Do you like grilled bratwurst? Reuben sandwiches? Pierogi? All of these dishes beg for a good pile of sauerkraut to accompany them. When you’ve eaten properly fermented sauerkraut, you’re getting quite a few health benefits as well, such as
- probiotics (as long as the sauerkraut hasn’t been canned)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K2
You could spend time reading labels to ensure you’re getting proper sauerkraut that is simply cabbage and salt (unpasteurized, preservative-free), or you could make your own. There are two ingredients and almost nothing you need to do but give your shredded cabbage a home and wait for fermentation.
Homemade sauerkraut (makes 1.5 qt)
- 2.5 lb. green cabbage (about 1 head)
- 2 tbsp. salt (See notes.)
- 1.5 tsp. juniper berries (optional)
- 2 quarts water (unchlorinated if possible)
- 1/2 gallon container. (See notes.)
- quart-sized ziploc bag
- parchment paper
- large bowl
- cheesecloth or flour sack
- Quarter the head of cabbage.
- Cut the core out of each quarter of cabbage. Compost or discard the core.
- Cut the cabbage into 1/8″ thick slices. (See technique below.)
- Cut a circle of parchment paper to match the diameter of your 1/2 gallon container.
- Toss the cabbage shreds with 4 tsp. salt in a large bowl. Knead the cabbage forcefully. The cabbage will start releasing its water. (The release of water will take a while. I’ll usually knead the cabbage some, then use my fist to push it down hard. I’ll wait about an hour, then return and do it again.)
- Tightly pack the cabbage and its liquid into the jar. Mash the cabbage down with your fist again. If the cabbage hasn’t released enough liquid to be submerged, wait another hour and then mash the cabbage down again. Continue checking on the cabbage and mashing every hour or so until your cabbage is fully underneath the liquid level of the brine.
- Place the parchment round on top of the cabbage.
- Dissolve the remaining 2 tsp. of salt in the 2 cups of water. Put the saltwater in the ziplock bag and seal well. Place the bag on top of the parchment.
- Cover the jar with cheesecloth or a flour sack and secure with a rubber band.
- Put the jar in a dark location that stays cool (between 50F and 70F). Ferment for 6 days, checking each day to ensure the cabbage is still submerged.
- Taste the sauerkraut after 6 days. If you want a more pungent flavor, ferment longer. The cabbage should be translucent, but the intensity of flavor is up to you. The longer you ferment, the “funkier” it gets. I let mine go 6-7 weeks, but you could take 2-3 weeks.
- When the sauerkraut has reached the desired flavor, discard the parchment and ziplock bag of brine. Store the sauerkraut and accumulated juices in a clean, covered jar in the refrigerator. The sauerkraut will continue to mature in the refrigerator slowly for weeks. Eat on it whenever you like.
- I make larger batches, and like to use a 1 gallon food-safe restaurant style plastic container with a lid(I know…). The traditional way to do this is in an earthenware crock. I tried this approach, and despite my best efforts, some mold managed to sneak onto the surface of my sauerkraut and ruined the entire batch. The lidded container has never failed me. I’ve also used glass Mason jars, which are great if you’re doing small batches. Use at least quart-sized Mason jars.
- I’ve used kosher salt and regular un-iodized salt. Both make delicious sauerkraut.
- The bag of saltwater is there to help weigh the cabbage down and keep it submerged. Use saltwater in case the bag breaks. Then your brine won’t be upset.
Technique: Shredding cabbage
- After you’ve sliced away the core attached to each quarter, separate the cored cabbage quarter and make stacks of leaves.
- Press the leaf stack to flatten slightly.
- Use a chef’s knife to slice the stack into thin shreds, about 1/8″ thick.
- America’s Test Kitchen.Vegetables Illustrated (2019). Penguin Random House Publications. IBSN: 978-194-52-6738