I’ve been wanting to try my hand at homemade sauerkraut for a long time, but with the tiny bungalow we had in LA my kitchen wouldn’t allow any space for a fermentation crock to sit around on the counter for a couple weeks. But with our new house in Portland and the (almost) finished kitchen remodel, there is now countertop space galore! So I got this 5 liter fermentation crock from Pacific Merchants, read up about making it, and was kind of suspicious about how easy it all sounded. Chop up some cabbage, smash the pieces up with your hands in a big bowl with salt until they start to release water, put in crock, put weights on top to keep cabbage submerged, put lid on crock, let sit for a few weeks. Then, voila! Tasty tasty sauerkraut.
I’ve heard about people making fermentation set-ups with mason jars, but I liked using the traditional crock since it is made for keeping the good bacteria in and the bad bacteria out. The weights help keep the cabbage submerged in the salty liquid, which keeps any unhealthy bacteria and/or fungus from getting to the veggies. And after you put the lid on it, you pour a little water around the rim to make a seal that keeps bugs out while still allowing the air a means to escape (the mixture will start to bubble after a few days and the gases created need a way to get out of the fermentation vessel). You can ferment all sorts of vegetables, but I started with cabbage since it’s the easiest to work with and most traditionally used for fermentation in both kimchi and sauerkraut.
Fermentation is kind of like the ultimate slow-cooking. It is lacto-fermented, which means that the lacto bacteria ‘lactobacillus’ has started converting the carbohydrates in the vegetable into lactic acid. Why is this at all interesting? I’ll tell you! Lacto bacteria are present in both our digestive tracts and the surface of most vegetables that are grown near the ground (and haven’t been blasted with pesticides). We use the lacto bacteria in our digestive system to help us digest and break down food so we can get as many nutrients from it as possible. When you ferment foods like cabbage submerged in salty water, the lacto bacteria thrive and start breaking down the food, releasing nutrients and enzymes as they do so. So basically, fermented foods are very good for both you and your digestive tract.
And the thing that’s especially amazing about sauerkraut is its never-ending flavor possibilities. You can add any dried herb or spice to the mixture, and nearly any shredded or chopped vegetable. Shredded carrots and fennel seeds are a common addition, as are dried dill and shredded radish. For my first fermentation foray, I decided to combine two of my favorite fermented foods, sauerkraut and kimchi. Kimchi is a Korean dish that is composed of cabbage leaves fermented in fish sauce with red pepper and other goodies like radishes and garlic. I borrowed some ingredients from the traditional kimchi preparation but made them more along the lines of a sauerkraut by thinly chopping the cabbage and fermenting it in the crock.
The result was so, SO ridiculously good. Full of fresh garlic and ginger flavor with the tang of lactic acid, it was also delightfully spicy from all the red pepper flakes. If you want just a bit of heat rather than enough to make your nose run, you can go ahead and half the amount of red pepper flakes listed in this recipe. I let mine ferment for 2 weeks so the cabbage was still pretty crunchy, but you can let yours ferment as long as a couple months, just make sure to taste it as it is fermenting to make sure it stays in line with your taste preference. So get out there and start fermenting, and don’t be scared! It’s easier than you’d think, the key is just to make sure the cabbage stays submerged in the liquid while it is fermenting. And use a clean fermentation vessel, of course 🙂
Chop the cabbage into 1/2 inch wide pieces. Place it in a bowl with the salt and fish sauce and begin crushing it with your hands. Continue crushing it until the cabbage starts releasing water, and keep crushing it for another 15 minutes after that. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic, and ginger and mix well.
Empty the mixture into the fermentation crock and compress it into the bottom of the container. Place the weights in the crock and over the mixture. If there isn’t an inch of brine above the weights, add water and a teaspoon or two of salt until the weights are covered by 1 inch of water.
Place the lid on the crock and fill the lip around the lid with water to create an air-tight seal. Refill the lip as necessary over the coming weeks to ensure the water lock stays in place and keeps out any bugs or bacteria. Allow to ferment for 2 weeks and up to 2 months.
Once the desired fermentation is reached, remove the sauerkraut from the crock and store it submerged in brine in clean mason jars fitted with lids in the refrigerator. They will keep in the refrigerator like this for 1 year. Makes about 2.5 liters of sauerkraut.