In today's shaky economic times combined with a movement to eat more sustainably, we're turning more to DIY food-related projects. From making our own bacon to building root cellars, we're learning how to do many things on our own. In this post: making your own sauerkraut!
Making sauerkraut is as easy as slicing some cabbage up with a mandoline, salting it, packing it in a jar, and leaving it for a while. The fermentation process does the bulk of work for you, really.
Crunchy texture, vibrant flavor — these are the reasons to make your own sauerkraut. This basic, old-as-the-hills recipe calls for just salt and cabbage, but you'll also need a good helping of patience. Stored at 60 to 65 degrees, fermentation may take five to six weeks. —Leslie Cole, FOODday
3 quarts water 13½ tablespoons coarse kosher salt, fine sea salt or pickling salt (divided; see note) 12 pounds green cabbage (3 or 4 medium heads)
Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 4½ tablespoons salt and stir to dissolve. Allow brine to cool.
Meanwhile, thoroughly clean and dry a 3 gallon or larger food-grade plastic bucket or pickling crock. Work with about 4 pounds of cabbage at a time. Remove and discard outer leaves from cabbage. Rinse heads under cold running water and drain. Cut heads in quarters and remove core. With a mandoline or sharp knife, shred or slice to a thickness of a quarter.
Place shredded cabbage in container and, using clean hands, mix or layer with 3 tablespoons kosher salt. Pack firmly by pressing down hard with your fist, a pestle, or a sturdy large spoon, to draw juices from cabbage. Let sit for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, shred another 4 pounds of cabbage and repeat process, until all cabbage is in container. If juice does not cover cabbage, add enough cooled brine to cover. Top it off with a clean ceramic plate that just fits inside the crock or bucket. Weight it down with two 1-gallon self-sealing plastic bags filled with brine (so if the bags leak, the kraut brine won't be diluted), to sink the cabbage 1 to 2 inches below the brine surface. Adjust bags so they go all the way to the edge of the crock.
Cover container with a clean bath towel or pillowcase and store in a basement or other cool spot (between 60 and 75 degrees) for 2 to 4 weeks. Check the sauerkraut a few times each week, skim any foam on the surface of the brine, rinse off the plate and replace. When the bubbling stops, the fermentation is finished, and the cabbage will have been transformed into raw sauerkraut. This takes anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks; the cooler the temperature the longer it takes. Taste it every week or so if you like, but always use clean hands and utensils. (Sauerkraut should not spoil if brine has proper salt concentration and cabbage is kept submerged. If it spoils, you'll know it; it will be slimy, discolored and smell rotten. Never taste kraut you suspect of being spoiled.)
Pack kraut into lidded glass jars with brine to cover and refrigerate until ready to use. It will keep for several months as long as it's covered by liquid, and continue to cure and get crispier. Eat it raw as a condiment or side dish, or drain, rinse and cook (see accompanying recipes).