This time of year I find myself craving sauerkraut — with sausages or potatoes — or even in a good rueben sandwich on homemade pumpernickel bread.
Having a little German blood in me doesn’t hurt, but also having tasted the difference between fresh sauerkraut and store-bought, I admit to craving the stuff from time to time. Most people who don’t care for it have only tasted the strongly acidic and bitter-flavored fermented cabbage served up on hot dogs, but the fresh, zingy flavor of the stuff you make yourself might change your perception as well.
There are also many claims that fermented foods can be good for you and your digestive system. It’s so easy to make that you might as well try it and see if you become a convert. Here’s a simple method for your first time:
• 1 head of cabbage shredded
• 1-2 tsp. un-iodized or pickling salt
• 1 c. filtered water mixed with 1 tsp. salt
In a ceramic or glass bowl, mix cabbage and salt. Stir and press with a spoon on the cabbage to help release juices. Let rest 10 minutes, then mix and press again.
Pack into a quart-sized, wide-mouthed jar that you’ve cleaned well and boiled briefly for sterilizing, pushing down with a wooden spoon. Add filtered, or non-chlorinated, salty (1 teaspoon salt per cup of water) water to rim of jar and cap loosely with a sterilized canning lid. Place jar on a tray to catch overflowing juices. Keep jar between 65 and 72 degree for two to three weeks. Remove lid from jar every other day so that gases don’t build up and cause leaking.
If the kraut is sitting above its liquid, add another salty cup of water (1 tsp per cup of water) and keep it submerged for best results. Refrigerate after three weeks to slow down the fermenting and keep it fresh tasting.
When you make this the first time you will notice a foul odor coming from the sauerkraut about one to two weeks in. Don’t be afraid, it will mellow out and smell fresh and tangy once it’s finished fermenting.
You might want to keep it in a back room away from guests if the odor bothers you.
You can also make larger amounts of sauerkraut using a large crock. The main thing is to keep it covered, but to remove the lid a couple times per week to release gas buildup.
The rule of thumb is to not go below the three-tablespoons-per-five-pounds limit, and never eat sauerkraut that is slimy, excessively soft, discolored or off-flavor. It should smell tangy, and still have a little crunch.
Anne Boulley is a local chef and culinary instructor with a passion for artisan foods. Her cooking classes and services are offered via her website, www.thegourmetguide.com.