I love all things pickled. I eat “pickles” (the cucumber kind) just about every day. I will snack on bowls of plain sauerkraut or kimchi. There is a “pickle section” in my refrigerator.
This year I took my love of pickled things to the next level and started my own fermenting projects. Sauerkraut was the first ferment I tried. It’s super easy. Most people don’t quite seem to believe me when I explain how easy it is. The proportions below are a general framework. They are based on the amount I usually make at one time. Scale up or down to suit your needs, just keep the ratio of cabbage to salt in the same ballpark.
- 2½ pounds cabbage (1 medium head)
- 1½ tablespoons noniodized salt
- 4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- Cut the cabbage in quarters and remove the core. Peel away a few outer leaves and set aside. Thinly slice the cabbage and place in a large bowl.
- Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage. Using your (clean) hands, mix the salt into the cabbage. While mixing, squeeze the cabbage. Continue mixing and squeezing 5-10 minutes. The cabbage will lose some volume, and a salty brine will form.
- Put one clove of garlic in the bottom of a quart-size wide-mouthed canning jar. Place some cabbage in the jar. Firmly pack the cabbage down. Continue layering the cabbage and packing down. Add one clove of garlic in the middle and another near the top.
- When the cabbage is near the top of the jar, give a final pressing. The pressing should release enough liquid to completely submerge the cabbage. If not, transfer some brine from the bowl. Take the set-aside leaves and tear them down to the size of the jar. Place on top of the cabbage, and press so that they are also submerged under the brine. Set something nonreactive and heavy over the leaves to hold them submerged. Keeping everything submerged is key to promoting the growth of good bacteria and preventing the growth of bad bacteria.
- Cover with a lid and label with the date. Repeat process in another jar until all the cabbage and garlic is used.
- Place in a cool spot away from sunlight. On the first and second days, remove the lid for a few seconds to let any gases to escape, then reseal. Let ferment at least one week. Taste for desired doneness. Continue fermenting until sauerkraut is to your liking.
(Makes approximately 6 cups sauerkraut)
I specified quart-size canning jars because that’s what I use, but any nonreactive container can be used. If my head of cabbage is a little smaller, it usually fits in one quart-size and one pint-size jar. I have some glass fermentation weights like these I use to weigh down the cabbage. Anything nonreactive and heavy that can fit in the jar will work. Before I got the weights, I used some decorative river rocks I had laying around. Just make sure whatever you use is clean. In the above photos I packed a bit too much cabbage into the jars. You want some space in the top because more brine will continue to form. I usually set my jars on plates to catch any overflow. When you go to let the gases out, check and make sure everything is still compressed and submerged.
Go crazy experimenting with flavors. I’ve done kraut with juniper berries. Kraut with sriracha. Kraut with apples and bay leaf. Do be careful to not add too much garlic. I did that one time and it was…potent. The same process also works with other vegetables. I’ve made shredded fermented carrots with dill and garlic. I’ve also done a mixture of shredded turnips, beets, and garlic similar to these pickled turnips but fermented instead of quick pickled.
Sometimes you will get some mold or scum on the top of your sauerkraut. That doesn’t mean the whole batch is ruined. Generally you just scrape off the top layer and everything underneath is still edible. Here’s a troubleshooting guide to fermenting to help you identify whether your kraut is still good. And here’s a guide about why mold happens.
I learned my fermenting knowledge from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. He has a very laid back, just-give-it-a-try approach to fermenting that makes it accessible. The book has many ferments I eagerly look forward to trying. Definitely pick up a copy if fermenting is a topic of interest to you.