Saturday, October 22, 2011

A New Way with Sauerkraut (for me)

I will admit early in this post that my adventures with sauerkraut are relatively new.  I did not, like so many other people, grow up eating sauerkraut as a child.  I don't even think I tried sauerkraut until I was around the age of 18, and then it was tried on a hot dog with mustard and bacon at a neighborhood diner.  I liked it, but I didn't love it.  My husband's family, on the other hand, ate sauerkraut more frequently, and his mother grew up with her father making it in a huge stone crock on a regular basis.  She has told me many stories about its smell, taste, and how much she loved the core of the cabbage which would get nice and tender and sweet.  I love stories like that, and it made me want to make my own sauerkraut, even though I knew it would be an acquired taste for me.  It's kind of like coffee, the more I drink it, the more it grows on me. 

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. 


  1. This looks really good--I've been wanting an easy way to make sauerkraut for a while! As for other things you can do with it, it's surprisingly good on pizza with sliced tomato.

    1. That is what I was thinking. I have to try it!

    2. Have been doing kraut this way for years. Did not originate with Martha Stewart. So don't let the name keep you from making kraut.

    3. You are correct that it did not originate with Martha Stewart. As mentioned in my post, it was an article in her magazine about a woman who runs a sauerkraut business. I am sure it did not even originate with that woman either and has, instead, probably been made like this as long as jars have been around. Having not grown up making sauerkraut (or even eating it), I was a newbie to it at one point and found this way to be the simplest, most foolproof.

    4. Love sauerkraut pizza! People think I'm crazy but it's delicious! We will be using this recipe to make kraut for our homeschool co-op class in our Tour of Europe as Germany is this week's focus! Thanks for the easy recipe that I can use for my k-12 kids!

  2. This looks terrific! I've tried making sauerkraut before but without luck (it got moldy and gross) - I'll try your method here. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Julia- Thanks for the idea for the pizza. That sounds interesting. I will have to try that soon.

    Hannah- I have also had my experiences with moldy sauerkraut, but I think this method is almost foolproof. Just make sure the temperatures are right and the cabbage stays submerged in brine and you will be good to go. Good luck!

  4. Looks great! We have never tried making sauerkraut in jars. We have one of those german fermenting crocks with the water seal, so easy but quite an investment! Good thing we pretty much have a crock going at all times! Thanks for a great post!

  5. I looked into getting a crock, but you are right, it is an investment. It sounds like you use your crock enough to pay off though.

  6. One of the advantages of making your own sauerkraut versus purchasing it ready made is the fermenting process creates healthy pro-biotics that help maintain a healthy gut. In the recipe above you lose that fermented goodness by boiling and over cooking the kraut. My suggestion would be to only add the sauerkraut after everything else has cooked to doneness. Take the skillet off the heat and stir in the kraut. The flavors will be there and so will the healthy probiotics!

    I love your description of making the kraut. Doing it like this seems much more "doable" than my grandma's crock methods. But then she was "putting away" cabbage from a large garden and working in larger quantities than I ever will.

  7. Anonymous, thanks for the comment. You are correct in that heat kills some of the beneficial bacteria found in unpasteurized/unprocessed sauerkraut. If you are concerned about that, by all means cook the potatoes and sausage until done before adding the kraut. I add the sauerkraut with the other ingredients because it does allow it time to meld with the other flavors including the wine, but I am sure it would be tasty with the kraut just heated through.

    In terms of the recipe being doable, it is much more doable than the crock method (which I have done in the past) especially if you are working in smaller quantities which many more modern preservers tend to be. Happy Sauerkrauting!

  8. Your sauerkraut recipe is the same as mine. (We must have read the same magazine article!) The only difference is, I decided not to put the mason jar's lid on, but weighed it down with a baggie filled with brine. That way, there is no need to "burp" the lid every other day...and the baggie also keeps the sauerkraut under its brine.
    But, I do have a question: When it's time to keep the sauerkraut in the fridge, is it necessary to keep the sauerkraut under the brine? or, can I take out the baggie with brine and put the mason jar's lid on. (Right now I still have the baggie in, acting as the lid and keeping the kraut under the brine.)
    Thanks so much!

