How to Make Sauerkraut

Use a cool weather crop to make "sour cabbage" at home.

Homemade sauerkraut is a tangy topper for hot dogs or a classic reuben.

Homemade sauerkraut is a tangy topper for hot dogs or a classic reuben.

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Are there any foods you hated as a kid that became a favorite in adulthood? I have a few. There are lima beans. There’s eggplant. And then there's sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut (German for “sour cabbage”) is made by fermenting cabbage.  The practice of picking cabbage dates back to ancient China, where wine was used to hasten the fermentation process. It is believed that Genghis Khan first substituted salt for wine and the practice spread into Europe, where it eventually became associated with German cuisine.

As far as acquired tastes go, I’m glad I acquired it. I understand the position of detractors. Some commercial sauerkrauts can be mushy and overly acidic. It may be hard to embrace a dish in which the recipe instructs you to “remove any surface scum,” but a well-made batch of sauerkraut is a thing of beauty. It retains the great flavor of cabbage with a tangy, sour bite that makes it an ideal counterpart to hot dogs, pork chops or with corned beef when piled high on a classic Reuben sandwich.

Delicious and packed with nutritional value, homemade sauerkraut is surprisingly simple to make and a great way to use homegrown cabbage straight from the cool weather garden.

Make sure everything that comes in contact with the cabbage is kept very clean to prevent unwanted bacterial growth. Cabbage must be covered, but a sealed airtight container is likely to burst under pressure as gasses are released. A weighted plate slightly smaller than the fermenting vessel can be placed on top of the cabbage to keep it compressed and covered, but a water-filled Ziploc bag is an easy way to fully cover the sauerkraut while providing the weight necessary to keep the cabbage submerged.

Sauerkraut may be ready as soon as two weeks, but the flavor can improve with age. Start tasting then and let your palate be your guide. Once it reaches just the right “tang,” pack it into an airtight container and refrigerate to suspend fermentation. Homemade sauerkraut will last several months in the fridge.

If you didn’t like it as a kid, it may be time to give it another try. Did I mention it can improve with age?

Sauerkraut

  • 4 pounds cabbage
  • 8 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 teaspoons caraway seeds

Chop or shred cabbage and place in a large bowl.

Toss with salt and caraway seeds, then squeeze and bruise by hand to work salt into the cabbage.

Place in a glass or plastic container no wider than 8" and large enough to leave ample head space.

Fill a 1 gallon Ziploc bag with water, seal and seal inside a second Ziploc to protect against leakage.

Place water-filled bag on top of cabbage to create a weighted seal without gaps.

Check after 24 hours to ensure cabbage has released enough water to submerge cabbage. If not, remove Ziploc, press firmly on cabbage and replace Ziploc.

Wait 2 weeks, remove any surface scum that may have formed and taste sauerkraut. It should taste tart and pickled, but not "funky." If taste is not yet strong enough, wait another week and test again (can take up to 4 weeks or longer to reach desired flavor).

Once sauerkraut is finished, transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator.

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