Well, my classes have dragged on, tests are taken, studies come to a close, finished a trip to Kentucky, the Food Trucks are starting to wind down for the season, and the cold, bitter threats of “before ‘Winter’” are hanging on my mind… but my Sauerkraut has finished its pickling!!
Okay, so “pickling” isn’t really the proper term, as I came to learn when researching recipes for this fella. There are, of course, multiple “quick/easy” kraut recipes that involve actual pickling of the cabbage, but I just couldn’t help wanting to do the true, original method for this sour treat: Fermentation (… no, this has absolutely no tie in to my interest in alcohol… none at all…).
This is my favorite site on the method in question, the author going a bit detailed into the process of how to start and control the “Wild Fermentation” (basically making use of the natural yeasts hanging in the air as opposed to introducing a produced, created, controlled product found on a supermarket shelf). If you decide to try making them yourself, it’s a great link to go to for checking up on the little details.
Overall though, it’s a fairly simple process. We start with a tight, compact head of cabbage, white or red (the author likes to mix the two for a fun, pink-colored product) and slice or chop it up however you want. Can be thing strings, rough squares, shredded in a grater or torn apart with your hands… so long as it can be packed into a bowl later.
I always like keeping these things thin, so Mandoline it is! Once shredded, mix the veggies with salt: kosher or sea salt works great. Avoid table salt, and though many recipes CALL for special Pink Pickling/Curing salt, it’s not a stringent requirement. What’s important is how much you get in; the main ratio is ABOUT 3 Tablespoons of rough salt to 5lbs of Cabbage (2 heads, ish). Though lead no worries in trying to measure about specific weights and TBs, the author reveals that it’s not too set, and actually changes depending on the season. In summer he’ll add some more, and in winter a little less (most likely due to fermentation speeds with temperature changes).
From here come the additions! Any sort of herb, spice, aromatic, or veggie you want to customize your own Kraut mix! I kept things simple with a crushed clove of garlic and bay leaves, but one could shred some carrots or peppers, get in some coriander for the classic European flavors, or whatever else one thinks of.
And that’s it. That’s all the ingredients we need for this. Just need to pack it (tight and HARD) into a clean, sanitized high-sided bowl. The author suggests a ceramic crock, but also any safe plastic bowl should work fine as well.
Top the vegetables with a flat, firm covering, like a small plate or lid, and place a weight on top of that (I stuck with a bowl of water, though soup cans could work well too). The important thing is that one is sure ALL of this is clean and ideally sanitized; a little dip in screeching hot water a while beforehand should do the trick.
Cover this with a fine cloth towel, or cheesecloth; making sure to keep out insects or solid matter while allowing yeast particles in.
No matter what the season, one should start the first day in the warmest section of the house (not HOT), or even outside if the weather is nice enough. Keep this here for 24 hours, occasionally pushing down on the weight. By now, the salt has started to draw out the cabbage’s fluids, while also controlling the yeast’s fermentation once activated.
After the first day, the ”Brine” SHOULD be covering the veggies in a thin layer at least; it’s hard to imagine once you start with the dry, crunchy bundle, but it will happen. If it doesn’t, could be due to an old cabbage, add some salted water to cover. From here, move to wherever you want so it’s out of the way, should be a stable temperature. Cooler basement temperatures aren’t required, but would work well if one wanted a long, slow fermentation.
And now we wait. How long depends on kraut, temp, humidity, salt, and other such factors, but at least a week and up to 3 or more. All we have to do is check the stages of fermentation, maybe push the weight down now and then, and deal with “scum.” This is basically a combination of little particles that float up to the surface during the fermentation and possible light, yeasty molds that develop.
It can look like this depending. Don’t worry if you see it, it’s absolutely safe (despite some smells), you just need to check every couple days and skim it off the top with a slotted spoon or something. It’s only if you start to see the blue or fuzzy mold when there’s a problem…
But after enough time, it’s done and you’re ready to consume. If the moldy scum was pretty well present, I might suggest rinsing off the top layer of fermented cabbage before storing, otherwise we can eat directly from the bowl.
A little sour, surprisingly crisp from the salty protection, and aromatized with whatever veggies one chose, this offers a high contract compared to the soft and pungent product found in the green bags and cans. I myself wonder how off I really am from the original recipe’s ideal, but I like the outcome! It went great on this Wild Rice Sausage Brat Sandwich (with Mustard! and yes that’s a pretzel bun… we had leftover).
Before I finish, there’s one last step in the process for those looking to continue their Kraut-making sessions. After shredding and salting up your next batch of cabbage (I thought I’d see what happens if I used Napa/Chinese Cabbage, since I had nothing else to do with it), pour the already-fermented Kraut on top before pressing. This will hopefully help the new cabbage to begin a steady, controlled fermentation, while also melding the flavors somewhat. If continued for multiple years, the resulting continually-developed kraut should have a deep, complex subtle flavor to it.
So whether one decides to start their own batch of the European Fermentation (or continue it… apparently I’ve found out there are a lot more people who make this than I thought) or not, I hope this recollection and recipe link helped to inform and inspire your insight (wooh, three i-words) to this product. As for me, I’m starting to think about more Napa Cabbage… I’ve been getting an urge to try making Kimchi… (look for a 3rd part to the Pickle Saga sometime in the coming months)