OK, it’s time for one of my ‘monthly special’ posts. In the interest of starting out slowly (and due to still having to figure out exactly how to explain how I balance family, home, and work), this month I’ll be talking food.
We’ve discussed on multiple occasions food preservation, and good ways to get your feet wet with it. Some of the techniques, though, seem more complicated than they probably should; these methods typically involve some combination of smoking, salting, fermenting, and/or canning. Partly since I just started a small batch last night, and partly because it’s one of the easiest things to do, I’ll go over how to make sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut is a method of preserving cabbage, and in the process imbuing it with much more (and better!) flavor, not to mention really boosting the nutrient content (vitamin C!). It’s pro-biotic, as well, and certainly good for the digestive tract. And did I mention tasty? It’s a good jumping-off point for making all sorts of other interesting fermented veggies. (Pickles, sure, but also carrots, beets, and the like. The options are nearly endless!)
The process involves salt and fermentation, and really couldn’t be easier. What’s best, it can be done in small batches if you don’t have the room! One head of cabbage (about 2 pounds), about a tablespoon of salt (kosher or sea; not iodized), and a quart-size Mason jar (wide-mouth, preferably), and you’re pretty much set. The prep-gear is pretty simple, too: a cutting board and knife, or a shredder and bowl; the bowl you’ll need, regardless. You’ll also want something that a) you can fit into the mouth of the jar, and b) you can add some weight to. (I’m using a small wine bottle; I suppose a beer bottle would work, too. Make sure to get the labels off, whichever way you go.) Here’s what you do:
Make sure everything is clean, including your hands. Shred the cabbage, and put it in the bowl. Add the salt, and toss/stir to mix. (You can add some caraway seed at this point, as well–a pinch or two is enough, but whatever you feel like.) Let it sit ten to fifteen minutes; it should start wilting and ‘weeping’ liquid. At this point, you stuff it into the jar, juices and all. It’ll all fit, believe it or not; it’ll be tight, but get it all in there. Use the bottle to press it down firmly. The first day or so, every hour or two “stomp” everything again with the bottle; you’ll start seeing the liquid level in the jar rise. At some point, there will be enough liquid to completely cover the cabbage; at this point, leave the bottle in “atop” the cabbage (keeping it all submerged), and put the jar in a moderately-warm place–between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit is fine. (If it’s comfortable for you, it should be fine for the kraut.)
Now, it’s a waiting game. Keep an eye on the kraut; if you see any mold form on the surface, skim that off (and re-wash the bottle). The rest of it will be fine. You may see small bubbles rising through the cabbage, or a foam form; this is normal (it’s fermenting!). After about day three, you can start fishing out a sliver of cabbage and tasting. When it’s soured to your taste, remove the bottle, add a lit (loosely!), and pop it in the fridge. It’ll last until you eat it all–I couldn’t tell you exactly how long, because the small batches never last very long around my house.
Larger batches are done pretty much the same way; if you can find a stoneware ‘kraut crock’ (I’ve seen them at Lehman’s Non-Electric for a premium), those work a treat. The trick is finding something to weight the cabbage down–wooden rounds are used in the crocks. (Alton Brown, of cooking fame, recommends a specialized Tupperware bread-loaf container; his has a special slide-thing that could double as a press.)
The recipe scales up pretty well–about 1/2 tbsp salt per pound of cabbage, and you’re good. Keep the temp lower, and it’ll ferment slower; raise the temp, and it’ll go faster. If you’ve got more than you can eat in a sitting, and want it to go even longer–well, you can let it ferment some more, at the risk of it being too sour, or you can divvy it up into separate jars and pressure-can them. That, however, is beyond the scope of today’s posting.
If you try this, and like it, have some fun with it–add a little ginger, or use red cabbage (it turns an amazing pink). Serve it with some shredded apple mixed in, or fried. Mix it up a little with the spices–instead of caraway seed, try fennel, or even anise! Regardless, it’ll help you build the confidence to start the more truly complex bits of food-preservation, like cheeses or country-style hams!
Do you have any good pickle recipes? How about other ways of preserving your garden’s bounty?