This entire process can be summarized as follows:
1) Shred cabbage.
2) Add salt, vigorously.
3) Let it sit.
Any time this starts to feel complicated, refer to the simple process above. Everything else is just detail. Yes, there are a lot of pictures and words in this post, but hey, it's my blog and I'll write if I want to!
Every German hausfrau (housewife) making sauerkraut and every Korean uhmoni (mother) making kimchi will have their own recipe. This is how I do it, but don't be afraid to experiment to find what works in your kitchen. Fermenting food is like gardening. In our gardens, we create the conditions so veggies and flowers thrive, while weeds languish. In our kitchens, we create the conditions for certain bacteria to thrive in our food. The microbes do the cooking, not us.
Let's get started!
- Roughly 4 lbs of cabbage
- Roughly 2.5 tablespoons of salt
- A large bowl
- Cutting board
- Large knife
- 1 half-gallon mason jar
- 1 DIY airlock
- Optional, recommended:
- Kitchen scale
- 1 canning funnel
- 1 cleaning rag and white vinegar
Clean up to reduce the number of bacteria that might contaminate your food or compete with the microbes you're cultivating. But not too clean - no antibaterial handwash, no chemicals on the countertops.
Wash your hands.
Wipe down your counters with a vinegar/water spray.
I recommend using ~4 lbs of cabbage, as that amount fits perfectly in a half gallon mason jar.
Step 3: Shred, Baby, Shred
Shred your cabbage.
I think slicing the quarters very very finely with a sharp knife makes sauerkraut with the best texture - nice n' crunchy.
But sometimes you get lazy and just want to finish with the food processor. Use the most coarse shredding attachment.
I like doing half-and-half. The sliced cabbage makes a great texture, and the processed cabbage makes a ton of brine. I wouldn't do it all in the food processor, due to texture concerns.
You could also use a mandolin, or if you can find that German hausfrau, ask to borrow her kraut board.
In the end, you'll have this:
Step 4: Salt It
- 1 lb cabbage = 1/2 tablespoon plus 1/3 teaspoon salt
- 2 lb cabbage = 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 lb cabbage = 1 tablespoon plus 2.5 teaspoon salt
- 4 lb cabbage = 2.5 tablespoon salt
- 5 lb cabbage = 3 tablespoon salt
Don't go too crazy with exact measurements. This is art, not science.
Sprinkle the salt over the shredded cabbage.
Step 5: Punch It
Mix the salt into the cabbage, thoroughly. While you're at it, punch down the cabbage, breaking and bruising it. This releases more brine, improving the fermentation conditions, and improves texture.
Step 6: Pack It
Use your optional canning funnel to pack the half gallon mason jar full of delicious salty cabbage.
After every few scoops, press down on the cabbage firmly, compressing it into the bottom of the jar, below the level of the brine. Press down again and again as you pack the jar.
In the end, you should have lots of cabbage packed into the bottom of the jar, with a nice layer of salty brine floating above it.
Take your vinegar rag and wipe down the rim, neck, and outside of the jar.
This airlock is a used wide-mouth mason jar lid, a piece of coat hanger, a small rubber stopper with a hole in it, and a short section of food-grade tubing.
- Drill a hole with a large drill bit in the mason jar lid.
- Stuff in the rubber stopper, then stuff the tube into the stopper.
- Twist the tube in a loop and secure with wire.
- Add water to half the height of the loop.
Step 7: Wait
Put the mason jar in a corner where it will sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for about a week. Thereafter, you can keep it on the counter at room temperature (faster and easier) or continue its ferment in a cooler place, like a root cellar or the door of your fridge (slower and more traditional).
And here is where the magic begins! The fermentation process produces carbon dioxide, which pushes up the column of water in the airlock until bloop a little bubble of carbon dioxide escapes. If you don't see some blooping by day 2, your airlock probably has a leak - fix it ASAP. The blooping peaks around day 3-4, depending on temperature, and may continue as long as day 7. By the end of the first week, your kraut will have morphed from bright green to straw yellow.
Let your kraut sit for 3 weeks. DON'T open the airlock during that time! If you do, you will destroy the oxygen-free (anaerobic) environment you painstakingly created with your airlock and will encourage the growth of the not good bacteria and molds.
Many people like to ferment their kraut at least 10-12 weeks. When Dave worked on the farm, we had some ferments go even longer, and they were delicious. Now, I usually go about 3 weeks, because the kraut looks so darn tasty sitting on my counter.
At the end of the fermentation, screw on a regular mason jar lid and store the jar in the fridge.
I'm going to take pictures of the jar as it ferments. Exciting! Stay tuned for Part II: How and Why This Works (With Pictures!).