I picked up some fine cabbages, including some pretty red little things, and since I have done a couple runs of sauerkraut and feel my fermentation game is pretty solid, I decided to experiment a little bit. Earlier in the week, I took a daytrip with my traveling partner Breyana to Zanesville, Ohio, to the Ohio Stoneware factory outlet. While there, I picked up some weights that were missing from the crocks I inherited, as well as some nice lids, and I got them at a steal because I took “imperfect” ones which were only half price. So, I had all the items I needed, and I got to making some sauerkraut.
A couple quick notes- as always, I am not telling you this is the right way to do it, the best way to do it, the fastest way to do it, etc. I am just showing you how I did it. Part of the fun for me is just experimenting and playing around and seeing what happens. Second, as always, before you do anything make sure your knives are sharp and your work space and counters are clean so you can have room to work.
First up, clean and prep all your ingredients. I cleaned up four heads of cabbage, four mini heads of red cabbage, a red onion, and I cleaned and prepped some horseradish root:
Second, you need to weigh out your cabbage and measure your salt. This is crucial- too much salt and you will kill the fermentation. I always use three tablespoons of salt per 5 lbs of cabbage, and I had about 16 pounds of cabbage and horse radish so I used 9 tablespoons of salt and put it in a container. As you can see, I have my crock in a clean sink ready to go:
At this point, it’s just time to start shredding. Again, I like to do it by hand, as my knife skills are good enough that I can get a pretty consistent cut with a little intentional variation for texture. If you prefer super fine cabbage, or just don’t want to do it by hand, you could use a food processor. I don’t even have one anymore after mine broke, and I have to say I don’t miss it. By the time you pull it out of storage, re-clean it, assemble it, use it, clean it again, and put it away, it’s just easier to do everything with a knife. But ymmv and you may not feel comfortable with knives or a mandoline.
I then throw the cabbage in the crock, and each layer I add a little of the measured salt and some of the horseradish:
Once you get a good bit in, it’s time to tamp it down and start working the cabbage and horseradish. I inherited my dad’s tamper (which was his grandmothers), and I like to tamp it all down, and then reach down with my hand, pull from the bottom, and circulate it it, macerating it and working it:
You just keep doing this until you run out of cabbage. As you can see, it will look like you are going to run out of room, but you won’t- as you work it, it shrinks in size:
As you are doing this, you should notice the salt doing its magic and pulling the moisture out of the cabbage. Just keep tamping and manually circulating the cabbage for a while until you have enough brine to cover the cabbage:
As you can see, the cabbage has released enough water that a natural brine has been created. I’ve read about people adding water, but I have never needed to- I use really fresh cabbage from local farms, and they are plenty juicy that I have never needed to this. At this point, it is time to do one final round of tamping, and then to cover it with cheesecloth:
I measure out the cheesecloth, and then I use a butter knife to push it down the sides so that the entire surface is covered. It is also very important that you take a clean, damp rag, and clean out the crock above the water line. You can research it on your own, but this a lactic acid fermentation, so you don’t want any crap or residue above the anaerobic environment you are creating to become a bacterial mess. Finally, place your weights on top of the cheesecloth, and make sure the cabbage is covered with the brine completely. You should have at least an inch of water:
As you can see, you have now completely covered the cabbage, created the necessary anaerobic environment for the fermentation process to take place. You then simply place a lid on the crock and store it for however long you want it to ferment. The fermentation time can vary- I like to do about two weeks. I’ve found that a 14-15 day ferment leaves you with a crisp kraut which you can then cold pack and put a couple in the fridge to use or give away, with plenty left over to process in the canner. Others like to go longer. It’s really up to you.
Additionally, some people check every couple of days and skim any scum off the top. I don’t. I just make sure it is clean and properly done, and then basically it is fire and forget. I put the crock with the lid in a cool shaded area, put a reminder on my phone, and in two weeks I will check it. I basically act like I do when I am smoking something- “looking ain’t cooking.” If I like what I see, I will can it then. If I think it needs another day or two or even a week, so be it.
As always, YMMV.