Friday, July 13, 2012

Wild Fermented Sour Kraut (Raw)

In some ways home fermented sour kraut is very easy to make, but in other ways it's a little fussy. It's easy because all you have to do is chop the cabbage, salt it and keep it submerged in it's own liquid for about a month. It's fussy because you really do need a kitchen scale and a large crock with a lid (ceramic or glass) to do it properly, so if you don't have those things you need to go get them to make your own wild fermented kraut.

Even so, the end product is so vastly superior, in flavor and nutrition, to what you can buy in a store that it is completely worth it. Wild fermented sour kraut takes advantage of lactobacillus by using the salt to encourage an environment where it can thrive and win the battle against other harmful bacteria. Lactobacillus gives off the sour flavor characteristic of yoghurt, kraut and sour beers. It's also one of the "good bacterias" for your intestinal flora. Sadly, when kraut is pasteurized or caned by boiling all of those good bacteria are killed along with much of the delicious nutty flavor found in wild fermented sour kraut.

There is no particular measurement for how much kraut to make - make as much as you want to make. It's more of a mathematical equation. You want to have 2-2.5 % salt to cabbage ratio. It's easiest to measure in grams so if you are going to get a kitchen scale to do this, get one that measures in grams (preferably to .01 grams if possible). I'm totally nerding out now. Here's how I made it this time:

5 small heads of cabbage, quartered and cores removed (photo to follow)
Sea salt (as untreated as possible)
Other ingredients as desired (such as: garlic, onion, caraway, dill, fennel, peppercorns, mustard seeds, etc.)

1) Quarter each head of cabbage lengthwise so that you have four wedges. Cut across the bottom of each wedge diagonally so that you remove the portion of the core that is lodged there:

2) Place all of the core-less cabbage into a large bowl and weigh the cabbage making sure to write down the weight of the cabbage - in grams if possible:

3) Take the cabbage out of the large bowl (or use a second large bowl) and slice the cabbage very, very thinly placing the sliced cabbage back into the bowl.

4) To measure out the salt take the weight of your cabbage and multiply it but .02 to .025, whatever number you get weigh out that much sea salt (this is why it's easier to use grams, the small amount of salt is more accurately weighed in grams).

5) Have ready a large glass or ceramic fermenting crock. We got a large glass crock at Target for $14.00, but you can buy really fancy ceramic ones online for $200 if you want to. Working in batches, add several handfuls of cabbage to the bottom of your crock and sprinkle in some of the salt. Knead together the cabbage and salt with your hands. You want to have the cabbage covered with the salt which acts as an abrasive and starts to draw the liquid out of the cabbage:

6) Continue to add more cabbage and more salt while pressing down and turning the cabbage over to work the salt into the cabbage. You can also add any other ingredients you'd like to use (this time we tried it with about 2 Tbsp. caraway seeds and 15 very fresh garlic cloves from the farmer's market).

7) Once you have incorporated all of the salt and cabbage press down very hard to pack the cabbage as tightly as possible. This time we had very fresh cabbage from the farmer's market and it started to ferment almost immediately, you could even hear it bubbling like a fizzy pop:

8) Once the cabbage is packed tightly you must add some kind of weight to keep it pressed down and submerged in it's own liquid (in the above photo the cabbage had only been salted for about 3 minutes and was already submerged in it's own liquid. With less fresh cabbage it may take a bit longer for the juices to come out). The fancy fermenting crocks often come with weights that fit inside. We fill 2 one gallon baggies with water, double bag them to avoid leaks, and then place that on top of the cabbage and place two mason jars filled with water on top of the bags.  But we have a friend who is an artist that works with ceramics that is making weights to fit into our glass jar - I can't wait (I'll add a photo when we get them)!

9) Place the lid on the crock. If you use a glass fermenting crock, place it in a dark place (we use our hall closet) that's not too hot and not too cold. It will probably need to ferment for about a month (make sure to write down the date you made the kraut!). Take it out to check it once in a while, you want to make sure it stays submerged in the liquid. If any bits float to the top they may mold and you an just scrape them out and discard. If the cabbage does not release enough liquid to remain submerged, add a little filtered water. Once it's been fermenting for at least 20 days you can start tasting little bits, when it gets to a sourness you like you can call it done. It can then be transferred to mason jars and stored in the fridge for at least 6 months if not longer...but it will never last that long.

I posted a recipe for bangers and mash earlier that uses kraut. I also have a recipe for a tempeh reuben that is really good which I will post later. I'm going to try to ferment my own tempeh soon, so that recipe will be coming up as well. I will also post recipes that use the left over kraut juice in the future.

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