I’m sorry. I can’t hear you. I have sauerkraut in my ears. Hard to spell, easy to make and eat, this is the quintessential fermented pickle to make at home right now.
- 5 pounds head cabbage, cut into quarters, core removed, then sliced into 1/4-inch strips
- 3 tablespoons fine-grain sea salt
Thoroughly clean and dry a 1-gallon sized ceramic crock (there could be one in your slow cooker) or a food-grade, BPA-free plastic bucket. Measure out the salt into a small dish.
Scatter a small pinch of the salt onto the bottom of the crock. Start adding the cabbage a little at a time, punching it down firmly and layering it with the salt. Reserve about 2 teaspoons of the salt.
Using your fist or a blunt implement – the edge of a rolling pin, a meat tenderizer, the handle of a hammer wrapped in plastic to keep it clean – bruise the cabbage by stabbing it all over in an up-and-down motion. This takes about 10 minutes or so, so be patient, and take pleasure in working out your frustrations! You want to decrease the volume of the bucket by at least one-third. And, most importantly, you want to make sure the cabbage is very wet and juicy at the surface when pressed.
Flatten out the surface of the cabbage and use your hands to scrape any vegetables from the side of the bucket. Press the cabbage down tightly to release as much air as possible. Sprinkle the remaining salt over the top, especially around the edges.
Cover the surface of the kraut with a sheet of plastic wrap – it’s very important for the plastic to just cover the surface and be away from the edges by about 1/4-inch. Cover the plastic wrap with a flat plate or lid to cover the surface almost entirely, but that does not touch the sides; the lid should be able to drop down as the volume of the cabbage decreases. Place a 2-pound weight (or more) on top of the plate, such as some large river rocks or a large jar filled with water. Cover the crock with cheesecloth or a thin, cotton kitchen towel, securing it around the crock, to let air flow in but to keep out insects and debris.
Keep the crock in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Check it the next day; the surface should be wet and juicy when you press down on the weight. (And if it’s not, bruise it some more until it is.) The kraut should sit at least a week, but the longer it sits, the more fermented it will become. Be sure to check at least every other day to make sure the surface remains moist and mold-free. If you do find small amounts of white mold, simply scoop it away and discard it. The kraut can sit three weeks or more, depending on your taste. Keep checking it every few days to remove small bits of mold and to make sure all solid pieces of vegetable remains wet completely below the brine line. The kraut is ready when you like the aroma; it will smell pleasantly fermented and kraut-y.
Once it’s ready to eat, stir the kraut thoroughly from top to bottom before eating to help distribute the flavors. Pack your kraut tightly, either in the crock you’ve used for fermenting (if it has a lid) or in jars or containers with lids. Store your kraut in the refrigerator packed down tightly with all vegetables scraped away from the sides. Make sure to store the kraut with enough of its juice to cover the solids; it will help to preserve the pickle. The kraut will keep for weeks or months if properly stored, but it will continue to ferment slowly and evolve its flavors.
VARIATION: Replace 2 pounds of the cabbage with 1 1/2 pounds tart, crisp apples, such as Granny Smith, Pink Pearl, or Gravensteins, shredded; 1/2 pound red onion (about 1 medium-sized onion), sliced in quarters and then sliced very thinly, and 1 tablespoon caraway. Layer the fermentation crock with the apples and onions and caraway on the bottom, salting and pounding the vegetables as described above.