Sauerkraut and other fermented foods are different to most of the pickles that you buy – or indeed make – as instead of using vinegar to preserve the vegetables you are creating an environment where certain bacteria thrive and it is those bacteria that will both create flavour and preserve your vegetables.
Making sauerkraut is much easier than many people think, it is basically just a mixture of finely chopped or grated vegetables mixed with salt and then left to ferment at room temperature. My master recipe is 1-2% salt to whatever the weight of vegetables you are using. So if you have 1KG of prepared vegetables you should use 10-20g salt.
The sugar in the recipe below is optional, it will ferment without it, but I think it makes for a nicer kraut by rounding out the flavours a bit. I also think it’s always good to have some hard, crunchy vegetables in the mix as they keep a bit more texture as they ferment, which is why crunchy white cabbage is so good.
The sauerkraut will ferment at room temperature, after a few days you might see little bubbles start to appear and/or the lid will ‘pop’ when you open the jar. Then you will know fermentation is happening. You can taste the kraut and once the desired level of sourness is achieved then put it in the fridge. Once it is in the fridge fermentation will slow down lots because it is much colder.
Apple, Cabbage & Caraway Sauerkraut
Makes about 1.5 litres of sauerkraut
700g white cabbage (weighed once core removed and finely sliced), plus a few whole leaves to put on top of the kraut and keep everything under water)
300g carrots (weighed once peeled and grated)
300g apples (weighed once peeled, cored and grated)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
40g caster sugar (optional)
Remove any yellow or damaged outer leaves from the cabbage, slice it into long thin strips avoiding the core and put it in a large bowl. Peel and grate the carrots and add them to the bowl with the cabbage. Peel and core the apples and grate them roughly and add them to the other vegetables.
Lightly toast the caraway seeds in a dry frying pan, just for a minute or two until you can smell the caraway flavour. Add the caraway seeds to the cabbage, carrot and apple mix and use your hands to mix really well and soften everything.
Now add the sugar and salt and massage again really well for a couple of minutes. Lots of water will be released. Pack the mixture tightly into a sterilised glass kilner jar (or jars) leaving a bit of headroom at the top as the liquid will increase as it ferments. Then put a couple of cabbage leaves on top of the mixture to hold everything under the liquid. You can also add a weight if you need to but I find the cabbage leaves are usually good enough.
I also put my jar onto a plastic tray or the bottom of a Tupperware box as I find this combination emits a lot of water and it sometimes leaks out the top of the kilner jar. If there is too much liquid I just ladle a bit out and put in on the compost or discard it.
Leave the sauerkraut in a warm part of the house for three days to a week (how long depends on how warm the room is). Taste every couple of days, once it is ready it will taste a bit sour and all the flavours will have melded. It is then ready to eat. Opening the jar will also release any build up of gas so you are ‘burping’ the sauerkraut. You will sometimes hear a small ‘pop’ as you open the jar.
You can then store it in the fridge or in a cool larder. This will slow down the fermentation but nevertheless the longer you keep it, the sourer it will get.