You don’t need fancy equipment to make Sauerkraut
Make sauerkraut using a very simple recipe and method. All you need is cabbage, sea salt, a bucket, bowl, and brick
Back in high school I remember reading that the vikings were able to sail to Iceland and beyond because of sauerkraut. Even later sailors had trouble reaching distant lands because fresh fruit and veggies would spoil and scurvy would wipe them out. Now the vikings didn’t understand the connection between sauerkraut and vitamin c. What they did know was that fermenting was an important way to preserve the fresh vegetables they needed for their voyages.
These days you can find all kinds of fancy jars and lids to use to ferment cabbage and other veggies. But what I remember from that lesson a million years ago is that a bunch of dudes in a boat were making sauerkraut. No glass jars, no air-lock lids, no fermentation weights. This easy sauerkraut recipe is inspired by that thought.
How fermenting works
Fresh vegetables, including cabbage, will spoil without preserving it in some way. In a time before glass jars and freezers, ingenious individuals found that you could keep food fresher for longer by fermenting it. Fermenting can involve using wild lactic acid bacteria to metabolize plant material, a by-product being lactic acid.
This lactic acid creates an environment that other microbes can’t survive in, thus preserving food. It also gives sauerkraut that characteristic tangy flavour that tastes so incredibly delicious. Best of all, fermented foods are great for supporting gut health.
Make Sauerkraut with the Bucket & Brick Method
- 4.4 lbs finely cut Cabbage 2 Kg or one large cabbage
- 6 Tbsp flaky Sea Salt or 3 Tbsp coarse sea salt
- 1 Food grade plastic bucket with lid or large crock with lid
- 1 Bowl that will fit inside the bucket
- 1 Brick or weight
- 1 pint Boiled and cooled water
- Before you start working with the cabbage, you should clean and sterilize your bucket, lid, and bowl. Run them through the dishwasher or wash them well and rinse with boiling water. The bowl you choose should fit comfortably inside the bucket with about 1/2" space all around. You need to be able to get your fingers in to pull it out. As for the brick, wash it thoroughly and set it aside to dry.
- Rinse the head of cabbage(s) you're using for this recipe and prepare them for slicing. Remove the tough green outer leaves -- but keep them to one side. Cut the stem from the center.
- Finely slice or shred the tender light coloured part of the cabbage you have remaining. I've tried fermenting the darker green leaves before but once tough, always tough, so don't bother. They'll play their role in this recipe though so hold onto them. The sliced cabbage should be as thin as you can cut it to maximize surface area and final texture. Use a food processor if you have one.
- A single large cabbage should give you enough for this recipe but weight the sliced cabbage if you'd like. This is probably more important if you're making a large batch with several different sized cabbages. Calculate how much salt you need based on the recipe.
- Place an inch of sliced cabbage in the bucket and lightly sprinkle salt over it. Repeat until you've used up the cabbage and salt. Now bash it all with the end of a clean rolling pin. Breaking down the cabbage in this way helps the salt pull the juices out quicker. This therapeutic step should be done until the cabbage is somewhat flattened on the bottom of the bucket.
- Lightly cover the bucket with the lid and wait about 20-30 minutes. By this time, the salt should have done its job and pulled the moisture out of the cabbage. The leaves will be sitting in a puddle of salty brine.
- Layer the tough outer leaves* of the cabbage on top of the shredded cabbage. Next, place the bowl inside and pop the brick inside that. The weight of the brick should bring the level of the brine up and over all the cabbage, including the tough leaves. If it doesn't, you'll want to use the boiled and cooled water to top it up. Any plant material that isn't submerged by water will spoil. Fermentation is an anaerobic (oxygen-free) process and your ingredients need to be under the juice level at all times. The barrier will help keep bits from floating up but the weight makes sure the barrier doesn't float up either.* If you're using a cabbage that came cleaned of these leaves, lightly cover the top of the cabbage with wax paper. Put the bowl and brick in on top of it as described above.
- Lightly cover the bucket with its lid but don't seal it. Gases will form during fermentation and they need to escape. Place the bucket in a room temperature to slightly cool place out of direct sunlight and leave to ferment for at least a week.
- Every couple of days have a peek inside to make sure that the brine level is high and covering the cabbage. If it gets too high, it will pour over the edge of the bowl and inside with the brick. Periodically, take the bowl out and tip it in the sink. When you do this, take the brick out first so that the brine level falls and you don't get your fingers in it.
- The brick may get a bit icky but don't be too worried about it. You can clean it if you wish or leave it until you're finished. If any scum or mold starts growing, clean it off the top of the liquid and/or bowl and discard it. As long as your cabbage is below the liquid's surface it's safe.
- Leave it to ferment 1-3 weeks for crunchy summer sauerkraut or for more of a traditional texture leave it for a month or more. When it gets to the flavour and texture that you like, pot the sauerkraut up into jars and refrigerate. I use a giant glass jar but you can use smaller ones too. In the fridge it will last up to six months as long as you keep jars sealed and that the brine continues to cover the sauerkraut.
Avoiding single-use plastic
For those of you who have made sauerkraut before, you might be asking why I’m using a bowl to weight down the sauerkraut instead of a plate. It’s because it provides a way to use an old brick to weigh down the cabbage without it coming into contact with the brine. If you use a brick (or stone) on top of a plate, it’s usually wrapped in a plastic bag or cling film for hygiene’s sake. I’m trying to cut down on using single-use plastic in general so this is the work-around I’m using.