  9. Great solution to not opening the lid every few days. I have made the kraut several times since this post, and I will say that if you don't "burp" the jar, nothing too terrible will happen. I have found that when I have forgotten, the lid losens on its own from the pressure. Still a good idea to open it if you are covering it with the lid and ring though. At least, your method eliminates this altogether.

    In regards to the baggie of brine, when you are ready to store the sauerkraut in the fridge, I would remove the bag from the top and make sure the sauerkraut in the jar is covered with brine. If it is not completely covered, just mix 1 cup water with 1 tablespoon salt and use this solution to cover the brine. It will keep in the fridge at that point (covered with the lid and ring) for a very long time.

  10. Virginia-
    Once the cabbage, brine and cabbage leaf have all been placed in the jar, I'll put the mason jar lid on and screw it tight. In a few days you say to loosen it, but how much? If the outer ring was screwed on nice and tight, then should I loosen it by a quarter of a crank, half of a crank or a full one? And by the end of 21 days isn't the outer ring almost completely off after being loosened continuously?

    Sorry if this sounds ridiculous, but I am trying to avoid an explosion here! I have frazzled adrenals and the smallest of noises startle me beyond words! An exploding mason jar just may send me over the edge!! :) Thanks so much!

  11. Susan, your question is not ridiculous. I should have stated that once you loosen the lid to allow the air to escape, tighten it back. Then you will loosen it again in another day or so, continuing like that until the process is complete.

  12. I eat my fermented cabbabe as a salad, I don't cook it.

  13. You can certainly eat the sauerkraut without cooking it. It all depends on the food you want to pair it with and the outcome you want to achieve. It is great cold or room temp on sandwiches, hotdogs, etc, and there are also recipes out there that cook it. One of Julia Child's recipes involves cooking it for multiple hours with a roast which, while killing off some of that good bacteria, also sounds delicious.

  14. I drill a hole in the plastic lid and insert an airlock to release the gases. Works great!

  15. Great idea, Val! I will have to try that the next time.

  16. Hi Virginia,
    I'm just wondering if you've ever noticed little pockets - not sure if they're air pockets or water pockets - in the jars. I packed the jars tightly using a pestal and they've been sitting for 24 hours - I can see a few little spaces even though the brine is filled to the top. Is this normal? Should I pack the cabbage even tighter?
    Thank you!

  17. Sometimes you do get air bubbles in the jars when filling them. If you have the jars packed tightly, I would just use a chopstick or skewer to run down the sides of the jar. This should help free any air bubbles, and then you can add more liquid (and press your cabbage down) to fill in those gaps. Also, the sauerkraut will bubble a little and the liquid may seep as time goes on. Just top it off with more brine as needed. I would not worry too much about any very small air bubbles as long as everything is covered in brine, but I would try to eliminate obvious ones as much as possible. Good luck!

  18. What is the 'brine' recipe?

  19. The brine (if you need extra) is 1 tablespoon kosher salt to 1 cup water. Just mix the ingredients to dissolve the salt.

  20. I love to make following recipe.

    Slice potatoes and make white sauce with cheese (Cheddar is best) Mix and put in 9 x 13 baking dish. Top with Kielbasa cut into sections and then with sauerkraut. Bake 1 1/2 hrs. or until potatoes are tender. Yum!!!

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  22. I have got the superb information from these blogs finally.
    homemade sauerkraut

  23. Could I use one big jar instead of three?

  24. You could use a big jar instead of small ones. The main purpose of the small ones is that you can then store it in the fridge in the same jar with one jar being used at a time. Good luck!

  25. I tried this recipe and just tasted my first batch after 19 days. It is SO GOOD it is ridiculous! Way crispier than any store bought I've ever had. I could eat it right out of the jar and be happy. I already have more cabbage bought and plan to make more. To Lauren Frost, I didn't have any pint jars so I weighed out 2 #'s of cabbage from a head and used a quart mason jar and it worked just fine. ( I used the remaining cabbage for soup.) Virginia, thanks so much for sharing!

  26. Brown some pork chops in skillet or oven, season to taste, when almost done...dump some kraut on top of the meat,let steam, stir...tenderizes the meat to perfect yumminess...

  27. The recipe you showed at the end with the sausage and kraut definitely hit me with some nostalgia and made me hungry! Looks delicious - and knowing that the sauerkraut would be homemade sounds so great! Thank you for sharing your simple recipe for sauerkraut, it seems so simple!