Making Sauerkraut

20140501-144231.jpgNo, I’m not a month behind for April Fool’s Day. Sauerkraut and beer and already hopelessly entangled in most people’s minds thanks to Oktoberfest. They’re also both fermented, and in the case of Berliner Weisse, both utilize strains of Lactobacillus in that fermentation.

There are a lot of different strains within the genus Lactobacillus. The ones normally used for beer are not the same as the ones in sauerkraut fermentations, but I had an active lacto fermentation sitting on the stove, so why not mix things up?

I have made sauerkraut a few times in the past and have always had good results. I got the basic recipe from Sandor Katz’s awesome Wild Fermentation book. It is also on his website. I adapted a few things to fit my kitchen, and you can too, but this is a great starting point. In addition to fitting my equipment, this time I added two extra ingredients. Sandor mentions that you can add whatever spices you want, but I’ve never added anything at this stage before, opting instead to add things when using the kraut to cook with later.

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Every time, though, I find myself adding Caraway Seeds. So I decided to just put some in from the beginning. Caraway Seeds add a bready, nutty flavor along with some anise characteristics. They are added to a lot rye beers as well as, of course, some Belgian style beers. The more unique added ingredient, though, was three cups of Berliner Weisse in mid fermentation. My full procedure is below. This is the biggest batch of kraut that I’ve made, with six heads of cabbage, but it should be easy to scale (especially since it’s mostly just unmeasured eyeball additions).

Cut your cabbage off the core and slice it into small enough pieces to stick into your food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, or you’re just making a small batch, you can roughly chop the cabbage. If you’re using a food processor, the slicing blade is the one you want. Add the sections to the food processor until it is full of sliced cabbage.

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Slowly add the cabbage your crock or fermentation vessel. I am lucky to have a six gallon crock that was my Great Grandma’s. A small ceramic crock from your slow cooker will work as well, it’s what I used before I got the big crock. If you don’t have that, or if it’s just too small, then considering that you’re reading a homebrew blog, you probably have a stainless steel pot. That will work, too. Do not use an aluminum pot, though.

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So, add the sliced cabbage in a thin layer to cover the bottom of your pot, then tamp it down. I just use my hands, but if you have a kitchen tool for this, then go for it. After it is tamped down, add a bit of sea salt. This is important because it will help pull the water out of the cabbage, which will then ferment. You can add any other spices you want at this point, too.

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After that, add another thin layer of cabbage, tamp it, salt it, et cetera. Keep doing this until you’ve added all of your cabbage. Depending on the condition of your cabbage, it may already be under the bit of water. It should, at the very least be quite soggy. At this point, I added three cups of fermenting Berliner Weisse. I’m not sure what, if any effect this will have on the finished kraut. You can add some water at this point if it seems too dry, but I normally wait.

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Next you need to put something solid on top of the cabbage to keep it from floating above the water, which will lead to mold. For my crock, a dinner plate fits well. On top of the plate, I put a giant old pickle jar from Costco filled with water to wait it down. Remember, just like with brewing, all of this stuff needs to be clean and sanitized. Once your weight is in place, you will probably want to cover the whole crock with something to keep bugs out. I use a five gallon paint strainer bag, the same thing I use for brew in a bag mashes. It has elastic at the opening and fits securely over the crock. Cheese cloth or even dish towels will work, too.

 

You want all of the cabbage to be under water to prevent mold, but if there’s not enough water at the beginning, I like to give it a day. The salt will pull more liquid out of the cabbage over time, so I wait for twenty four hours. If the cabbage is still above water, then I open it up and add enough water to fix it.

How long you let the kraut ferment is up to your own taste. Just like with my Berliner Weisse recipe, the longer you let it go, the more sour it will be. There are a lot of factors that will determine how long it will take. I’m hoping the fermenting beer I added will jump start fermentation in this batch, but without that, you need to wait and see what wild yeast find it. The temperature is a big factor. The hotter it is, the faster it will ferment. I usually let it go a little over a week. You will just need to smell and taste it along the way to see when it makes you happy. If you’re making a big batch, you can even take some out at different points to save.

Once it’s ready, you can keep it in the refrigerator for quite a while. At the colder temperature, it will continue to ferment, but much more slowly. I normally can most of it, though. Yes, this kills the bacteria and takes away some of the health benefits that Sandor talks about, but I don’t have the time or patience to keep a crock fermenting at all times and I want to always have some kraut handy, so I do big batches, can them and keep them for months. You really should try some kraut straight out of the crock at room temperature with fermentation still going on, though.

If you don’t know how to can food, this is a good first project to get into it. I won’t give canning instructions here, but they are easy to find online and being a homebrewer, you probably already have a lot the tools you need. I will report back on how this batch of kraut turns out once it’s ready, but don’t worry, tomorrow I’ll be back to writing about beer.

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