Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fermented Eats: Easy Sauerkraut

So far this blog has focused on beverages, and admittedly will probably continue to do so. That is because I am just beginning to venture into making my own fermented foods, and have a long road of experimentation ahead of me. I do love fermented food of all sorts, and am looking forward to my adventures in this realm as our garden beds start producing some fresh veggies to experiment with. In the meantime I thought I'd get started by making a basic sauerkraut.

In this post I will walk you through the very basic process I followed to make sauerkraut, show you a (very) few pictures of the process, and then link to a video by the king of all foods that are fermented, Sandor Katz. Again, this was my first time making sauerkraut so I am no expert (and Sandor really is!), but I am very pleased with the results, even though it is not as pretty as some of the store-bought stuff.

It is fitting, I suppose, that this post on a "soured" food is coming on the heels of my post about my Berliner Weisse, as both are soured, German, and (if I do say so myself) delicious. I don't know that sauerkraut would necessarily pair well with Berliner Weisse (it seems as if the flavors would clash), but both are enjoyable in their own right.

Basically, sauerkraut is veggies, predominantly cabbage (although I also used carrots in my first recipe) fermented in their own juices. I suppose you could use some sort of bacterial culture to aid in gaining a certain flavor, but it is really unnecessary, as all the "bugs" (the bacteria and wild yeast that will do the work of fermentation) will already be on your veggies. Similar to making kombucha, this process is rather safe (no botulism here!) simply because of the pH of the environment you are creating.

The basic ingredients are salt and, as I mentioned above, cabbage and/or other vegetables. The salt plays two roles: it aids in breaking down cell walls to release the naturally stored juices of the vegetables; and it creates an environment that is hospitable to only certain bacterias. You'll also want some sort of large glass or ceramic jar to ferment and keep the kraut in -- metal is a bad idea because it can react with the acidic environment produced by fermentation.

To begin, shred your veggies. I've discovered that I don't mind mine a bit chunky because it adds a nice textural element to the final product (not to mention it saves time!). Sandor Katz prefers his finely chopped and grated--as he mentions in the video below, he is interested in "creating surface area."

As you are continuing to chop, layer the veggies in a large bowl with a liberal sprinkling of salt in between the layers. You don't need to go overboard here, as you can always add more if the veggies are refusing to "juice."
Every once in a while pause from chopping to knead and massage the salt into the veggies. They'll start to juice. You want to generate enough juice from the vegetables to cover them when you cram them into your jar--this can take some time, so be patient and soldier on. Think of all that delicious sauerkraut you'll be eating!

Once you have chopped all your veggies and generated enough juice, simply put the mixture in a jar and let it sit until the flavor reaches the point you want. I left mine for about a week and it was good, but I think I'll let it go longer next time.

Here is a much more complete walkthrough of this process by Sandor Katz. This is the video I followed when making this batch:

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