Recipe By: Catherine Brown
When I think about one dish I make that tastes so good I feel like the gods and goddesses of the culinary spirit world are surely smiling down on me, it is sauerkraut! The stuff we all hated as kids? The stuff that ruined a perfectly delicious sausage? Yep! Perhaps it's because science is involved or maybe because most of our ancestors have been making the stuff for eons. All I know is the first time I made it I got it right, and it tasted so good!
I'd like to say I followed my great-great grandmother's recipe or some such nostalgia to account for this, but nope. The first time I ever made sauerkraut came after cracking open Emeril Lagasse's Farm to Fork cookbook. Lagasse's use of fresh garlic and jalapenos inspired me to give it a shot. I should know how to do this, I thought. If it's got garlic and jalapenos, it can't be all that gross.
I've since changed up a few things by adding herbs and shallots. The process is simple, the results delicious! Plus, the lacto-fermentation process creates plenty of gut-healthy microbes. Let's get started!
Servings: 1 quart
- 2 cups filtered water*
- 2 Tbsp unrefined, non-iodized sea salt without any anti-caking agents, etc.
- 1 lb green cabbage
- 1 medium or 2 small shallots
- 3 large cloves of garlic
- 1 large jalapeno pepper
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried (optional)
- 2 bay leaves, broken into pieces (optional)
- 1 tsp fennel, cumin or caraway seeds (optional)
- Wash your containers, knife, cutting board, and spoon in hot, soapy water. They do not need to be sterilized, but they do need to be thoroughly clean and dry.
- Wash and dry the cabbage, jalapeno and thyme (if using fresh). Do not use vegetable soap.
- Cut the cabbage in half, removing the core. Cut each piece in half again so you end up with four quarters. Slice each quarter thinly using a sharp knife or food processor. Place the sliced cabbage in a large glass, ceramic or stainless steel (non-reactive) bowl.
- The shallots and garlic cloves do not need to be washed. If the root ends are dirty, wash your knife and cutting board after peeling them. Slice the shallots as thick or thinly as you like. Add them to the bowl.
- Remove the stem end of the jalapeno. Slice into thin coins. Leaving the seeds and veins intact adds a little heat, but not too much! Add the slices to the bowl.
- The garlic cloves can be chopped or sliced. Add these to the bowl. Roughly chop the fresh thyme (or add the dry) and add the fennel, cumin or caraway seeds (if using). Use a clean hand, tongs or a spoon to combine.
- There are two methods used to introduce the salt to the vegetables. Most often sauerkraut is made using the massage method, but I like to have some brine on hand to in case the cabbage is not readily producing enough liquid to fully submerge all the vegetables.
Brine Method: Bring 1 cup of the filtered water to a boil and dissolve 1 Tbsp of the salt into the hot water and allow to cool. Add 1 more cup of cold filtered water to the salt water. Stir with a clean spoon to combine. Add the cabbage mixture to your jar(s), packing down tightly. Cover with the brine, leaving 1-2” of head space. You may have some extra brine left over. Save this in case you need to add a little extra to your jar if leakage brings the level down too far. If you need more brine, repeat the brine-making process.
Massage Method: Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of sea salt on top of the cabbage mixture. With a clean hand, massage everything together for five minutes. This will start the process of the salt extracting the juices and moisture from the vegetables. Allow to sit for five minutes and then massage again for another five minutes. Pack the vegetables tightly into your clean jar(s). Leave 1-2" of headspace in each jar. Use a clean, non-reactive spoon to press down the mixture. If you have a cocktail muddler, use it here. You should have enough moisture extracted to cover the vegetables. If not, make up a little brine as described above and add enough so the vegetables are completely covered.
- If you have fermentation weights, fermentation water-sealed crocks or pressure-release lids you can use those, but they are not necessary to achieve a safe and delicious product. You can use smaller ceramic or glass ramekins or lids to help keep the vegetables submerged. The first time I made this, I used Lagasse's full recipe (5 lbs) and a food-grade plastic pickle bucket. A ceramic dinner plate just slightly smaller than the diameter of the bucket worked perfectly. I wrapped a brick in several layers of plastic wrap to use as a weight. It worked perfectly!
- If you are using mason jars (or any other type of regular screw-top jar), do not tighten the lid completely. Leave it secure, but easily removable with one hand. If you have fermentation lids with pressure-release valves, you can tighten them as usual. You can also use tightly weaved cloth secured with a rubber band during the fermentation process.
- Store your jar(s) at room temperature on a dark shelf or out of direct light where you can attend to it easily. Don’t put them somewhere where you might forget about them.
- The warmer the room temperature, the quicker the fermentation will happen. Ideal ambient temperature is 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are concerned at all about your room temperature, just leave the jar(s) out for 24-48 hours to begin the fermentation process and then store the jar in the refrigerator, cold root cellar or basement. It might take longer for the vegetables to acquire a nice tanginess, but they will eventually get there.
- If left at room temperature, begin tasting after about three days. If you prefer more tanginess and a softer texture, allow the vegetables to continue fermenting at room temperature. When you are satisfied with the flavor and texture, tighten the lid and refrigerate or store in a cold (not freezing) basement or root cellar. The vegetables will keep for at least nine months.This is how mine looked after five days. Note the bubbles along the edges - a sign of good microbial activity.
*Non-chlorinated water is important so the naturally-occurring bacteria is not destroyed.
- Expect the vegetables to change color. Some vegetables will brighten or become a much deeper color, others will lose some or most of their color.
- Expect the liquid to become cloudy. You may also see white mold on top. This is perfectly normal and a sign that good bacteria are doing their job. No need to panic. If it bothers you, remove it with a clean, non-reactive utensil.
- Expect to see bubbles, both around the edges at the top and coming up from the bottom. This is normal. You may hear a slight release of pressure when you unscrew the lids. If you've tightened your lids a bit too much, a bit of the liquid may spew out. Replace as needed to keep the vegetables covered.
- By day 3-4 you will notice a slightly sour or acidic smell, not like vinegar, but sort of sour. This is also normal and a good indicator that it’s time to start tasting. Be sure to use a clean, non-reactive utensil each time you taste.
- If you are using regular, finger-tightened lids, some liquid may seep out. I am keeping my jars on a paper towel-lined tray to avoid messy clean-up.
- If you notice any red or pink mold or black scum, or you smell an unmistakable putrid, rotten-egg smell, this is a sign that something has gone wrong. Toss the batch and start over. I have yet to see this happen.
- Any combinations that include garlic and/or onions are going to permeate the room while fermenting if you are using regular, loosely tightened lids. This is not necessarily a concern, just something to be aware of.
Check out Catherine's other lacto-fermented recipes: Lacto-Fermented Spicy Carrots, Lacto-Fermented Red Onions, and Lacto-Fermented Moroccan-Spiced Carrots.