I have tried making sauerkraut a couple of time using directions from other food sites and the directions printed in one of the Ball books. I used a large 3 gallon glass jar, and weighted the cabbage down with plates as it was submerged in the brine. It worked, but was annoying to try to keep the cabbage submerged, and white scum formed a little on top which had to be scraped away. The sauerkraut was good, but to me, not something I wanted to continue to invest that amount of time and energy in.
That is, until I was standing in the grocery check out several weeks ago. I picked up a copy of Martha Stewart Living and was flipping through it to pass the time when I came across the article about a woman in California who runs a small sauerkraut business. In the article, it detailed how to make three pint jars of sauerkraut with no weighting down, no skimming off scum, and no fuss at all. You simply put the cabbage into jars along with brine, top each off with a cabbage leaf, and allow them to sit for about a month. Easy as that. I had to try it! I added the magazine to my shopping cart, and headed home to try my hand at more sauerkraut.
As a sidebar, I recently read an article written by Food52 on Yahoo on which many readers completely dismissed the recipe being written about simply because it originated with Martha Stewart. I don't really care who writes/publishes recipes as long as they work. Therefore, if there are any adamant Martha Stewart haters out there reading my blog, you can either skip this sauerkraut, or suck it up and make it anyway, but you'll be missing out if you skip it.
I began by shredding the cabbage, sprinking it with salt, and massaging it until it released some of its liquid.
The cabbage was then packed tightly into three pint jars. About three pounds of cabbage fit perfectly into three jars. This is really what makes this different from other sauerkraut methods I have encountered, but it is great because once the sauerkraut is ready after several weeks, it can be stored in the refrigerator in these same jars.
Brine was then added to cover the contents of each jar.
Each jar was topped off with a clean, folded cabbage leaf. This leaf is one of the things that makes this method work better (at least for me). It prevents yeast, the white scum that formed on my sauerkraut in the past, from forming. Therefore, no skimming or scraping is required.
The only thing left at this point was to place the lids and rings on each jar, and place the jars on a plate in a cool area. The ideal temperature for fermentation is around 70 degrees. It really shouldn't be any lower than about 65 and no higher than 75 degrees. Too low and fermentation takes longer or may not occur, too high and the cabbage could mold.
I will warn you, as the directions in the magazine do, that pressure will build inside the jars. You will need to loosen the ring on the jar every couple of days to release some of the built up pressure. The article said this should be done every five days, but I did it every two days because the pressure caused the flexible area of my canning lid to puff up which made me think it could explode if not loosened sooner. I have no idea if that would have really happened, but why play around? Better to loosen the lid every two days than clean sauerkraut off your ceiling! Also, some of the liquid leaked out after a few weeks. I simply mixed up a little more brine and topped each jar off to keep the cabbage submerged.
The article said that the favorite length of fermentation was 21 days. We tried the sauerkraut after 21 days and thought it was just not as strong as we liked. We allowed it to ferment a week more, and it was perfect for our tastes. You may want to try it after 20 days or so to see what you think. The longer it ferments, the stronger it will get.
Now, once you have your sauerkraut, what will you do with it? One way we like to eat it is to cook it with sausage and potatoes for a quick, one skillet meal. First you brown slices of sausage. We like how the sweetness of chicken and apple sausage balances out the tanginess of the sauerkraut, but other flavors or types of link sausage will work.
Then you add a little diced onion, a pint of sauerkraut that has been drained and rinsed, and a handful of small potatoes cut into 3/4 inch pieces. On this night, I used fingerling potatoes that I had on hand. I cut each fingerling in half to allow them to cook faster.
The mixture cooks with some white wine for about 30 minutes or so until the potatoes are tender. It can then be enjoyed as is or with a little mustard. Alternately, you could roast the potatoes in the oven while cooking the sauerkraut and sausage on the stove. The crispness of the potatoes would be great with the sauerkraut. Cooking them along in the pan (as in this method) just makes them tender and flavorful with a texture more like a boiled potato. Equally delicious either way, it just depends on what you are going for.
I would love to know what you do with your sauerkraut. If you have a great way of using sauerkraut, post a comment and share. I need more ideas so that I can try it in different ways and hopefully grow to love it even more!
Sauerkraut (only slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living October 2011)
makes 3 pints
1 head of cabbage, about 3 pounds, shredded (reserve three outer leaves)
1 tbsp kosher salt (plus more as needed)
filtered water (if needed)
Combine the shredded cabbage and one tablespoon salt in a bowl and let stand 20-30 minutes. Squeeze handfuls of the cabbage mixture for about 5 minutes. As you squeeze, the cabbage will release some of its liquid forming a brine.
Pack the cabbage mixture into three pint jars, pressing the mixture down to fit it all into the jars. The cabbage will be packed tightly. Add enough brine to each jar to cover the cabbage. If you need more brine, mix one tablespoon kosher salt with one cup water and use it to cover the cabbage. Leave at least 1 inch headspace between the top of the cabbage and the jar. Top each jar with a folded cabbage leaf. Cover the jars with lids and rings and place the jars on a plate or baking dish to catch any seepage. Place the plate and jars in a cool, dark location, preferably around 70 degrees.
Check on the jars every two days to make sure that the cabbage is still submerged in the brine. Pressure will build in the jars, so loosen the ring every two days or so to release the pressure. If some of the liquid seeps out, mix 1 tablespoon salt with 1 cup water and use it to cover the sauerkraut. Allow the sauerkraut to sit 20-30 days. After 20 days, taste it to see if it is as strong as you would like. If not, place it back for a week or so more to develop a stronger flavor.
Once it tastes like you want, wipe the jars, and store them in the refrigerator. The sauerkraut will keep in the refrigerator for about six months. It could be processed in a water bath, but doing so would kill the beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods, so it is better to store in the refrigerator.
Chicken and Apple Sausage with Sauerkraut and Potatoes
serves 4 (adapted from Eating Well magazine)
5 links of chicken and apple sausage cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 pint sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
1 pound small potatoes, cut into 3/4 inch pieces (if peel is not tough, leave it)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 bay leaf
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet on medium high heat. Add sliced sausage and cook 1-2 minutes on each side until nicely browned. Remove the sausage to a plate. Add the remaining olive oil and the onion to the skillet and cook until the onion is translucent. Place the potatoes in the skillet with the onion and season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken back to the skillet along with the rinsed sauerkraut, the bay leaf, and the wine. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are tender throughout and most of the liquid has evaporated. Once the potatoes are tender, remove the lid from the skillet and cook 1-2 minutes more to allow any remaining liquid to evaporate. Remove the bay leaf. Serve as is or with a bit of spicy mustard on the side.