I think sauerkraut is one of the more difficult ferments (great way to start off a recipe eh?) and that’s saying a lot because overall, fermenting veggies or fruits is nothing more than salt, water, whey (if you want) and the veggie or fruit in question. If you want to get real fancy you can season your ferment with different spices making it extra tasty. But, today I’m keeping it simple. Sauerkraut is nothing more than shredded cabbage and salt. That’s it. It’s incredibly cheap and incredibly effective. I find myself dipping into this exact jar a few times a day with meals or as a quick snack while I do things like plan recipes and write for the website. I’m not going to dive into a full blown lecture on why homemade ferments need to find a place in you and your families life, just know that they absolutely do and your digestive system will be the better for it.
Two ingredients, that’s it:
1 head of cabbage
1-2 T of salt
1 relatively airtight container (glass or pottery only, no metal or plastic)
Some sort of weight to ensure the cabbage stays submerged under it’s liquid (you can buy a pickle puck on amazon, or use a shot glass, disinfected rocks etc.)
A large bowl to squeeze the cabbage in
1 ferment mallet (optional, I use my hands)
Shred the cabbage fine. Either with a knife, a mandolin, or food processor. I like mine pretty fine and shredded. *Save the outer layer leaves of the cabbage for the very end, set aside.
Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl and add 1T of salt. Mix it up a bit and let it sit for 15-20 minutes to get a little soft before you start the pounding process.
After the cabbage has sat out, begin pounding or squeezing extracting as much of the cabbage’s natural liquid as possible. This part can take some considerable time.
Once your cabbage has been worked down and is roughly 1/3 it’s original volume you can begin packing it into your container for fermentation.
Pack into your container of choice in layers pounding down the layers as you go making sure there are no air bubbles.
Once your container is completely packed, top it off with any excess cabbage liquid and get the outer layer leaves of the cabbage you set aside in the beginning
Take the outer cabbage leaves and use them to “tuck down” the packed cabbage as a sort of extra security that it stays submerged below it’s liquid.
Once your cabbage leaves are in place securely, you can grab your weight of choice and place on top to keep your hard work submerged completely while it ferments.
Depending on the container you’ve chosen to ferment with you’ll want to close it somewhat or at least cover the top of your container with secured cheese cloth, a coffee filter, or a hand towel etc The jar I have pictured is perfect for the amount I ferment since it’s just the two of us at home. It fits one head of cabbage snuggly with all the excess cabbage liquid and a shot glass which I shut the lid on top of after taking the rubbing ring off so it’s not completely air tight. I don’t recommend closing anything completely lest it explode in the fermentation process. This is where a super duper fermentation crock comes in handy.
Once your relatively sure that your cabbage will stay completely submerged place it on a tray or in a bowl while it sits to ferment. Depending on how packed your jar is, most likely some liquid will overflow out. It is quite the mess to wake up too, especially if you use purple cabbage, like me, which has an affinity for staining anything it so much as thinks about touching. So do yourself a favor and make sure it’s in some kind of vessel to catch liquid spillage.
Now you wait. Sauerkraut takes a bit longer to ferment if you want it to really develop that signature sauerkraut flavor, witch I do. In total I probably let mine sit out for two ish weeks. That’s all it took for this amount of cabbage to get the really pungent flavor I was going for. Technically veggies don’t need more than about 4-5 days, at the absolute max, to ferment completely. It does depend on a few thing much like sourdough starter. The temp of your kitchen, how much you’re fermenting etc.
Once it’s at the flavor and fermentation stage you prefer, it’s ready to move to long term storage. A fridge, cellar, or basement will do just fine. It will keep indefinitely as long as no mold appears. (mold is fuzzy, grey scum is not mold and can be scraped off the top and discarded)
The only thing that can make your sauerkraut fail is if the presence of oxygen gets into the actual ferment itself. That doesn’t mean that your ferment needs a lid, or needs to be in a airtight container. The only part that needs to be in an “anaerobic” environment is what all resides under the liquid, the actual sauerkraut. That’s the way it is with any ferment. What can end up spoiling your ferment is if there are too many air bubbles that didn’t get let out during the packing process, cabbage rises to the top of the liquid it should be submerged under, or any other way oxygen could possibly get into your ferment. There is a possibility that you could pack the kraut too tight, it expands, and then spoils because it’s no longer under liquid. So keep your eye on it the first few hours/days of fermentation to make sure you did the job just right. I like to leave a decent amount of head-space in my jars to account for the pack settling/shifting once I put it up to ferment. I also mess with it a few times to make sure it stays under it’s liquid. (can you tell I’m paranoid about my kraut staying under it’s liquid lol)
If you see anything floating on top it’s fine so long as it isn’t fuzzy. Grey scum is totally normal with kraut. Just scrape it off the top, discard, and continue on your merry way. But if you see fuzz, pitch it.
If you’re fermenting more than one thing in your kitchen/home, make sure your ferments aren’t fermenting congregated in the same space. This can actually cause them to spoil and/or mold. So if you come over to my home at a time where I’m fermenting multiple things, you may see beet kvass in the living room, sauerkraut in the kitchen, kombucha in my office, and ginger carrots in the bedroom. It doesn’t need to be that extreme, you can usually get away with just putting them in separate places about the kitchen, I just prefer to remain captain of “team no chances.” So different rooms they go.
It really is simple. Yes, sauerkraut is the more testy of home fermented foods, but it only has two technical ingredients. So doable, and so economical! There are many things that can be done to spice it up and make it a little more pizazzy, if you so desire. I really do like the old world flavor of just salt and cabbage sauerkraut, but I do have a few fun sauerkraut recipes to share with ya’ll here in the near future. For now, go grab the well intended cabbage you bought that’s somewhere deep in your crisper, good quality salt, and a crock. Master this basic and the possibilities are truly endless!
* If you would like to see all of my fermenting favorites, including fermenting crocks, weights, jars, and my favorite books on fermentation, check out the favorites tab in the website navigation bar. *