I may have mentioned in an earlier article that I love sauerkraut on hot dogs. It’s one of those condiment type foods that I have to have on hand just in case we do have hot dogs. But something I never knew until recently is sauerkraut is a fermented food!
All this time, I thought it was simply pickled cabbage — pickled in the sense that you put it into a jar with vinegar and pickling spices, process it in a water bath canner, and let it sit to do its thing. It actually kind of excited me to find out I could use my new Fermentools to make my own easy homemade sauerkraut recipe!
What is Sauerkraut?
Well, in a way, sauerkraut is pickled cabbage. More specifically, it is cabbage that has been pickled via lactofermentation. Because sauerkraut is fermented, it is considered a probiotic food with many health benefits. Fermented foods are good for you because the probiotic bacteria created during the fermentation process aid in digestion, which helps your overall gastrointestinal health.
People over forty typically take some sort of probiotics as a dietary supplement to help in the digestion of their food. Even athletes take probiotics to maintain a stronger immune system. By eating fermented foods like sauerkraut on a regular basis, you don’t need to take the probiotic supplements because you’re already getting them — and this way is much more yummy and filling than eating a pill.
How to Make Homemade Sauerkraut
If you search the net, you will find many, many different sauerkraut recipes. There are usually only three ingredients to any basic ferment (including sauerkraut) — vegetables, salt and water. Due to the fact that the ingredient list is so short, it is very important to use the correct ingredients. Any deviation could result in a failed ferment meaning you have wasted time and food.
About the Salt: It is recommended that you not use table salt for fermenting. Table salt is iodized — it has iodine added to increase its mineral count. However, iodine inhibits the growth of bacteria, which is exactly what we don’t want to happen. No bacteria means no ferment, which means a failed attempt. You can use sea salt, Kosher salt, Himalayan salt or pickling salt — basically any type of salt that is not iodized.
About the Water: Most tap water is chlorinated to help kill bacteria so your drinking water doesn’t make you sick. That may be fine for drinking, but not so good for fermenting. Remember — we want those bacteria to do their thing, and they can’t if you kill them with chlorine. If you aren’t using a water filter, you should boil your water to make it safe for fermenting.
Optional Ingredients: You can add anything into it that you want to give it different flavors. Caraway seeds, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes are just a few flavoring ingredients I have seen others using. I’m more of a purist, though — I like my sauerkraut plain. My recipe is so simple, you’ll wonder why you’ve never made it before… and it’s so good, you’ll want to make it again and again!
Easy Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe
The Hardware (the tools you will need):
- Cutting Board — I love these flexible ones
- Sharp Knife — an 8″ chef knife is good for this
- Large Mixing Bowl — I personally prefer glass mixing bowls
- 2-quart wide mouth canning jar (or two 1-quart canning jars)
- Canning funnel (optional, but it helps keep from making a huge mess)
- Fermentools single kit (2 of them if you’re using the 1-quart jars)
The Software (the food stuff you will need):
- 1 head of green cabbage (the one I had was 2.25 pounds) — you can use any cabbage, really.
- 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt – kosher salt, sea salt, Himalayan salt… anything that isn’t iodized.
- 1 Cup dechlorinated water (boil your tap water, remember?)
Be sure you clean everything thoroughly before starting! This is a very important step. The jars, lids, gasket rings, air lock, lid rings — everything must be washed and rinsed so there is absolutely no soap residue left. When you ferment anything, any kind of bacteria or foreign chemical stuff (like soap) going in will throw the balance off, and the good, beneficial bacteria won’t have as good of a chance to succeed. You will be using your hands to work the salt into the cabbage, so be sure you wash your hands good, too. After all, you’re handling food.
Peel off and toss the outer leaves of the cabbage, and cut the head into quarters. Cut the core out, and cut each quarter in half. Slice the cabbage into thin ribbons. If you like your kraut finer, feel free to chop it finer during any phase of the cutting.
Put the cabbage into your mixing bowl and add 1 Tablespoon of the salt. This is the “fun” part. Massage, squeeze, pound, smack, slap or otherwise work the salt into the cabbage for about 5 to 10 minutes. Slowly but surely the cabbage will begin to get a little watery. Salt pulls moisture out of foods via osmosis. Chopping the cabbage created more surface area through which the salt can pull out the liquid. When you begin to work the salt into the cabbage, you’re breaking it up even more, thereby creating even more surface area. I’m sure Alton Brown could probably explain it a lot better than me, but I can’t seem to find what I did with his phone number.
