My summertime is filled with bright and colorful food preservation projects. Colorful jams, crisp pickles & various relishes. Fall is the time for other projects, such as curing olives. During the winter, besides for eating my stored bounty, I focus on a different set of fruits and vegetables. Green cabbage is a hearty, cold-weather crop and sauerkraut and kimchi are in season. With very little work, the humble cabbage can be transformed into a tasty, highly nutritious pickle. Lacto-fermented sauerkraut contains large amounts of vitamin C, is a probiotic, and contains cancer fighting compounds. Sauerkraut’s antiscorbutic properties were known as early as the 17th century – sailors would add sauerkraut to their diets to prevent scurvy. (Supposedly, when English sailors eventually switched to limes they earned the nickname limeys, while Germans remained krauts.) Making sauerkraut is a rewarding hobby. To make a 5 pound batch, you’ll need the following:
- 5 pounds of thinly shredded green cabbage. Two large heads of cabbage should suffice. Remove the cores before shredding. A food processor will be a big help in getting evenly shredded cabbage.
- Pickling salt. Pickling salt is a finely ground, additive free salt that dissolves easily in room temperature water. If you don’t have any, take a flaky kosher salt and process it for a few spins in the food processor. It will be just as good.
- A food-safe pail, jar or crock large enough to hold the cabbage. No metallic containers – the acids produced during fermentation can react with the metal.
- A weight to hold down the cabbage. The only protection that the cabbage has from spoiling is being submerged in brine. A weight is used to keep the cabbage under the surface of the water and to compress it so the gas byproducts of fermentation are squeezed out. This can be a dinner plate the right size to fit in your jar, but I like to use a heavy-duty plastic turkey-roasting bag, filled with brine. The bag is filled with brine (1½ tablespoons per quart of water) so that if it ruptures, the batch of sauerkraut won’t be diluted.
Make sure that your fermentation container and any utensils you use are very clean. Sterilizing them in a dishwasher is ideal.
Toss the shredded cabbage with 3 heaping tablespoons of pickling salt. Make sure the salt is evenly dispersed and pack the cabbage into your jar. Press down on top of the cabbage, and place your weight on top. Place a loose fitting lid on the jar so that dust won’t get in it but fermentation gasses can escape.
The shredded, salted cabbage will start exuding water and within 24 hours all the cabbage should be submerged. If it isn’t, make enough brine (1½ tablespoons per quart of water) to cover the cabbage by an inch.
You can taste the sauerkraut throughout the process to check its doneness, but be sure that you push it back under the brine. It should take about 1 week at 70° to 75° F for your sauerkraut to be ready. If it is still producing bubbles, it will probably need another day or two. Any sliminess or mold on the cabbage is a sign of spoilage – throw the batch out. A white film on top of the water indicates the presence of yeasts. You can skim the film off, rinse off the weights on the cabbage, and continue the process. When the sauerkraut is ready, store it, tightly covered in the refrigerator.
If you’re looking for something to do your new batch of sauerkraut, I suggest Choucroute garnie (French for dressed sauerkraut), which is a dish of sauerkraut and meats braised in wine. The original recipe contains a variety of pork products (smoked, cured and fresh). My version contains beef-bacon, flanken and kielbasa. This is a hearty, cold-weather dish, perfect for Shabbos nights during the winter.
Choucroute garnie au boeuf
1 large, white onion, diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ pound beef-bacon (Beef-Frye), diced
1 Granny Smith Apple, peeled, cored and cut into wedges
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
2½ pounds of sauerkraut, squeezed dry
3 pounds flanken, or boneless short-ribs
2 bay leaves
1½ teaspoons black peppercorns
8 juniper berries, lightly crushed, optional but recommended
1 bottle Riesling wine
1 pound kielbasa or knockwurst sausage
1½ pounds small red new potatoes, well scrubbed
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a oven-safe dutch-oven or casserole, heat the oil over a medium flame. Sauté the beef-bacon until it begins to render, but don’t let it get brown. Add the diced onion and sauté just until translucent. Take the pot off the heat.
3. Add the drained sauerkraut, apple wedges and garlic cloves to the pot. Stir to combine. Bury the flanken in the sauerkraut mixture.
4. Take a piece of cheesecloth and tie a pouch, containing the bay leaves, peppercorns and juniper berries. Bury the pouch in the sauerkraut.
5. Pour the Riesling wine over the mixture, until it just covers the cabbage. Cover the pot and place it into the preheated oven for 2 hours.
6. Open the sausage and remove any plastic wrapper. Take the pot out of the oven and replenish the wine so that the cabbage is just covered again. Lay the sausage on top of the cabbage, and spread the potatoes over that. Return the pot to the oven for another hour.
7. Serve the choucroute on a large tray, to showcase the meats. Slice the sausages for a nicer presentation. Serve with a variety of mustards – whole-grain or Dijon mustard are best.