I have two early childhood sense memories of kraut. The first is the bigos — a hearty Polish stew filled with kraut, potatoes, and all the meats — my nanny Alina used to cook for me. When I went to visit Alina in her tiny Polish village in my twenties, she welcomed me with a pot of bigos. I started bawling as soon as I smelled it.
The second is the slightly less romantic smell of my mother microwaving Boar’s Head sauerkraut directly in the plastic bag to eat with hot dogs as a snack. Definitely two extremes of the olfactory spectrum.
I forgot that sauerkraut existed until a handsome brewer I worked adjacent to in London encouraged me to make some. It was an ordeal, involving pink-stained wooden floors, the bucket of kraut getting buried under snow for months, and bugs. Lots of bugs. But even that first fiasco produced an absolutely divine final product, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve refined my technique so that bugs and overwintering are no longer involved. In fact, making kraut is a snap, and I know you’re gonna love it!
fermenting vessel: half gallon mason jar of ceramic crock
weight: small plates, rocks, ceramic weights, or water-filled ziplock bag
vessel cover: lid, kitchen towel and string
- optional: any root veggies, apples, garlic, onions, herbs, spices
Weigh the cabbage and other veggies. Measure out 1.5 percent of the weight in salt. For example, if I had 1000 g cabbage, I would multiply 1000 x .015 to equal 15 g salt. Set salt aside.
Wash cabbage and chop by hand or grate in a food processor with a slicer attachment blade (do NOT use a grater attachment; it will turn the cabbage to mush). The cabbage can be almost translucent or be thick and crunchy. No rules! Set aside a few outer cabbage leaves for packing the vessel.As you chop, place a handful or two of cabbage at a time in a mixing bowl and sprinkle a bit of the salt on it. Massage (squeeze and knead) the cabbage. As you continue to massage more cabbage and salt, liquid will begin to pool at the bottom of the bowl. The salt is drawing out the liquid, creating the all-important brine.* Mix in whatever else you like: Other veggies, spices, or herbs. *This salty liquid brine creates the perfect anaerobic environment for fermentation to occur. The brine keeps out dangerous (rot and mold-causing) microorganisms while beneficial lactic acid bacteria flourish. Put a handful of cabbage into the vessel and pack it down with your fist. Continue adding cabbage and packing it down tightly. The brine should begin to rise up over the cabbage. If this isn’t happening- spend more time massaging the cabbage.Once the vessel is about 2/3 filled, place a whole cabbage leaf or two over the top. This keeps little bits of cabbage from floating upwards out of the brine. Weigh down* all the cabbage so it remains fully submerged under the brine throughout the fermentation process. Loosely cover the vessel with a lid or a kitchen towel. Carbon dioxide produced during fermentation should be able to escape, but no dust or dog hair should be able to enter.*There are many ways to weigh down a fermenting veggie under brine- really whatever you can find that’s the right size and shape and heavy enough to keep the veggies submerged. In a large mason jar, fill a smaller mason jar with water and press it into the top of the cabbage. Or find and clean some large rocks. Or buy fermentation weights. Anything that will weigh down the veggies.
Let the kraut ferment at room temperature for 10 days to many months. The total fermentation time will depend on the kitchen temperature of your kitchen and personal preference. Check up on it every once in a while. Make sure the cabbage remains fully submerged in the brine.
After about 10 days, give it a taste. It will develop a lovely tangy flavor that will continue to change and gain complexity the longer it ferments.. I like the flavor of mine around two weeks.Once the flavor tastes pleasing, remove the weights and seal tightly. It will keep in the fridge indefinitely. Flavor Ideas
Mold + Yeast
Once in a blue moon, mold will grow on the surface of the kraut. This normally occurs because the veggies were not fully submerged in the brine. It’s no big deal. Just carefully skim it off the top, along with any tainted cabbage, and keep on fermenting.
When it’s very hot outside, the kraut might develop a layer of kahm yeast, which looks white and cloudy (but not fuzzy like mold) and smells cheesy. It’s harmless, but may lead to an overly cheesy-tasting kraut. At the first site of kahm, carefully skim off as much as possible and cut the fermentation time short.
- Black kraut: apples, juniper berries, caraway seeds, and black peppercorns
- Curry kraut: carrots, curry powder, fresh ginger and garlic
- Chipotle kraut: chipotle powder, oregano, onions, garlic and a small handful of chopped fresh or dried pineapple
- The Ground Floor Farm: garlic, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage
- Zaatar kraut: beets, zaatar, garlic