Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ze Krauts Are Coming...Ze Krauts Are Coming...

Actually, just one kraut is coming, it's a juniper sauerkraut and it's my first attempt at a fermented food.  I've done loads of sausages,brined meats, smoked meats, meats that were brined then smoked, refrigerator pickles... pretty much a bunch of things but I've never stood back and let nature take it's course so this is a new place for me.  I'm hoping to expand my curing repertoire in a couple months and in the process I'm trying out some new (to me) things so I'm comfortable when I get to curing/fermenting/drying meats.  

Sauerkraut, means sour-cabbage.  And not sour as in sour as in rotten but sour as in fermented, broken into it's individual words and we get Sour (Sauer) Cabbage (Kraut).  But as it turns out you can make sauerkraut from just about any cruciferous or root vegetable. Examples of alternates is a coleslaw kraut with white cabbage, purple cabbage and carrots.  You can do it with turnips, kohlrabi or even make a brusselskraut by mixing some brussels sprouts in with your cabbage. Then you can go into cool flavorings such as juniper, coriander or caraway.  You can even add apples to the mix for a sweet 'n' sauer. Basically you salt your chosen veges, toss everything together, pack it in a vessel and wait anxiously for about 3-4 weeks for fermentation to take affect.  The salt will draw moisture out from the veges and lactobacillus bacteria will get to eating the sugars which acidifies the cabbage and liquid giving the sauerkraut its distinctive tart flavor.  I've even heard from a friend that bottled his in a sealed jar that the fermentation carbonated the sauerkraut.  Not recommended for safety reasons but interesting to say the least.  

Sauerkraut has been something that I've wanted to try but always thought I needed some special $200 crock and as it turns with most things related to expenditures (as my wife will gladly point out) turns out I'm wrong.  I went to my local home brew mart and picked up a 6 gal food safe fermenting bucket, lid and air-lock though I've since learned that I don't need the air-lock.  I then went to my local mega-mart and picked up some cabbage.  Most recipes I reviewed called for 5 lbs of cabbage which is the equivalent of about 2 medium heads.  Some recipes were small enough to fit into a quart jar.  Seeing that this was an experiment and my first one at that you'd think I'd start small and work my way up, however, I blame my slightly twisted and gnarled family tree for this but when I do something I go all in.  So instead of a quart of kraut I bought about 7.5 lbs of cabbage, a bomber of AleSmith's finest and a gallon of water.  Way too much cabbage but heck, cabbage is pretty cheap at about $0.69/lb, way cheaper than meat!  If you're wondering about the water cool your jets, I'll get to it later.  

Here's the bounty before getting started.  

Although I'm loath to do recipe measurements by volume these days every recipe I read online had measurements in half weight and half volume which drove me mostly crazy.  But, I didn't have much choice in the matter so went with it. The way I see it is that people have been making this product for centuries and who was I to start questioning their methodology?  

The basic recipe is 5 # shredded cabbage to 3 Tbl salt.  I had 6 lbs 6 oz of cabbage so bumped my salt up to just under 4 Tbl.  I was excited to use this salt as it was a recent purchase from We Olive, an awesome olive oil bar, gourmet store and wine bar in La Jolla, California.  I won a local cooking contest and my prize was a $100 gift certificate of which $15 was spent on a 500g sack o' Piran Sea Salt.  According to the Piran website, this sea salt is hand harvested using traditional tools and methods.  The salt was chunkier than I was expecting but had a great mild salinity and mineral tones that I felt would be a perfect addition to the kraut.      

Now, by the way, it not a good time to be squeamish about large knife blades.  If you've somehow found yourself capable of doing most, if not all, of your kitchen duties using a paring knife walk away now, this is not the project for you.  That said you can shred your cabbage a variety of ways such as a food processor (too mechanical), box grater (too slow) or a mandolin (too small).  I decided instead to grab my trusty Solingen steel 10" wide Wusthof chef's knife.  The way I figure it is if I'm making a traditional German food I should be using a traditional German knife and the longer the blade, the easier the work.  I've also been told that the larger the knife the greater the man is compensating for his lack of knackwurst but I digress. 

Here's what everything looked like after about half the chopping was completed.  

When I got done with about half of the chopping I needed to clear my board so started to move the already shredded cabbed to the bucket which I'd already cleaned and rinsed.  I started with a good sprinkle of salt, then a huge double handful of cabbage, a little salt, cabbage, blah get the point then tossed everything together a bit to make sure the cabbage and salt were nicely mixed.  I'd also like to point out that it's super important that your hands are scrupulously clean, you don't want any nasty organisms to get into your mix and the best way to avoid that is good ol' soap and water.

Once all the cabbage had been shredded I tossed in about a tablespoon of juniper berries, the remainder of the salt, mixed everything up and pressed down with a lot of pressure to compact the mixture.  

Then I topped the cabbage with a plate and the aforementioned gallon of water for weight, both of which had been scrubbed clean just before adding to the bucket.  The plate and weight are there to keep the cabbage submerged in the soon to be developed brine (salt-water solution).  


After about 90 minutes I tilted the bucket at about a 30-degree angle and a brine had already begun to develop.  After 2 and a half hours enough brine had developed to puddle into the plate and I was well on my way to my first batch of sauerkraut.  

If you're wondering about the beer that was just for me to drink while I chopped and mixed, don't waste the beer on the kraut.  

My wife's already gotten on my case about how much I've prepped even after I assured her it's going to shrink down.  So now I'm planning on making some items to consume sauerkraut.  Stay tuned for one of my favorite pairings, pastrami!  

If you'd like to learn more about sauerkraut or other fermented food checkout the website, Wild Fermentation, which has gobs of information.  The website's creator, Sandor Katz (aka 
Sandorkraut) has also written three books on the subject and they're definitely worth checking out. 

Other great recipes and home-based stuff available at the website Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways

Update:  It's now been three weeks since I started my first batch of sauerkraut and decided to pull it out and put the remainder in the fridge.  It's nice and tart and sour and awesome!!!  One note I'd like to add is that the juniper berries were a great idea (IMHO) but I couldn't taste them in the mix and they were nasty when bit (not if, when, I did it more than once).  Next time I might add some sort of spice that's more edible when whole such as caraway, or not.  I haven't decided yet.  


Ben Morris said...

Great post! There's nothing better than sauerkraut to match with homemade charcuterie.

Great tip on the beer too by the way. I will have to try that next time I'm making kraut...

MrsWJAA said...

I have to say that my favorite way to consume sauerkraut is to put it on top of porkchops in a small roasting pan and cover tightly to keep in moisture.. bake at low heat until done (makes the meat more tender).. the more sour the kraut, the more devine this tastes..

I've never made my own kraut.. but this recipe is so simple that I may just have to experiment:)

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