Easy Homemade Sauerkraut
We eat a lot of sauerkraut in my house. My kids will wolf down piles of it alongside meats, salty food, spicy food and just about anything else, so thank goodness cabbage is cheap! It’s also incredibly good for you. Fermentation makes many of the nutrients in cabbage more available to your body and the bacteria that sour the cabbage are the same as those occurring in yogurt, making it a boon to those seeking healthy gut flora and good digestion. Sauerkraut is the ultimate make-ahead food. Preparation takes about 20 minutes and nature does the rest while you wait and observe.
You will need:
- A sharp knife and cutting board
- One large bowl
- ½ gallon (64 oz) glass jar
- A small glass jar or water bottle that will fit inside the mouth of the larger jar
- One large head of cabbage
- 1 Tablespoon + 1 ½ teaspoons non-iodized (pickling) salt
- 1 probiotic capsule (optional)
Wash, quarter and core cabbage. Lay one quarter as flat as you can on the cutting board and slice thinly, aiming for about 1/8”. Place into bowl and sprinkle with about ¼ of the total salt. Repeat with remaining cabbage. At this point you can open and add the optional probiotic capsule. This is not necessary, but it will shorten your fermentation time. Toss, knead and slightly crush the cabbage with your hands—the goal is to get it to release its juices and make it easier to fit in the jar. Now push the cabbage into the jar, tamping well with your fist and/or a wooden spoon. All the cabbage needs to fit below the shoulder or your jar. Either crush it all down a little more, or eat (single serving cole slaw?) whatever won’t fit. Fill your small jar or bottle with water, cap and press down into the top of the cabbage in the larger jar. This will help keep your cabbage below the brine level. Cover both jars with a clean dishcloth to keep insects out and place somewhere where it will not be disturbed. If you are placing it on a wood surface, it is a good idea to put it on a plate to catch any liquids that escape during fermentation.
And now we wait! After 12 hours, check to make sure that the cabbage juices have covered the top of the cabbage. They will mix with the salt to make a brine that allows the right bacteria to grow while inhibiting other organisms. You may need to add a little water to cover the cabbage by about ½”.
If you have included probiotic powder, your next check will be on day four, if not, you will probably want to wait one week. Carefully remove the small jar and taste the sauerkraut. The sauerkraut is done when it loses its cabbagey flavor and reaches your desired level of tanginess. If you are happy with it, refrigerate and use. If it needs more time, use a spoon to push the cabbage down below the water level (you can add more water if needed) and replace the smaller jar and dish cloth. Check it again in a day or two. The longer the ferment, the softer and tangier it will become. If you let your sauerkraut go more than a couple of days between tasting, you may find a bit of mold or “bloom” forming on the top, particularly if the brine level has dropped and exposed cabbage at the top. It is not supposed to be harmful and should only form where there is air exposure. Just scoop it off and discard–the sauerkraut underneath the brine should be just fine.
Sauerkraut can be canned after the fermenting is done, but that will kill off all the beneficial bacteria. I prefer to use it fresh. At the rate we eat it, I try to start a new batch when the previous batch is about halfway gone. You may need to make it more or less often. Happy fermenting!