how to make homemade sauerkraut

I admit that I’ve put off posting this fermentation recipe for quite some time. Not because it’s difficult or time-consuming, because it’s neither, but because I’m absolutely terrible at photographing the process from beginning to end. (though I didn’t do too badly with showing you how I make my fermented pickles a couple of years ago.) Making your own sauerkraut is one of the easiest things in the world to do and I finally decided that I’d rather just share the recipe than wait until I had enough photos of the process. You’re a smart cookie, right? I’m pretty confident you won’t have any problems here at all but if you do, feel free to leave a comment.

You might think that making fermented cabbage is really difficult but trust me, it’s not. The only ingredients you really need to make sauerkraut is cabbage and salt. That’s it. You don’t need to buy any fancy cultures or equipment. You just need a clean glass or ceramic vessel – a bowl, a canning jar, a crock; any of these will work just fine. You also need something to weight down the cabbage, so that it remains submerged in its juice. This can be just about anything that’s clean and non-reactive, such as a plate with something heavy sitting on top of it. And, if you pack enough into a canning jar with a shoulder on it,  the shoulder helps keep the cabbage submerged and you probably won’t even need a weight. Lastly, you’ll want something to cover your ferment – I prefer cheesecloth, as it lets my ferment breath but keeps any dust and/or bugs out. Because I ferment on a pretty regular basis now, I’ve invested in some nice Ohio Stoneware crocks and weights but I fermented long before I had these, so trust me when I say you don’t need to get too fancy.

You can add other vegetables to your kraut, so please experiment with what you like; garlic, onions, and carrot are the most common ones. And if you want caraway seeds in your sauerkraut, feel free to add a pinch or two of those too. You can also experiment with your favorite cabbage: red, Napa…use what you have or can find at your local store or market.

lola-rugula-how-to-make-homemade-sauerkraut-recipe

homemade sauerkraut recipe

  •  3 heads cabbage, cored, washed and shredded (I weighed this just for you and it’s about 8 lbs of shredded cabbage)
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons salt (I prefer sea salt, for the added mineral benefits that it offers)

This makes about 3 1/2 quart jars, depending on how much taste-testing you do while it’s fermenting.

As you shred the cabbage, place it in a very large bowl. Sprinkle each layer with some of the salt as you go. When finished shredding, it’s time to get a little messy.

With clean hands, get in and smoosh the cabbage up, squeezing it and crushing it with your hands. After just a couple of minutes, you should see some liquid starting to form at the bottom of your bowl. Continue to squeeze and crush until you feel like you’ve crushed all of the cabbage and there’a good amount of cabbage juice in your bowl.

Place your cabbage, with the liquid, into a clean crock or other container and, using a potato masher or other clean implement, mash down the cabbage until it’s all submerged under the juice. Using whatever clean means you want, weight down your cabbage, to assure it’s all submerged. You can use a plate with a filled jar or can on top of it, a baggie filled with water, etc.

Cover with cheesecloth or towel, secure with string or twine and let sit.

Check your sauerkraut every day or two, to make sure there’s still plenty of liquid and that the cabbage has remained submerged in its juice.  If it’s very hot weather, you may find your brine evaporates quicker than you’d like. If this happens, just add a bit of water (I use distilled) to bring the juice level back above the cabbage.

If you notice a bit of scum accumulating around the edges, gently remove it with a spoon, taking care not to mix it into your cabbage. I’ve never had this happen with sauerkraut, though it does occur sometimes when I ferment pickles.

We have found we like our sauerkraut to ferment around 3 weeks, where it’s still got a crunch to it but is sufficiently fermented. You’ll want to start tasting yours every week or so though, to see where it is you want to stop the fermentation process. You may find you like yours crunchy at 2 weeks or softer at 4 weeks.

You’ll also have to vary your ferment time due to the temperature – fermentation happens much more quickly when the weather is hot than when it’s cold.

Once your sauerkraut has reached its desired flavor, place it, along with all of it’s juices, in jars or covered glass bowls and refrigerate. Mine keeps for many months in the fridge, just be aware that though refrigeration slows down the fermentation process, it doesn’t completely stop it. If you store yours too long, it may end up being softer than you’d like.

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A couple of quick, additional tips:

  • Fresh cabbage will have much more juice in it than older cabbage, so try and use the freshest cabbage available.
  • The “hand-smashing” technique is something that I discovered on my own and find that it kick-starts the process very nicely. Most recipes or techniques I’ve seen call for mashing it down and waiting a day or so for the juice to form on its own – you can certainly do it this way, as I used to do myself, I just find hand-mashing faster and easier.
  • I’ve heard to stay away from iodized salt, but I used iodized sea salt by accident once and my sauerkraut still turned out just fine.
  • If additional brine is needed, I do try and stay away from adding any tap water, as chlorine is supposedly a ferment-killer.
  • Be aware that heating sauerkraut will kill the lacto-acid fermentation properties in it, thereby greatly reducing the health benefits that sauerkraut (and other fermented foods) offer. I’m often asked about how to can sauerkraut and my answer is always this: I don’t and you shouldn’t. This is a true raw sauerkraut recipe and should not be heat-processed in any way.

That last point brings me to this: If you have digestive issues of any kind, fermented foods have been shown to help. I can only speak from personal experience when I tell you that it’s definitely helped me. Just go easy at first, introducing them to your diet slowly. As your body becomes accustomed to digesting fermented foods, you’ll find it becomes easier to consume more of them without side effects.

Hopefully, I’ve not missed anything, but I know all of you will be sure and let me know if I have. Happy fermenting!

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