Making Homemade sauerkraut is as easy as 1 2 3. Its an annual tradition in our house that my wife brings from her native Slovakia. In Slovakian it is called kysla kapusta and it is popular all over eastern and central Europe.
It is made by fermenting cabbage over a period of time, as long as several months. The cabbage is often times sliced thin and salted and packed into a crock or food grade bucket until its own juices are released to make a brine. It is also sometimes left in big chunks and whole leaves . The whole leaves will then be used to make stuffed cabbage rolls, with sauerkraut as the leaves! I have even heard that in regions like Serbia they take the whole heads of cabbage then core them out. They fill the hole with salt and then put them in a bucket covered with water. Left to ferment for weeks on end the result is whole intact heads of sauerkraut, yum.
We made Sauerkraut this year the traditional way.
I used to pack the cabbages into this large glazed ceramic crock with fist a blunt object, now that I have a helper it is a real snap. You can use a baseball bat or a large meat tenderizing hammer or something blunt and washable. Children's feet are washable and they are easy on your back.
To make basic sauerkraut you will need a sturdy ceramic container or a food grade plastic bucket. You can buy a food grade bucket at a beer and wine making supply or if you know someone in the food service business they may be able to get you something for free. Things like pickles and stuff come in food grade plastic buckets.
The Ingredients are simple.
- Kosher salt/sea salt (never use iodized salt)
For the best results choose late season cabbage. This cabbage has a lot s of sugars that develop over its growth and that makes for a good fermentation and a much better finished product. When buying cabbage choose only sound, solid, dense, heavy feeling cabbage. If it feels light weight or hollow when you tap then it is not good for making sauerkraut.
Set out your fermentation container ingredients and a cutting board on a firm sturdy surface. Peel the dark green outer layers of leaves off and set them aside. With a sharp knife quarter and then slice the cabbages to the desired thickness. Place a heads worth of slices into the container. Take some kosher salt and sprinkle it onto the sliced cabbage. Toss with your hands until all of the sliced cabbage is coated.
Then start packing down the cabbage. Go back to slice and salt another head packing each head and repeat every time you add another layer. Push hard and even beat until you start seeing the juices come out of the leaves. With some less juicy cabbages it will be a more difficult task, but don't give up. Even the most stubborn cabbages will eventually give enough juice. If you have to take a break and step away for a moment the salt will have some time to extract moisture with out packing. Then go back and pack and push until the brine comes over top of the sliced cabbage.
After you have enough brine to cover the cabbage and the crock is full, take the washed outer leaves you have saved and lay them over the top of the sliced cabbage and brine.
Put a plate on top of that and weight it down with a cleaned rock or a pot of water. Make sure it is balanced and press down gently to make sure all of the cabbage is being held down under the brine.
Sauerkraut needs a lot of air to ferment so you cant put a lid or cover it with anything that will keep out the air. So cover it with a towel or cloth and then tie it with a piece of twine or rope. Then set it away in a cool dark place to ferment. The temperature the kraut is fermented in will determine the duration of time it takes to ferment. Warmer temperatures will speed up the fermentation, but fermenting in cooler temperatures for a longer period of time is desirable. Take your fermenting set up and put it in a cool dark place. Cover it and tie it off. Generally speaking you will have firm crisp half sour sauerkraut in about three weeks, you will have full sour sauerkraut in a month or two. Most sauerkraut aficionados say it gets only better the longer it ages. Every couple of days or so check on it and remove any excess foam or scum that come to the top, only so it doesn't over flow and make a mess. The bubbles and foam are caused by C02 gas being released from the fermentation process.
It is soooo worth the work and the wait. Real homemade sauerkraut is far superior to anything you can get in a can or bag. It is delicious cooked and served as a side by itself and it is great in all kinds of Eastern European dishes.
So don't fear the sour, its healthy fermented deliciousness!