Saturday, January 5, 2008

Meet My New Crock

Until now I've been making my sauerkraut in a plastic bucket. But my wife recently saw this large ceramic crock on deep-discount sale at the kitchenwares store and snagged it, making my sauerkraut operation a good deal classier.

The crock is about 3-gallon size, plenty of room for the 10 pounds of cabbage I had in mind for a new batch of sauerkraut. The process is remarkably easy and results in a freshly fermented kraut that you can eat very simply as is, or as the basis for an elaborate choucroute. There is little resemblance between freshly fermented kraut and the processed stuff that comes out of a can. Some people swear by the brine as a health tonic, since it is swarming with beneficial bacteria, just like yogurt.

The formula is as follows: cut a full head of cabbage into quarters and trim away the outer leaves and the tough core (toss these in the compost pile). Shred the cabbage as you would for a cole slaw. I just slice it up with a serrated bread knife. For every five pounds of shredded cabbage, toss with 3 tablespoons pickling salt or fine sea salt--you must use a salt free of iodine or chemical additives.

Place the salted cabbage in a heavy-duty plastic bucket or ceramic crock. With your balled-up fist, press the cabbage down as tightly as possible. Already the salt will be drawing liquid out of the cabbage. Over the next 24 hours, you'll want the cabbage completely submerged so that it is not exposed to oxygen and any airborne pathogens.

Next day, cover the cabbage with a tightly-fitting ceramic plate or non-resinous piece of wood and press down so that the weight is submerged in the brine. Weigh this down with a heavy object, or a large plastic container filled with water. Cover the whole thing with a tea towel to keep out dust.

What happens next is, a progression of bacteria already present on the cabbage will begin to nosh on the kraut, creating a lactic acid that repels spoiling kinds of microbes. This lacto-fermentation process I find best takes place at a temperature around 68 degrees (Fahrenheit). See if you don't have a dark, quite place in the house where the bacteria can do their work in peace. It will take four to six weeks, typically. Taste the kraut occasionally for doneness, and just scrape away any mold that might form around the edges.

You can now eat the kraut as you like. Storing it in the refrigerator will slow the fermentation process, but the bacteria are still alive until cooked. I still have sauerkraut in the fridge that I made nearly a year ago. Looking into my crystal ball, I see the fuzzy outlines of a choucroute in our near future....


The Baklava Queen said...

Cool! I just picked up a crock at a local store last week, so I'll be trying sauerkraut sometime this year for the first time. Thanks for the inspiration, Ed!

WashingtonGardener said...

I'm fascinated by the different cultures who do a similar cabbage treatment to my German family - Korean kimchi and the curtido Salvadoreno (pickled cabbage El Salvador style) -- can you think of others? I just find it amazing that such divergent cuising-styles have all come up with such a similar savory dish.

Joanna said...

Hi Ed

Fascinating post ... just one question: rather like you, I seem to be the main cabbage eater in this house (and I sometimes eat it for breakfast too, do you get people going yuk/irrrrr/?). SO, will this work well with something less than 10lb of cabbage? Or is it one of those processes that needs bulk?


Ed Bruske said...

Jennifer, the only thing I can say is, great minds think alike. Please let me know how your sauerkraut turns out. But if its anything like your other food, I'm sure it will be superb.

Kathy, I'm trying to think of an ethnic group that does not eat cabbage in multiple forms--and does not enjoy pickled foods of some sort--and none is coming to mind. Cabbage seems to have exactly the right flavor properties for ferment, e.g. sauerkraut.

Joanna, you can make a much smaller quanty of kraut. Simply adjust the proportions according the formula I gave and use a smaller container.

Peg said...

Lovely crock! I have an old one I got from my parents and use it for a paper waste basket in my office!

Mark said...

I did it. I used the Lacto fermentation method, and the kraut was ready in 3 days. It's been in the fridge now for about a week, and I have continued eating on it. My experience with kraut is the storebought, so I don't have a lot to compare. But it tastes very similar to kimchi, and is very crunchy.

Ed Bruske said...

That's record time, Mark. My sauerkraut usually takes three or four weeks.

Mark said...

yes it does seem fast. I got the recipe out of Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. I used 3 cups cabbage, pressed it with cumin and mustard, put it in a quart jar, and pressed again. Then I put a tablespoon of whey (taken from your homemade yogurt recipe), teaspoon of salt and water to just over the level of the cabbage. Then I tightened the lid of the jar and placed in the pantry for three days. It was definitely fermented after three days. I would love to compare it to yours.