Make Your Own Gourmet, Artisan Sauerkraut

October 19, 2012 3:00 am

Sean Timberlake founded Punk Domestics in 2010 with the goal of curating and evangelizing the DIY food movement. He has penned the blog Hedonia since 2006. He is also leading a week-long culinary trip to Italy in January 2013, and there are still spots available. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, dpaul brown, and their hyperactive terrier, Reese. You can also find him on Twitter (@PunkDomestics@Hedonia) and Facebook.

Make Your Own Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is having a renaissance these days, and indie krautmongers are cropping up at farmers markets from Brooklyn to San Francisco. More and more of us are gaining an appreciation for the piquant tang that comes from lactofermented cabbage, and as for the dose of gut-friendly probiotics that comes with it, well, that’s just a bonus prize.

But the price tag on fancy farmers market kraut can also deliver a gut-punching dent in the wallet if you develop a habit of the stuff. Luckily, making your own kraut is easy, inexpensive and uses ingredients and equipment you can easily source, if not already on hand. The biggest commitment is time, and almost all of that is inactive.

To make a perfectly delicious batch of your own gourmet, artisan kraut, all you need is a big bowl, a quart-size mason jar, cabbage, sea salt, and patience. But there are a few ways you can kick it up a little.

Cabbage is the traditional base for kraut, but don’t feel like you have to stop there. Feel free to include any other crunchy vegetables you like: Carrots, radishes, turnips, what have you. Right now I’ve got a batch of green cabbage with fennel bulb, and it’s quite lovely indeed: Pale and crisp, with the subtle note of fennel backing up the lactic acid tang. But when a small red cabbage appeared in a CSA box, I knew what its fate would be as well.

For this deep garnet kraut, I used:

1 small red cabbage, about 1 pound
3 large carrots, again about 1 pound
Slightly more than 1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon each yellow mustard seed and fennel seed

Kraut ingredients

First, quarter and core your cabbage, and slice crosswise as thinly as you possibly can. Feel free to use a mandoline or food processor with slicing attachment for this if you like.

Kraut Shredding

Grate your carrots, or whatever crispy veg you prefer. Again, the food pro can make short work of this, but I went old school with the box grater.

Kraut Grating

Combine the cabbage and carrots in a large bowl with the salt and spices. Feel free to get creative with the spicing here. Mustard seed is a classic, as is caraway. I happen to like fennel seed. If you went with 1-1/2 pounds of cabbage to ½ pound of carrots and some sliced jalapeños, you’d be making the Salvadoran curtido, which is also very nice. You can have fun with the flavorings, but just don’t waver too much on the proportions of vegetables to salt: A little over 1 tablespoon of sea salt for every two pounds of veg is just about right, and I’ll explain why in a bit.

Kraut Seasoning

Toss all the ingredients in the bowl, using your hands not just to mix, but to gently crush the shredded vegetables. Do this until they start to release liquid, about five minutes.

Kraut Crushing

Pack the mixture into a meticulously clean quart-size mason jar. A canning funnel makes this a little easier, but is not strictly necessary. As you approach the top of the jar, use your hand or a wooden spoon to really compact down the mixture; juices will exude and rise.

Kraut Packing

You should have just enough to completely fill a quart jar, very tightly packed. Press down hard and allow as much liquid to rise as possible.

Kraut Press

Add a small weight on top to ensure the kraut stays submerged in its juices. I use a smaller mason jar filled with water.

Kraut Weight

Loosely cover the jar with a clean towel or cheesecloth. Check it every day to make sure the kraut stays submerged; if it does not, press down to release more juices, and if necessary add a little water. One day in, you should see bubbles forming; by two days you may see foam, scum or even some mold. This is normal. Simply skim away any offending bits, and carry on.

Kraut Foam

This is the period where the magic happens. Fermenting foods for human consumption is all about tipping the balance of power in an always-ongoing battle between countless varieties of microbes that live among us, always, everywhere. If you simply left some shredded cabbage and carrots out, at best they would shrivel and dry, and at worst they would allow the development of harmful bacteria. But by raising the salinity of the mixture and keeping the solids submerged, you are giving our friend lactobacillus the upper hand. Lactobacillus in turn consumes sugars in the cabbage, a byproduct of which is that it produces lactic acid, and that newly more acidic environment is very, very unfriendly for a whole host of bad bugs.

Moreover, probiotic foods rich in lactobacillus are increasingly shown to have tremendous health benefits. Aside from being one of the more prominent players in our gut flora that simply aid in digestion, probiotic foods can help stave off everything from lactose intolerance to high cholesterol and even colon cancer.

Three days into the fermentation process, have a taste. It should be lightly sour, fragrant without being really stinky. At this point you get to make the judgment call on how far you want to take the ferment. With each passing day, the kraut will get more sour and pungent; it will also begin to break down the cell structure of the vegetables, and therefore make it softer. Personally, I tend to stop the process around day five, when it reaches a pleasant sourness, has not too much funk, and is still nice and crisp. But hey, don’t let me cramp your kraut style. Get your funk on.

Sealed and stored in the refrigerator, your gourmet, artisan kraut will last a couple of weeks. Refrigeration slows the fermentation process, but it doesn’t completely stop it, so be prepared for the flavor to continue to evolve.

How to enjoy your kraut? I have a scoop with breakfast, a little good morning gift for my gut. And I reach for it any time I want to add crunch and zing to things like tuna salad, beans or sandwiches. But really, more often than not, I simply enjoy a nice scoop of it as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

October Unprocessed2012

This guest post was part of the October Unprocessed 2012 Challenge, in which more than 6,000 people pledged to eat no processed food for the month. Learn More.

29 Comments on "Make Your Own Gourmet, Artisan Sauerkraut"
  1. .
    February 7, 2013 at 8:58 am

    [...] Cabbage (sauerkraut), beets, turnips, cucumbers, green tomatoes, lettuces and herbs, corn, watermelon rind, and even fruit (chutney) can all be lacto-fermented – or mix them all together with garlic and chile paste to make kimchi! A simple recipe is here. [...]

  2. Comment left on:
    February 21, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Just started the process last night – excited to see how it turns out! Science. how cool!

  3. .
    February 25, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    [...] But, I finally got up the courage to try again. I bought a big head of green cabbage, and started the experiment tonight. The instructions I am following came from this blog: [...]

  4. .
    April 27, 2013 at 6:35 am

    [...] The most time-consuming part of the process was finding glass canning jars to use (I was forced to turn to Wal-Mart after failure everywhere else). I then thinly sliced the red cabbage, carrots, jalapeño peppers, and spices whose flavors would soon meld and ferment magically. Magically, because there were no other ingredients besides salt. No vinegar, no preservatives, no starter culture, no boiling, nothing. I simply kneaded the mixture with my hands (a good workout!) until there was enough juice volume to cover the vegetables. Then I transferred the mixture to a sterilized jar, covered with a towel, and waited for 5 days. You can find my recipe here: [...]

    • Comment left on:
      July 19, 2013 at 9:57 am
      Fermenting glass says:

      Found Anchor Hocking glass cookie like jars with lids at Target for a great price.
      1/2 gal ~ $5.80
      1 gal ~ $7.80
      2 gal ~ $14.

      Used the 1 gal to make kombucha before getting another glass to do continuous kombucha method.

  5. Comment left on:
    August 21, 2013 at 11:13 am
    Brian says:

    Just shredded my second batch of kraut of the summer. The first batch processed quickly, aided by warm temps and was much sought after. I’m excited to taste this batch.
    My next adventure will undoubtedly be kavas, fermented beets … I’ll keep you posted.

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