Saturday, March 22, 2014

Fermentation: Sauerkraut

 So there is a difference between pickling and fermenting. Fermenting is when you allow the naturally occurring lactic acid to preserve vegetable matter, anaerobically( "anaerobic",in a nutshell, is when you deprive the matter of air which causes an explosion of anaerobic bacteria("anaerobic bacteria" are bacteria that lives in an airless environment)). It is the easiest of all food preserving tricks and you use this process in making things like kimchee, sour pickles, yogurt and SAUERKRAUT!

Pickling is when you use an outside acid, such as vinegar, to "pickle" the vegetable matter. Basically pickling preserves food by killing any bacteria in the food  and keeping them at bay, while fermenting makes your food come alive! Many people will tout the health benefits of fermented foods. Me personally, I just like how it tastes.

I like pickling foods, but when I find cabbage on sale after St. Paddy's Day, I will make a gallon or two.  I found cabbage at a close by produce stand for $0.58/lb and bought four heads for $6.30. Three heads will generally make enough to fill a gallon jar.

I don't have a fancy fermentation crock, although I admit that I do lust after one of the German Crocks. But, sadly, I don't have one. So I use a one gallon glass jar. I found them on craigslist in Port Orchard for 2 dollars each and had the the boyfriend pick up a few when he was out visiting his parents one weekend. And they are perfect for making one gallon of Sauerkraut. I made one gallon this morning. It will take 4-6 weeks to ferment and I think that should last a couple of months. I will have to make another batch in the Autumn to get us through the winter.

How to Make Sauerkraut:

Take the outer leaves off of the cabbages and give them a rinse, just to get off any outer dirt, and then slice them in half, then in quarter. Remove the core and slice them in half again if you have a small mouthed processor and slice the cabbage thinly in the food processor.

You can get a cabbage mandolin. It is basically a really large mandolin slicer and its pretty to look at, but I find that my food processor works just fine and is much more practical. It was gift from my awesome older sister a couple years back!

After you slice them thinly, put the slices in a large bowl or if you are like me, you might have a very large quart tub just for these kinds of projects.

Sprinkle with a canning/pickling salt and mix with your hands. I use a little less than a 1/4 cup per 5lbs of cabbage. Make sure to coat the cabbage well.

Walk away from the cabbage. Walk away and pour a cup of coffee. Check your email. Call your mother. But let your cabbage sit for a few minutes. It should wilt fairly quickly and start producing brine and juices. If the cabbage heads were extra dry you might have to add brine, but it should make a bit of juice while it sits.

Then put it in your fermentation crock or gallon jar or old olive barrel or wherever you are planning to allow it to ferment. Remember, cabbage will ferment in order to turn into sauerkraut, this means it will make gas (yeah yeah... not only in you). Fermenting will cause the cabbage to release carbon dioxide, do not cover your fermenting crock with any tight fitting lid. There has to be the occasional release in pressure, there are stories of jars of sauerkraut exploding on people's larders, so make sure that the fermentation has stopped before capping and processing any jars.

Press the cabbage down, I mean really pack it in there. As you are pressing, it should be exuding juice, hopefully it has made enough to cover itself, If not then add a brine that is about a 1-1/2 Tbsp of salt to 1 quart of water ratio. This will cut off the air to the cabbage and will start the anaerobic process of turning into sauerkraut. You should have enough brine/juice to cover all the cabbage. Once it is pressed down into the jar, weight it down with a heavy stone, or water filled canning jar, fermentation weights, or a Ziploc bag filled with water (this one actually is pretty awesome, it keeps the cabbage weighted, keeps the top of the jar sealed and is pliable enough for gases to "burp" past it).

I am trying something new this batch, I got an airlock from the local beer brewing joint and had the boyfriend drill a hole in the lid, this should allow the gases to escape and keep the cabbage airtight so that no nasty mold or bad bacteria can get into the jar. The airlock uses twin chambers and you fill one up with water, this stops air from getting into the jar. As gases build up during the fermentation process it floats up the tube and through the water and burps out the top. We will see how this will work!

Stick your crock on a plate in a cool place and check it regularly, skim any foam that collects on the top.  You will notice bubbles and will have to press down the cabbage with very clean hands once in a while.  Let it sit for 4-6 weeks and at the end of that time, the bacteria should have slowed their process and you will notice that distinct sauerkraut smell. It should smell good and tangy, not yeasty.

If you notice any pink or brown discoloration, mold/slime or a bad smell, TOSS IT. Do not chance it.

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