Sauerkraut is actually surprisingly easy to make, as it turns out. All you need is cabbage, pickling/canning salt, and a little bit of patience.
The first thing you need to do is prepare the cabbage. Wash it, remove the outer leaves, cut it in 4 and shred it. This can be done either by chopping it by hand, in a food processor, or with a mandolin.
If you are doing it by hand it is a little harder to get nice even shreds, which is why I really liked using the mandolin for this purpose. Plus it gets to be a crazy cabbagey mess pretty fast.
In clean and sterilized container, combine 5 pounds of cabbage with 3 tablespoons of salt. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the cabbage, and with clear hands mix it in well. Leave it until it starts to wilt, and release its juices. At the very least 15 minutes. Don’t reduce the salt in the recipe.
Next you want to transfer it into the container you plan to ferment it in. In class, and when I made it at home later, we just used large mason jars. I think this is easier than a pickling crock, but it’s up to you. The crock is of course nice for a gigantic batch. Push the cabbage tightly into the jar or crock, getting it to release more liquids. It should release enough that you don’t need added brine, but if you do, top it off with a brine that is 4.5 teaspoons of salt for every 4 cups of water. Leave at least 4-5 inches of headspace in your pickling vessel.
The thing that I liked about doing it in the jars was what we did next. We filled a plastic bag with the brine, and placed that in the top of the jar to hold the cabbage down. With the crock you need to weight it down with a plate or something, and it just seemed a little more difficult. The bag trick totally rocks. If you start to get a bit of scum, just remove the bag, wash it, clean out the scum, and put it back in. It seemed to me like you got a lot less though too with this bag method. Ball says you’ll have to skim it daily, and like this that is definitely not the case.
Now comes the patience part. Fermenting your cabbage will take a few weeks, so now we wait, and let the magic happen! OK, it’s not magic, it’s science! Bacteria will get to work on that cabbage, making the lactic acid that give sauerkraut its tart flavour. It can take up to 6 weeks, so be patient. Keep it at room temperatures, about 70-75F (21-23C).
The way that you know your sauerkraut is ready is that it will be sour when you taste it. Do not can it until it tastes sour, or it is not acidic enough, and not safe to can. As you can see below, when it’s done it is a little lighter in colour, and loses a bit of the green colour.
So now that it’s done what do you do? Well you have a few options. It keeps for a few months just fine in the fridge, so that’s a good option, especially if you only made a small batch as I did at home. I did 4 cabbages and filled 3.5 quart jars to give you an idea of how much it compacts. You can also can it though, if you so desire. It can be raw or hot packed. For both, prepare the canner, jars and lids. For the raw pack, you pack the kraut into hot jars, remove air bubbles, leave a half inch headspace, and process pints for 20 minutes and quarts for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. If you hot pack it, you bring it to a simmer with the brine over medium high (don’t boil), then fill the jars, again leaving a half inch head space and removing bubbles. For the hot pack though, you only need to process 10 minutes for pints and 15 for quarts, since you already warmed it up. For both of course process at a full rolling boil with the jars covered by at least 1-2 inches of water. After the processing time is done, turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, wait 5 minutes and remove the jars. I have no pictures, however, because I plan to just keep it in the fridge. So, there you have it – you can choose from three ways to store it, and it’s super easy to make. Now get out there and kraut!