There’s been something brewing round these parts, or, should I say, fermenting.
We had 3 or 4 cabbages lying around thanks to our weekly veg box, and I had an evening with an urge to make something, and this urge nearly always results in something edible. Whilst I love getting a veg box, I do sometimes resent the way that the produces piles up if we’ve been having busy weeks or not enough time to get creative with all the veg in the kitchen. And creative you have to be if you’ve got 4 cabbages and a million beetroot. One way around it I’ve found is to turn the vegetables into something people can pick away at from the fridge, already prepared and perfect for lunches, such as pickled beetroot, carrots and kohlrabi, or in this instance sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut is a powerhouse of goodness, packed with gut enhancing bacteria that keep tummies happy, as well as tasting darn good. It’s basically cabbage which as been fermented after being broken down with salt, and it has a delicious, slightly sour taste. It’s the pickley-tasting stuff on your hotdog or in a rueben sandwich. Might be a bit of an acquired taste if you’ve never tried it, but try it you must! Fermented foods are so good for you.
I had a google for a sauerkraut recipe, and found that none were really particularly precise when it came to quantities, methods, or length of fermentation, and so I embarked on this as something of an experiment. I’m pretty good when it comes to improvising in the kitchen. Years of culinary successes and failures have given me something of an intuitive knowledge of what’s likely to work or not, but when it came to fermenting shredded cabbage in salt to make sauerkraut, I’ll admit I was slightly at a loss.
I could get to grips with the basic idea of shredding cabbage, massaging it with salt until the cells broke down and the salt drew out the moisture, but I couldn’t seem to find a definitive answer about how to store the cabbage as it ferments, how long to do it for, and what to look out for to know if it’s working properly.
Sounds a bit silly, but I even started trying to find out if fermentation could ever lead to anything dangerous, or poisonous. I guess my fear arose form not really knowing anything about the fermentation process and what it would produce, and it might sound mad, but I’ve read about certain processes in food storage which can produce botulinum which is the paralysing toxin used in botox (and people pump this into their faces why?). But fear not! I found nothing dangerous to keep an eye out for. Panic over. I’ve eaten some and I’m still here. Shut up neurotic Ceri brain. Hushhh….
So, to the sauerkraut! I wasn’t sure how much sauerkraut 2 cabbages would make, and in the end i used about 3 to fill the big jar in the picture. It will look like too much cabbage to begin with, but as it releases its moisture it really shrinks down.
I used three cabbages, the green sort that are actually pretty pale and tightly packed in the middle once you’ve taken off the outer leaves. I removed the outer leaves, shredded the cabbage pretty finely, added it to a big bowl and then added 2 level tablespoons of salt. Then the hard work began. You need to massage the salt into the cabbage for a good 10 minutes or so, crushing the cabbage between your fingers and forcing the moisture out. It takes a minute to work but stick with it. After 10 to 15 minutes (and very sore hands and wrists on my part) you’ll end up with some pretty soggy, limp cabbage.
Take a big jar and pack the cabbage in reeeaallllly tightly. You want to eliminate any air bubbles and really press it down. I was basically punching it down with my fist to get it tightly packed, and you’ll know you’re doing it right when a layer of juice covers the surface. Pack it in all the way to nearly the top of the jar, and you should have a bit of juice covering the top.
This next bit was the bit I was confused about, and that was how to cover the sauerkraut. I read that you needed to keep the sauerkraut submerged in its juices as otherwise it could go off, and at the same time it needed to be pressed down but open to the air for fermentation to take place. I managed to find a small glass ramekin which just fitted in the top of my jar with a little space around it, and when I pressed this down the cabbage was submerged and the liquid came a little way up the side of the ramekin without spilling out of the big jar. I weighted it down to keep it in place and loosely covered the whole thing with some clingfilm.
I read that you can let the sauerkraut ferment for anything from 3 days to 4 weeks, but 3 days seemed pretty brief and others said that for the full fermentation process to take place you need to wait the full 4 weeks, and so I did. I kept an eye on it every few days, weighting down the ramekin more if I needed to to keep the cabbage submerged in liquid.
I tested the sauerkraut at 2, 3 and 4 weeks and you could really taste the difference. Week 2 was basically salty cabbage with a faint tang, whilst four weeks was really delicious sauerkraut with the authentic sour flavour and (I hope) packed with gut boosting bacteria!
I took out the ramekin, put the jar in the fridge to stop the fermentation process and now I can dip in and add a big spoonful to my salads and dinners throughout the week. I really recommend giving fermentation a go if you’ve never tried it, my next project is likely going to be kimchi (korean fermented cabbage, plenty of chilli!). Fermentation requires a bit of patience but I can promise you it’s worth it for the results.
Pickling is much quicker and another way to get through a glut of vegetables, so I’ll cover than in another post, but right now I need to get outside because the sun is shining and it feels like SPRING!