This recipe come to us from "GermanMia" in the Gluten-Free Forum.
- Salt (No pickling salt. We found that either sea salt, Himalayan salt or raw stone salt works best).
- Sauerkraut crock: a ceramic jar the rim of which has a water trough to fit the lid in ceramic or stone weights.
- Clean cloth.
- Sharp knife.
- Cabbage shredder, if you have, otherwise just shred with sharp knife.
- Wooden paddle or any other device suited for stomping the cabbage (we did it with our fists the first time, it just works all right.
All items have to be really, really clean - you don’t want to grow something orange or green-blue in your cabbage...
I’m not sure about the availability of sauerkraut crocks in the US, Canada, Australia or England. This special crock for lacto-fermentation has a trough where you fill in water so that the lid swims in it. That means, the jar is sealed airtight but any gas can get out. It’s important to exclude any oxygen because lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process! On the other hand it’s important to let surplus gas out - like in grape fermentation to make wine.
We tried to make sauerkraut without such jars; in this case it’s best to use a small jar (no more than 5 liters) so that the sauerkraut gets used up faster. I’ll explain that after describing the making.
- Remove the first layer of leaves from the cabbage until you reach a layer that looks clean and is not bruised. Usually you need not wash the cabbage, but if it seems too muddy, wash the surface and make it dry - that is important! That cabbage should not be wet when you process it. Take a couple of clean cabbage leaves to layer the ground of the jar and some to layer the surface of the finished kraut.
- Half and then quarter the cabbage, remove the core.
- Either shred the cabbage with a shredder or cut it into fine stripes (1/2 cm) with a sharp knife. I know of Turkish kebab houses who make their own coleslaw and have a cabbage shredder. Maybe if you know some Turkish people you could ask them about that.
- Layer the ground of the crock with one layer of cabbage leaves.
- Measure first batch of shredded cabbage: 4 pounds of cabbage require 25 gram salt. Mix 4 pounds cabbage with 25 gram salt well, then either fill it in your jar and crush it in the jar or crush it in an unbreakable jar or crock. Crush until it feels and sounds very wet and you have brine on top of the cabbage. Then press the crushed cabbage firmly into the jar.It has to be firmly packed because otherwise you might have air bubbles between the cabbage which lead to spoilage.
- Repeat steps 1-5 until the jar is filled up to 10 cm under the rim. It must not be packed higher or it will come out of the jar during fermentation!
- Cover the firmly packed cabbage with whole leaves so that no stripes of kraut swim to the top.
- Cover it with the clean, dry cloth which you firmly stuff down the sides of the pot so that nothing of the cabbage can get out. The cloth has to be completely covered by the liquid.
- Either put the weights on top of the cloth or substitute them with a plate which you weight with a (again very clean) stone. I tried everything from a piece of marble decoration to a stone from the garden which I put into a plastic freezer bag. It only must be clean and heavy enough to press the cabbage down so that it is always covered with liquid. No bricks, though, as they take in liquid.
- Cover the jar with the lid and pour water into the trough so that the lid rests in water.
- Store at room temperature. It will start to bubble after the first 12 to 24 hours. Don’t lift the lid during the first week, only check that there is always enough water in the trough.
- After one week or 10 days carefully lift the lid to check if there is still enough brine covering the cabbage—if it isn’t, just pour in a little clean, filtered water with some salt (so that it just tastes a bit salty) to cover the cabbage. As soon as it stops bubbling, most of the fermentation process will be finished. This may be 10 to 14 days, depending on the surrounding temperature. If it’s cooler than normal room temperature, it may take three weeks until fermentation is completed. You might then place the jar or crock in the cellar or at some other place cooler than room temperature (12-16 degrees Celsius are fine); the sauerkraut will keep longer then.
- When you start eating the sauerkraut, always be careful to replace leaves, cloth and weights tightly and press down the kraut to avoid too much air to get in and to get liquid cover the contents of the jar.
- You should replace the cloth at least once a week as soon as you start consuming the sauerkraut. With opening the jar and introducing air you also start to transfer all kinds of bacteria and germs into the jar which might settle on the cloth. There may be yeasts which you have to scum. They don’t do harm but are a very nice culture-medium for mold, and you should clean the trough every now and then because the water in it also is a nice culture medium for mold. You should see that the space under the rim is clean, too, if you use a crock with a trough, because under the trough there might develop yeast and then maybe mold.
If you don’t find a crock or jar with a trough, try to find something with a loose lid. Don’t take an airtight glass jar or something like that because the gas, which develops during fermentation, must come out. Last year we smashed one of our crocks so we had to make up something to store the surplus cabbage. We took a plastic tub with a lid that can be fastened by two metal clips and threw the cabbage in - and it worked. Plastic is not what I’d prefer, but it worked and the sauerkraut didn’t taste like plastic but turned out completely normal. Anyway the crock or jar should have a lid of any kind. If it hasn’t, find a board, a plate or something else that can be used to cover the crock.
Usually we have the sauerkraut from October to April; if stored in a sauerkraut crock in a cool place, it keeps very good until end of April. If stored in a crock without trough, it should be eaten within two months, maybe three, depending on how cool it is stored. In any case it’s essential that you always have the sauerkraut covered with brine.
If the sauerkraut has a very strong vinegar smell and tastes extremely sour, it’s probably not lacto-fermented but acetic. It may not be dangerous to eat then, but it won’t have probiotic qualities. If it gets slimy and smells like bad cheese, it has gone bad - discard it. This could happen if you keep it for more than three months or if you use a jar without trough.
I think that’s it - although this is almost a novel, the whole thing is very, very simple. Never mind which vessel is used, I never had a batch that didn’t start wonderfully. Just be careful with keeping everything as clean as possible and you will have a great time eating fresh, fruity tasting sauerkraut!