One of the many perks of living in Budapest, Hungary included quick getaways to many a foodie’s paradise. We sampled risotto in Rome, and chocolate eclairs in Paris and sauerkraut in Vienna.
Of all the culinary delights in Europe, you’re probably wondering why in the world I’d list sauerkraut as a contender for paradise. It’s just rotted cabbage, right?
Sauerkraut is shredded cabbage mixed with salt, then pummeled to release briny goodness. The cabbage is submerged in the brine at least a few days and morphs into the delicously bright condiment that makes schnitzel sing.
My love affair with sauerkraut started in Vienna, on a plate of fried schnitzel and fresh potato salad, but it didn’t even there. Even in Hungary I ate my fill. The large, covered market where we purchased produce and meat housed a stinky underground cellar where no expat dared to venture. Wafts of pungent odors crept out of the stairwells leading down, but I braved my way into the land of fermentation.
Little old ladies stood over vats of fermented pickles, kraut and other crunchy finds, happily selling their time-tested methods of preservation.
Inspired, I finally ventured out to make a sauerkraut to call my own. Many mistakes have been made along the way, I’ve learned a lot the hard way and seen my share of good and bad kraut, but that’s part of the fun…right?!
1 medium head of cabbage
1 Tbsp. sea salt
up to 1 Tbsp. caraway seeds (optional)
*BTW, If you’d like to make a bigger batch of sauerkraut, simply add about 1 Tbsp. salt per extra head of cabbage.
1. Wash your hands, your cutting board, your knife. Make sure your mason jars are also clean.
2. Chop the cabbage. Peel and discard outer leaves on the cabbage. Using a food processor (or hand grater), chop the cabbage into small pieces. I like to do a 50/50 mixture of one half of cabbage is chopped by the blade in my food processor and then I use the slicing attachment to slice the other half of the cabbage into thin ribbons. You can also just grate it into small pieces or simply cut thin ribbons with a knife.
3. Put all of your cabbage in a large bowl and pour the salt over it. Using your hands, knead the cabbage for about 5-10 minutes. The cabbage will release juices and get soupy. Mix in the caraway seeds. If you don’t have time or strength to do this, just squeeze it for a mintute or so, then leave it in the bowl. Drape a clean dish towel over it and let it sit for about 6 hours. The cabbage will slowly break down and get juicier.
4. Take fistfuls of cabbage and stuff them into your jars. Pack them down as you go.
5. You need to weigh down the cabbage or it will rise above the liquid. This is really important! Lacto-fermentation is taking place which requires an environment without oxygen–liquid solves that problem-o by protecting the cabbage from air. Place a smaller jar weighed down with marbles, pennies or weights on the cabbage (inside your mason jar) to weigh it down.
6. With a clean cloth and rubberband, cover the mouth of the mason jar. With the cloth, air can flow in and out of the jar, but dust and bugs cannot. Win.
7. Keep pressing the jelly jar down every few hours for an entire day to make sure the cabbage doesn’t float above the liquid.
8. If after a day there isn’t enough liquid to cover the cabbage, prepare brine to add by dissolving 1 tsp. sea salt in one cup of water. Add enough liquid to submerge the cabbage.
9. Let the cabbage sit in a cool place away from direct sunlight. After 3 days taste it to see if you like the flavor. When you like the taste, remove the weighted jelly jar, screw on the lid and refrigerate. If desired, you can let it ferment for longer. Just go by what tastes good to you. Your nose and tongue can tell you a lot! If it’s really stinky or tastes really funky, that’s when you know something isn’t right.
Heads up: you may see some bubbles floating to the top. That’s normal. Also, you may see white scum. Just skim it off the top.
If you see mold, skim it off! Be sure your cabbage is completely under the liquid to protect it from mold. The cabbage below is still okay though.
10. Store sauerkraut for several months in the fridge. Since it’s fermented, it’ll last a while. Just keep using your nose, taste buds and eyes! Toss it if it starts to smell or taste funky.
directions adapted from The Kitchn