Homemade sauerkraut is pretty much the best. I mean, who doesn’t want salty rotten cabbage?!
In all seriousness though, sauerkraut is pretty awesome. It’s brimming with all sorts of health benefits, it’s a great way to preserve excess cabbage, and it tastes fantastic too — especially when you make it yourself.
As far as I’m concerned, that soggy, vinegary yellow gunk that slides disgustingly out of a tin can shouldn’t even be allowed in the same ballpark as a good jar of homemade sauerkraut.
(Ballparks, hotdogs, sauerkraut… you sensing a theme here?)
Fortunately, sauerkraut is super easy to make. Just find yourself a good, fresh head of cabbage (the bigger the better) and follow the steps below:
• Non-Iodized Salt
• Non-Chlorinated Water
• Cutting Board
• Large Bowl
• Glass Mason Jar (I use quart-size)
Step 1 — Prep the cabbage
Start by rinsing the cabbage and tearing off the outer leaves.
Don’t chuck ’em though!
Just set them aside. We’ll use them later…
When you remove the core from the cabbage, be sure to set it next to those outer leaves too. It’ll make sense in a minute, I promise.
In the meantime, use a knife (or food processor) to cut the cabbage down to size. I generally aim for strips that are about 2″ long and 1/4″ wide — but you can do whatever you want. That’s the beauty of homemade sauerkraut. You can make it the way you like it!
Step 2 — Add salt
You should use about 3 Tablespoons of salt for every 5 pounds of cabbage.
However, if you’re like me, and you don’t own a fancy-schmancy kitchen scale, you’ll have to do a little bit of guesswork. Personally, I just look at my bowl of shredded cabbage and try to visualize how many quart jars it’ll fill.
You should shoot for about 1 Tablespoon of salt per quart jar of cabbage.
And yes — you really need to make sure you’re using non-iodized salt.
Sauerkraut gets its sour tang from trillions of little bacteria (Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus, in case you were wondering). If you’ve got iodine in your salt, it can really knock those poor little guys for a loop — so do yourself (and the bacteria) a favor and pick up some good sea salt. Or Kosher salt. Or canning salt. Or whatever. Just make sure it isn’t iodized!
Step 3 — Moosh it all up
This is probably my favorite step. You can use a wooden plunger or a spoon or a mallet if you want — but I always just use my hands and squeeze/knead the heck out of that old shredded cabbage.
The idea is to break down the cell walls and allow the cabbage’s natural juices to mix freely with the salt. The more you moosh it up, the better (i.e. more evenly) it’ll ferment.
How do you know when enough is enough?
Well, the cabbage won’t be quite as crisp; it’ll actually look pretty bruised and limp (think Rocky Balboa after 15 rounds with Apollo Creed). It’ll turn a darker green color, and you’ll have a nice little pool of salty cabbage juice sitting in the bottom of the bowl.
Step 4 — Pack the jar
When you’re packing the jar, start by just throwing in a couple handfuls of mooshed-up kraut, then tamping it all down good and tight with a wooden spoon.
Pour some o’ that salty cabbage juice over the top of it (until everything is covered) — and then add another couple handfuls of kraut.
Then lather, rinse, repeat. 😉
Keep it up until the jar is almost full — but be sure to leave about 2″ of headspace.
As the cabbage ferments, those little bacteria dudes are gonna be putting off a fair amount of gas — and if the jar is too full, it’ll overflow and you’re gonna have a huge mess on your hands (ask me how I know that).
When all the cabbage is finally packed in good and tight, just make sure everything is completely submerged in the salty juice.
If you don’t have enough juice to do the job (I usually don’t), you’ll need to mix up a separate brine — which is simply 1 teaspoon of salt per 1 cup of water.
But remember, you’ll want to be sure your salt isn’t iodized — and the water isn’t chlorinated. For the bacteria’s sake…
Step 5 — Cover and wait
Remember those big outer leaves you set aside earlier? Well, now’s when they really come in handy.
Now it’s just a waiting game.
The bacteria needs a chance to grow and work its fermentation magic — so it’s best to keep your jar of kraut sitting out at room temperature (but not in direct sunlight) for roughly a week.
It’ll bubble and it’ll fizz, and it might even overflow a little, in spite of the 2″ of head space — but the paper towel should soak it up just fine. If you have a major eruption, at least you’ve got the plate there to catch it, right?
I tell ya, experience is a good teacher! 😉
While you’re waiting for your kraut to finish, however, I’d actually suggest that you taste a little bit of it from time to time. That way you’ll be able to see how the flavor changes and matures — and you’ll know exactly when it gets just the right amount of tang.
In the summer, our sauerkraut was ready in 6 days. This latest batch went for about 8, but like I said before, the beauty of homemade sauerkraut is that you can do it your way.
When it’s done, just scoop out the outer leaf and core (they’ll probably be looking pretty nasty by that time anyway), throw ’em to the chickens, put a regular lid on the jar, and pop it in the refrigerator. The cold temperatures will drastically slow any additional fermentation.
All that’s left now is to grab a package of brats and fire up the old grill!