Friday, 15 August 2014

How to 24: Make Sauerkraut

Red cabbage makes an attractive-looking sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is making a comeback here (or did it ever go away?) I had it at our friends' house a few weeks ago and my love for this salty, sour and crunchy condiment was well and truly rekindled. Not only does it liven up a plate of salad or a veggie burger/ dog but the fact that it's fermented means it's probiotic (ie: promotes "friendly" bacteria in the digestive tract). On returning home, I decided to try my hand at making sauerkraut, and I'm now on my third jar! 
The first two jars were hand-grated red cabbage, and the third was a more traditional-looking white cabbage shredded finely in a food processor. I went online to find out how to make it and was inundated with so many different methods and recipes, some saying it's easy to make, some saying it's complicated, that in the end I just decided to go with my instincts and take the plunge. And guess what? It's turned out great every time. Homemade sauerkraut is better than bought, as it is unpasteurised, so none of the nutrients in the cabbage have been lost and its probiotic properties also remain intact. All you need is cabbage, salt, a large glass jar and some patience (because it doesn't suddenly turn into sauerkraut overnight) and you have your own delicious source of probiotic health benefits. Here's how I've been making mine:

  • Each time, I used one whole red or white cabbage. If grating/ shredding by hand, this takes up two large jars (I used the kind you get pitted green olives in from Lidl), but when I made the batch with the food processor it packed into just one jar.
  • Shred the cabbage as finely as possible. 
  • At this point, add the salt. I used about 6 tsps of salt to one cabbage the first time, which tasted quite salty, so I used less the next time; roughly half the original amount, I think. The thing to remember with salt is that the more you use, the less likely it is that your cabbage will turn mouldy- but also the less likely it is that the stuff will actually ferment. So play it by ear with the salt. 
  • Place in a bowl and weigh it down; a plate with a brick on top did the trick for me). Leave for a couple of hours.After a couple of hours, the cabbage will have water round it, that the weight has squeezed out of it. Now it's ready to start fermenting
  • Put the cabbage, salt and watery juice in a large jar(s), put something on top of the cabbage to keep it submerged and seal tight. I found the most practical way to keep it submerged was by partly filling a small plastic freezer bag with a little water and placing it on top of the cabbage so that it spread to cover the entire surface of the liquid. I've read an awful lot of fussy stuff about what kind of seal to use, but I just screwed the ordinary lid on and it was okay. The bacteria you want in your sauerkraut like anaerobic conditions, so sealing it up is important. However: there will be gas given off during fermentation, so it's a good idea to open the jar to let it escape. I ended up keeping it sealed half the time and open the other half. When it was open, I left the water-filled bag in place but replaced the lid with some muslin secured over the top of the jar with an elastic band, like this:


  • Make sure you leave your sauerkraut somewhere quite warm. I chose a warm place in the kitchen, and I'm sure the recent hot weather will also have sped things up. After a day or two I found that some of the water had risen up and spilled out of the jar- a sure sign that fermentation is happening. Look at your sauerkraut carefully, to see if it is going mouldy. Once you have checked it, try some. It should not taste cabbage-y any more, and as it ferments the saltiness should diminish and a sour taste should develop. I left mine for just under a week before I put it in the fridge to slow the souring down, but I think it depends on how warm the conditions, your personal taste and how salty the cabbage as to exactly how long before it's ready. (I have even read that 2-4 weeks is an ideal fermentation time, but then the risk of it turning mouldy is greater.)
  • Personally, I think it's safer to throw out any batch which has mould on top, although I know some people say just skim the mould off. Here's some information I found about it: mistakes- are they safe? http://www.foodrenegade.com/3-biggest-fermenting-mistakes-youre-already-making/ 
Hope you found these instructions clear. If you make your own sauerkraut any have any tips on the best way of doing it, do let us know!

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