Anyway… once you are done pounding the salt into the cabbage, put it into the jar(s). I used about a 2 pound head of cabbage and it went perfectly into my 2-quart jar. I did have to use a wooden spoon to pack the cabbage down every so often, but it all fit with no problem.
Now you want to place the glass weight on top of the shredded cabbage. If you don’t have a glass weight, you can use a small jelly jar that will fit inside the large mouth of the mason jar. Fill it with clean stones or some other type of weight to put in the jelly jar to hold all the krauty goodness down. I actually took one of the good outer leaves of cabbage and cut it into circle a little bigger than the base of the jar to put between the shredded cabbage and the weight to make sure all of the food stayed down.
Now put the gasket on the jar, then the Fermentools lid, the rubber stopper, and the airlock — be sure to put some water in the air lock so it does its job properly. Finally, secure it all together with the ring. There is no need to screw it down too tightly — just lightly hand tighten the ring so the lid stays on, and things will be fine. If you don’t have the fermenting lid, use a tea towel for covering the jar, and secure it with a rubber band.
At this point, you may not see a lot of liquid in the jar. This is fairly normal. I checked mine about every hour, and within a couple of hours, there was enough liquid to cover not only the cabbage, but also the weight. Keep an eye on your jar for the next 24 hours or so. If the liquid doesn’t cover the cabbage, mix the other 1/2 Tablespoon of salt with the 1 Cup of water — again, be sure you have boiled the water to get rid of the chlorine — and pour it into the jar until you have covered the cabbage completely.
How Long Do You Ferment Sauerkraut?
This is the tricky part. Some people say 3 days is enough, while others tell you to go 6 weeks or more. I personally went 4 weeks, and it was perfect. The flavor is sour, but not overpowering. At the 4 week point I put a solid canning lid on the jar and popped it in the fridge. The thing is, you can taste it at any point in the fermenting process — it won’t hurt you. Just be sure you use a clean utensil, and only put it in once (no double dipping). Put it in the fridge when it tastes right to you — which, again, varies from person to person.
What all fermenters can agree on, however, is the fact that you must keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight as it ferments. It needs to be at a temperature between 65°F to 75°F for optimum fermenting.
Remember to keep an eye on the jar as it ferments. If any of the cabbage is floating above the brine, use a wooden spoon to push it back down — otherwise, it could mold and ruin the entire batch. Also, you may see bubbles in the brine or a little foam on top while it is fermenting. This is perfectly normal, and means that the fermentation process is going just as it should.
Storing Your Sauerkraut
You can keep the sauerkraut in the fridge for 3 to 6 months with no problem — if it lasts that long. If it begins to develop a foul odor or taste, it may have gone bad, but it would probably take way more than 6 months for that to happen. Use your own discretion — the condition of your refrigerator and the way you handle the kraut could change the amount of time before the food goes bad (just as with any other food in your fridge).
If you want to keep your kraut longer, you can process the jars in a water bath canner. Canning has its pros and cons, though. This is where you have to decide whether you want the health benefits from the probiotics or to be able to make really large batches of kraut and have it keep for longer.
If you process the kraut for canning, it will last longer. This is a really good idea to preserve your harvest if you grow cabbage. The flavor stays intact, and you’ll have delicious kraut for a year or more.
However, fermented foods have those probiotics we talked about before. They’re good for your gut, but the beneficial bacteria die in extreme heat. If you process the jars, you will kill those bacteria and lose the added health benefits. This doesn’t mean the kraut will be bad for you, but it definitely won’t be as good as with the probiotics still intact.
How to Serve Sauerkraut
So that’s my easy homemade sauerkraut recipe. You know, I said it before, and I’ll say it again — I’m a sauerkraut purist. I like to eat kraut right out of the jar. Some people say to rinse it, some say to put it in a skillet and warm it up. If you rinse the brine off of it or warm it in a skillet, you lose the beneficial probiotics. I say just plop it on a few hot dogs and eat it up!
Actually, someone asked me specifically how I like to eat hot dogs when they heard I liked kraut on them. I actually like to toast the buns, add a little mayo, then some finely chopped onions (love using my mandolin to chop onions — so easy), then sauerkraut, a sprinkle of garlic powder, and some mustard. They are SO good!
I have even had people tell me to drink the brine (which I will at least try). It’s not much different than drinking pickle juice, but the health benefits are definitely better. I would imagine a shot of ferment brine every day would greatly increase the health of your gut flora!