Monday, April 27, 2015

Sauerkraut for new year's eve

Sauerkraut. Not beer, but it ferments, and I like to ferment stuff.

Sauerkraut on new year's eve is a German tradition that is supposed to bring luck in the coming year. How this came in to my family, I don't really know. Both sides are a healthy mix of Danish, Swedish, and English. I suppose it could stem from the fact that my wife's family comes from Pennsylvania, and they picked it up from the Pennsylvania Dutch, who also practice this tradition.

In any case, we do it, and enjoy it. I've made sauerkraut at home a couple of times with varying degrees of success, but this year I'm timing the batch for new year's eve. I picked up the recipe somewhere online a while back, and tonight I took a little time to pay closer attention, and realized that I've been making a couple of mistakes. Fixing those I think will make a better controlled, and more successful batch.

Fermentation Equipment:

There are one or two things you should have on hand to make the process a little easier.
1. 3 gallon plastic fermenter. This is basically a food grade plastic bucket with a small hole in the top for you to fix an airlock. You can pick one of these up for around $7 from any home brew supply store.
2. An airlock. Using a water barrier, this device allows gasses produced by fermentation to escape, while keeping bacteria and oxygen out.
Ingredients:
1. About 5 pounds of cabbage. This is about 2 heads of medium or large cabbage.
2. Salt. I like to use sea salt because that's supposed to be better or something, and besides, that's what we keep in the house.

That's it. Now, on to how it's done.

First, pull the largest couple of leaves off the head of cabbage, discard, and rinse the head. Then, slice the cabbage in to very thin slices. If you can manage strips about 1cm thin you'll be better off.

Place the sliced cabbage in to your fermented, and using clean hands, knead the cabbage for just a couple of minutes. You want it to begin to get a little moist. Now, add 2 to 3 teaspoons of salt, sprinkling evenly. Continue to knead the cabbage until it gets really juicy. This may be 5 to 15 minutes. You'll notice that the volume of the cabbage seems to decrease, and you get quite a bit of juice.

Pack the cabbage as tightly in to the bottom of the bucket as you are able. The goal is to completely submerge the cabbage in the brine. You may need to pack the cabbage and cover it for up to 24 hours before there is enough brine to fully submerge it. If, after 24 hours there isn't enough brine, mix 1 teaspoon of water to 1 quart of water and add to the cabbage.

Put a weight directly on to the cabbage to ensure it stays submerged. I use a small plate, and a zip lock bag filled with water.

Put the lid on the bucket, fix the airlock, and allow to sit in a cool dark place until done. Check every week, and you'll know when it's good.

A couple of tips.


  • Don't over salt. This has only happened to me when I've had to add brine, so be careful. It's not good.
  • Keep the kraut submerged. Anything that isn't will not be good to eat.
  • Don't touch your equipment or ingredients with anything that isn't clean. You're making fermented food which has a very long shelf life, but you need to make sure you're not growing any unwanted bacteria. They don't taste good.
  • When checking your kraut for doneness, if you have residue floating on the top of the brine, scrape it off and throw it away. It won't hurt anything since it floats on the top of the brine, and the brine protects your kraut by keeping it submerged.

Anyway, that's it for now. Tomorrow I'll be brewing a schwarzbier, again for new year's eve. While I have that going on, maybe I'll post a bit about that.

Interesting Update

This past year we once again made our traditional kraut, but the local grocery store had kraut cabbages. If you can find one, give it a shot. Lots of flavor, juicy, and it weighed in at 19 pounds.