb)
- 1 tablespoon of salt (1.5 tablespoons of kosher salt)
Edit: /u/berbiizer suggests “for 1000 grams of cabbage you want 20-30 grams of salt.”
- Clean/rinse everything, but make sure you do not use anything antibacterial. Just rinse the cabbage off with cold water, you do not want to strip it of the bacteria that is living on it.
- Core and quarter the cabbage, then slice it into thin strips.
- Transfer the cabbage strips to a big bowl and sprinkle the salt on top. Firmly massage/mix the cabbage and salt until it starts to wilt and get watery. I should take ~5-10 minutes of massaging and you will see water begin to pool at the bottom of the bowl.
- Pack the salty cabbage into your ball jar, tamping it down with a big spoon; there should be a few inches left at the top of the jar. Be sure to add any liquid left in massage bowl.
- Weigh the cabbage down with a weight of your choice. My wife got me these fancy fermentation weights, but you can use a smaller jelly jar or even a plastic bag full of water. The key is to keep the cabbage submerged under the liquid, cut a sandwich bag in half and placed that on top of the cabbage before placing my weight.
- Wait a few days. Sauerkraut generally finishes with 3 – 10 days, but you can keep it going as long as you can stand. Room temp is fine, cooler is better, just make sure it does not get too hot or the cabbage will get mushy. Smoosh down any cabbage if it starts to float above the surface. When you think the flavor is where you want it you can stick it in the fridge and it should keep for many months.
The biggest deal seems to be ensuring the cabbage stays submerged. Why? The spoilage organisms that can get to it (mold, namely) require oxygen to grow and any cabbage sticking out above the liquid can eventually start growing it. Keep everything submerged and you should be a-ok!
I am currently working my way through Fermented Vegetables by Christopher and Kirsten Shockey and I can recommend it for anyone that is also interested in dipping their toes into pickling/fermenting vegetables. There is a good mix of practical techniques and myriad recipes for just about every vegetable you could come up with. I look forward to working my way through some recipes and letting you know how it goes.
Jason Click says
I’ve tried making sauerkraut a few times. it never turns out crispy like store bought stuff. Any tips? I typically ferment at room temp.
Derek Springer says
How warm is your room temp? My understanding is that cooler ferments will produce crispier kraut. Also, I think thicker slices will help in this regard.
Jason Click says
probably 75 or so. I’m brewing Sunday so I might put some sauerkraut together and put in the ferm chamber with the beer… or maybe not. While I was typing i was thinking about about a lacto cross contamination. Regardless I’ll try it again with a lower temp to see if that makes a difference.
Works best at 65-75 degrees, I let mine sit uncapped for 8 weeks before tasting it,then if it taste ok to me cap it put in fridge until you want to use it simple to make
My suggestion, would be around 20g of salt per kg.
Keep it in room temp for 4-5 days, should be enough. Just taste it, should be a little sauer. And it’s ready to eat. If you want to keep it, move it to refigirator.
When you buy cabbage, choose the white one, not green.
If you want experiment, add carrot (1 per cabbage), it will add nice colour, and carum (1 teaspoon)
Lacto isn’t very active at refrigerator temps, my girlfriend was very disappointed with the pickles she tried to make in the fridge.
Most home-brew shops and hardware stores sell rubber grommets for 1/2″ holes that let you shove an airlock into any lid you can drill a hole in.
How different from plain green cabbage is the red cabbage? Does this have an effect on the taste of the sauerkraut when it comes to the end product? This recipe is great, and I appreciate you outlining all the necessary equipment that is needed too! A lot of recipes don’t talk very deeply about the equipment and just sort of assume you know what you need!
Rob Miller says
I have to add water to cover the cabbage. I can’t see any other alternative besides putting it throu my juice extractor and adding the roughage after! I have bashed away at the poor old red/purple cabbage for ages. This is my first proper attempt at making Saurkraut,previous attempt were basically marinating it in Vinegar. Wish me luck! Cheers Rob Miller from Christchurch NZ