August 22, 2011 by Sara Kreidler
This process is totally new to us, and we have no idea how it will turn out. Once you go through the prep (described below), you have to wait 3-6 weeks for the sauerkraut to ferment before you know whether your efforts have been successful. So I will update the blog as we go through this process.
From what I’ve read, a head of cabbage will produce about 1 quart of sauerkraut, so we’re hoping to get 3 quarts from the 3 heads of cabbage we’re processing. The following instructions take you through the process for 1 head of cabbage. My instructions are adapted from Food in Jars and the Ball Blue Book.
First, remove any tough and/or damaged outer leaves from the cabbage. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and then cut out the core of each quarter. Lay each quarter on its side and thinly slice it into long shreds.
Transfer the shredded cabbage to a large mixing bowl.
I received this neat kitchen tool from Toby’s mom — it’s called the “mix ‘n chop” but I prefer to call it the meat beater…Toby says I shouldn’t call it that. Anyway, grab your meat beater or a potato masher or any sturdy kitchen implement that you can use to inflict violence upon the cabbage, then think of someone you hate and proceed to beat the hell out of the cabbage. Really, it’s great stress relief.
After a thorough beating, the cabbage will begin to wilt and the color will become more yellow than green. Some of the liquid will be released from the cabbage, which is what you want. Let the cabbage rest for about 5 minutes so that more liquid will release.
I bought this crock (2 of them, actually) for $13. It’s meant to be a kitchen utensil crock, but it’s been called into sauerkraut crock duty. If you don’t have a crock, you could use a quart jar instead, but I think it would probably be harder to weigh down the cabbage and skim off the scum (see next steps) in a jar than a crock.
Add a few tablespoons of distilled water to the crock (just enough to cover the cabbage) and use the meat beater or a wooden spoon to push the cabbage down until it is totally submerged in the liquid. It is important to use distilled water, and not tap water, because tap water can contain chemicals that will hinder the fermentation process.
Find a small dish or bowl that will fit inside the crock that you can use to weigh down the cabbage and keep it submerged in the liquid. I put my bowl in a ziploc bag because the foot of the bowl isn’t glazed and I was concerned that either it would adversely affect the sauerkraut or that the sauerkraut would stain the bowl.
Then I placed a plate on top of the crock to act as a lid, and I put the crock in the basement. Every two days, I will head down to the basement with a mesh skimmer/strainer, remove the lid and the bowl and scoop off any scum (also called “bloom” or “moldy looking junk”) from the surface of the sauerkraut, and then put the bowl and the lid back in place and let the sauerkraut continue to ferment. I’ve read that this is a stinky process, but so far it’s not too bad (I trust it will get worse). I checked on the sauerkraut today and there were lots of gas bubbles (a good sign) but no scum yet. Hopefully, in a few weeks the sauerkraut will be tangy and stinky and ready to transfer to a jar where it will live in the fridge until we’re ready to eat it. I will take pictures and post updates as this project progresses.
The following recipe (which is a little more cohesive than the narrative above) is for 5 pounds of cabbage; you can scale it up or down, but keep the cabbage, water and salt ratios the same.
- 5 pounds of cabbage
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 6-9 tablespoons distilled water
- Remove the ragged outer leaves of the cabbage and discard. Cut the cabbage into quarters and cut out and discard the hard core of the cabbage. Thinly slice the cabbage into long shreds and transfer to a large, non-reactive bowl (you may need to split it between two bowls, depending upon the size of your bowl; alternatively, a large stock pot will work).
- Sprinkle salt over the cabbage. Using a meat beater, potato masher, wooden spoon or other handy device, give the cabbage a good beating. You can also use your (clean) hands to squeeze the cabbage. Really go at it, you want the cabbage to get pretty beaten up so it will release a good bit of liquid.
- Let the cabbage rest for 5 minutes after beating, then transfer cabbage and all released juices to your crock(s). Using your meat-beater, spoon or a spatula, press down as hard as you can to pack the cabbage into the crock and draw the liquid to the top. Add distilled water as needed, just enough to cover the top layer of shredded cabbage (the amount of water you will need will depend upon the size of your crock and how much liquid your cabbage released; I needed about 4 tablespoons of water for each of my 2 crocks).
- Use a small bowl, jar or plate that will fit inside your crock to weigh down the cabbage and keep it submerged in the brine (I place my bowl weight in a ziploc freezer bag to keep the bowl from becoming stained and stinky). Place a lid on the crock (if it doesn’t have a lid, use a larger plate as a lid) and put crock in an out of the way place.
- Every two days or so, remove the lid and the weight from the crock and use a fine mesh strainer to and scoop off any scum that has developed on the surface of the sauerkraut. Put the weight and lid back in place and let the sauerkraut continue to ferment. As fermentation takes place, you will notice lots of gas bubbles. After about 4 weeks, the sauerkraut will be ready, at which time you can eat it or transfer it to jars and store it in the fridge for a good long while.