This week, Matt and I got 3 big heads of red cabbage in our CSA share. So naturally, we were excited to make a batch of fresh Sauerkraut.
Making sauerkraut in the summer is great because the warm weather allows the kraut to ferment faster. It usually only takes a few days in this warm weather.
We've been making our own sauerkraut for years, ever since we saw this video:
We realized the sauerkraut bought at the store is not fermented at all, just soaked in vinegar for flavor. It's not really real sauerkraut unless you ferment it. And the stuff from the store is limp and soggy, while the home-made kraut is crisp, crunchy, and amazingly delicious.
I like to use red cabbage because I like the crisp texture. We also make a few variations of sauerkraut using this method - like Salvadorean "curtido" for papusas, and Kimchi.
When I saw the glass jar/airlock combo in the Mark Frauenfelder video that costs $20, I knew Matt and I could make the same thing for way cheaper. We went to the thrift store and got this awesome 1970s 1 gallon glass jar with a plastic screw on cap that was perfect. It cost $2. Then we went to the local fermentation/homebrew/jar store and got the airlocks, which were $2. Yes, technically you can just use a crock or a piece of cloth to keep dust out, but our method is fool proof and we've never had any mold or bad stuff grow because the air-lock is made so that it doesn't let anything in, but air pressure can escape.
So basically you just take the jar, drill a hole in the plastic lid as wide as the rubber airlock gasket, and you're ready to go. Yep, I'm pretty much in love with our heart-design 70s jar. We've also added a jar with cows printed on it and one with geese on it to our collection. Gotta love vintage stuff!
TIP: DO NOT USE A PLASTIC JAR!!
You can only use GLASS jars for fermentation. Plastic will leave a bad taste and is not good with the reaction of fermentation. Yes the screw on cap is plastic, but that does not come in contact with the cabbage at all.
DO NOT USE A METAL CAP! There can be NO contact between metal and the sauerkraut (or any fermentation). So, stick with glass and a plastic cap.
Sauerkraut is just cabbage and a little bit of salt.
Everything else happens during fermentation.
Now that you have the fermentation station ready to go, it's time to let it sit. Find a dark, cool place that is out of the way and place the jar on a plate. The plate is just in case there is a bit of overflow of juices/liquids. Fermentation will push the air out of the airlock, but sometimes you'll get some purple liquid dripping out too. We put the sauerkraut in a closed cabinet, a closet, or the basement depending on the season.
If it is cooler or cold in your region or home, it will take longer to ferment, maybe a week of more.
If you live in a really warm environment or it is summer, it will only take a few days.
You can taste the sauerkraut after a few days and decide if it needs more time or is done. Just make sure you use a clean fork to taste it, and cover it back up with the baggy if you need to put it back into the dark for a few more days.
Once it has fermented to your satisfaction (based on your taste!), take it out of the dark and put it into the fridge. The cold fridge will halt the fermentation process and keep it fresh for weeks.
Now, enjoy your sauerkraut on everything! I eat it every day. It's kind of addicting.
You can use this same Fermentation Station set-up to make any fermented food. You can make kombucha, curtido, kimchi, pickles, fermented radishes and beets, etc all using this same jar. Experiment! I like to make the Vietnamese pickle mixture (daikon radish and carrot, salt and a bit of sugar) to make banh mi sandwiches.
Fermenting is not an exact science, which is what I love about it. If you have a favorite fermented food recipe, I want to know about it! Leave a comment with your favorite sauerkraut variation!