Oh sauerkraut, you most delicious of sandwich additions. I put you on my breakfast sandwich, drop you in my rice, place you delicately in a heap next to my steak. You bring me such joy with your salty crunch, and as a bonus, you're good for me (at least I think you are.) I read a piece a couple months back in Gastronomica about sauerkraut. It went through all the claims that people make about its health benefits, refuting them one by one on the basis that they didn't have scientific backing. But then I heard a story the other day on how probiotics are being discovered to reduce anxiety. My conclusion is that if something has been believed for thousands of years to be good for you, it probably is, plus it's delicious, so why not eat it? Therefore, I’ve embarked on a new adventure. I recently bought a 3 gallon stoneware crock, something I've been wanting for a while, but couldn't get over the sticker shock of spending $250 on a vessel used specifically to ferment cabbage. Luckily, I found a solution. For $35 you can order one from ACE online, and then pick it up at a local store. Feels like I’m pitching you here, but I would be remiss to not tell you about the wonders of this deal.
For my first batch, I wanted to go simple. Just salt, cabbage, and caraway. It's astounding how many recipes there are online, not to mention in one of my favorite books, Wild Fermentation, on how to do this. I’d made it before in small batches, but there is something about filling up a 3 gallon container that makes you want to do some recipe research. I watched a video on youtube put out by the Ag. Council of a nice woman in Alaska, (seeming very 1950's) which gave exact instructions (2.5Tbsp of salt per 5 lbs of cabbage). Then I watched a video of Sandor Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation, who has a more democratic approach (just put salt in until it tastes right).
I settled on 3 Tbsp per 5 lbs of cabbage. Something like 20 lbs of cabbage went into this batch, and the only place in my house to deal with that kind of volume is the sink. After a good scrub, in went the cabbage. First sliced and cored. After all the cabbage was sink-side, in went the salt and caraway seeds. As I said before, exactly 3 Tbsp per 5 lbs. For the caraway I just eyed it, probably about the same ratio though.
Once seasoned, mix. Get all the salt evenly distributed around the cabbage, and then wait 15 minutes. Some folks recommend bashing the cabbage rather than letting it sit, and this is what I've always done in the past As soon as it was cut and salted, I would cram it into jars, awkwardly using a wooden spoon to push it in. It's a hassle. Using this new method, you just leave it for a bit, go drink some coffee, and voila! It's reduced by more than half! You should never use a metal container as your fermenting vessel, but I don't think the 15 minutes in the sink hurts it at all.
Now is the pack, which is made much easier this way. Pack the sauerkraut into your crock (I like to use my hands), and push it down until the liquid (which is naturally being released from the cabbage), is released. The juice (which, when fermented, is the best hangover cure I've found) should be at least an inch above the veggies. Place a plate on top to weigh it down, and wait and wait. The waiting is the hardest part. As this is a bit of an experiment, I've been taking some out periodically to see how its progressing. Check back here in a few weeks for the finale. Now go buy a crock! It's better than paying $9/jar at rainbow.
I've been taking out samples during the fermentation process, in the guise of experimentation, but really just because I'm too impatient to wait to eat some:
After 8 days the kraut is good, starting to get a fermented flavor, but a little on the mushy side.
On day 12, it's started to firm up a bit, with a good "krauty" flavor.