It also turns out it's ridiculously simple to make. You'd think I'd already know that. My grandfather was stationed in Germany back in the day… my dad even lived there for a while. I was introduced to sauerkraut when I was a kid. I have this vague memory of my grandmother thinking it was hilarious I thought you could only get sauerkraut in a jar at the store. Guess I should have asked her how to make it.
It starts the same way any pickled or fermented recipe starts: by sterilizing the jars. The way I do it, there are two different sizes of jars to sterilize — the sauerkraut jar itself and the smaller jar used to weigh down the contents of the larger jar. Before beginning, make sure the smaller jar fits into the larger jar, but both should be sterilized.
Then you can start making your sauerkraut.
When your jars are sterilized, pull all the wilty outer leaves off the cabbage, and cut the cabbage in half.
Then use your knife to cut the core out of the halves by making triangular cuts around the stem.
To make it easier to shred the cabbage, I like to cut the halves in half after that. This should keep them manageable when you're cutting them, which is important since you need uniform shreds.
Use a mandoline to create uniform shreds. A food processor does shred, but it also generates a lot of varying sizes, which means the cabbage will ferment at different rates. That could result in uneven flavor throughout your sauerkraut. But a food processor's shredding attachment is better than hand slicing.
You can use many different types of salt, but not table salt. Pickling salt and sea salt are best, but kosher salt works too. Kosher salt is what most people will have on hand, but know that it may take longer to ferment with kosher salt. The wait is worth it, so if that's what you have, don't buy something you won't otherwise use.
Part of the point of this step is to pull the water out of the cabbage, but it also adds flavor. When you add the salt, be prepared — the cabbage starts to emit water really quickly. That's a good thing, but don't be surprised by how fast it happens.
You don't need additional spices, though I do like caraway seeds. Dill seeds are also good. If you want to add those, now is the time. It's plenty wet from the water seeping from the cabbage, and it will mix thoroughly.
To ferment, you have to keep what's being fermented from exposure to air. That's why they used to bury fermenting goods. Pack the cabbage mix down really well into a couple of quart-size Mason jars. Get it good and packed, and don't fill it too full. You'll need to leave room for the weight.
I sterilized a smaller Mason jar (one that would fit into my main jar) and filled it with (clean) aquarium rocks. You can also use marbles. Heck, some people apparently use boiled rocks. You just need to weigh down the cabbage so it stays underneath the brine you created. Any cabbage floating on the top might get scum or mold on top. Both are removable when skimmed off the top, but if they sit too long, they can ruin your batch. Best not to risk it by not letting it happen.
I like to use a piece of clean fabric or cheesecloth instead of the metal disk when I seal it, as that lets gas escape — which reduces bubbling over — without letting dust in. The Mason jar ring will hold it in place. But if you can't do that, you can put a sheet pan under it to catch any fluids that bubble over while it's fermenting.
Yields about 1-1/2 quarts
Prep time: 30 minutes | Total time: 3-7 days
Important: You'll most likely see foam or white scum form on top as well, but don't be alarmed — it's all part of the process. If you see mold, however, skim it off, and verify that your cabbage is fully submerged — your sauerkraut should still be fine. While fermented foods are usually safe, use your best judgment when consuming them, the same as you would for any food. If the food looks suspicious or smells like it has spoiled, don't take any chances — throw it out.
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