Lacto-fermentation is an artisanal craft that does not lend itself to industrialisation. Results are not always predictable. For this reason, when the pickling process became industrialised, many changes were made that rendered the final product more uniform and more saleable but not necessarily more nutritious. Chief among these was the use of vinegar for the brine, resulting in a product that is more acidic and not necessarily beneficial when eaten in large quantities; and of subjecting the final product to pasteurisation, thereby effectively killing all the lactic-acid-producing bacteria and robbing consumers of their beneficial effect on the digestions, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, Nourish Traditions.
The recipe listed below is 100% lacto-fermented meaning it is full of live, beneficial bacteria, brimming with boosted nutrients and alive with helpful enzymes. It is easy to prepare and simply delicious when served raw alongside cooked foods, sitting atop a home-made hamburger, as a simple side-salad or a refreshing snack.
1 white or red cabbage
Some sea salt[*] – ok, if you want to be exact, no more than 2 tbs of sea salt.
1 tsp of juniper berries
1 tbs of caraway seeds
Remove any outer layer of leaves which are discoloured and rinse the remaining cabbage under water. In a deep bowl add the caraway seeds and dried juniper berries (or any seeds you like the sound of: aniseed star, pepper corns, fennel, coriander …).
Cut the cabbage into quarters and shred the leaves into thin strips. You can do this with either a sharp knife, a mandolin or a food processor.
Place the first batch of shredded cabbage into the bowl and stir in the seeds/berries.
For the purpose of releasing juices some recipes call for the use of a wooden pounder to crush the leaves once they have been shredded. In my experience a wooden pounder is not the most practical of utensils for kitchen-counter sauerkraut preparation. A bowl is too small to swing a wooden pounder in and if you just leave the cabbage on a wooden board the leaves fly everywhere! Instead rely on the salt to help release the juices. The shredding of the leaves will have already broken down cell walls and the addition of salt is incredibly effective as drawing out the plant’s juices.
Sprinkle, between thumb and finger, some salt over the shredded leaves. Stir it into the cabbage. Leave it to rest for as long as it takes to shred the next quarter.
By the time you’ve finished shredding the next batch of cabbage the salt will have worked its magic and you can already begin to squeeze as much of the juice as you can out of the shredded leaves.
Add the freshly shredded cabbage leaves on top and sprinkle some more salt over the leaves. Remember go easy – if it’s too salty it will not taste palatable and will slow down the fermentation. Taste it too see. Repeat this process until all of the cabbage has been shredded.
Pack the cabbage into your chosen container as tightly as possible making sure the shredded cabbage is submerged below the brine.
If, like me, you have a crock with a moat, place the lid on top and pour water into the moat. This is very effective at creating an air-tight vacuum and preventing surface moulds from developing. Make sure the water in the moat stays replenished.
You can leave the cabbage to rest for five – to seven days. Longer if you like it stronger.
As your shredded cabbage sits in its own lightly salted brine a series of beneficial LABs begin to colonise the food environment.
L.mesenteroids are heterofermentative, meaning that in addition to its primary product, lactic acid, it creates significant quantities of secondary products, including carbon dioxide, alcohol and acetic acid. The noticeably heavy CO2 production in the early stages of vegetable fermentation is due to the activity of L. mesenteroids. They are responsible for 85% of the lactic acid present in the ferment. As the environment acidifies L. mesenteroids give way to more acid-tolerant LABs, Lactobacillus plantarum. Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation.
You can eat the sauerkraut at any time – after one day or seven. Taste it daily to allow you to perceive the changes taking place. Sauerkraut, like other ferments, will never “go off”. It will only get progressively more maturer. Captain Cook allegedly offered a barrel of sauerkraut to some Portuguese noble men after 27 months at sea and it was still edible. Once you are happy with the taste place the sauerkraut into glass jars and keep in the fridge or in the cellar with an ambient temperature below 16 degrees centigrade. The cooler temperatures won’t stop fermentation. It will simply slow it down.
Glass jars work equally well. My first successful Katz-kraut was fermented in a glass jar. If you are using a glass jar with an ordinary lid make sure you find a weight to keep the cabbage submerged. This can be a glass lid, a pebble (heated in the oven to sterilise it), or a saucer/plate. Since the glass jar will not be air tight it is important to check on it regularly and remove any surface moulds that might develop. They are not immediate cause for alarm and are perfectly natural. However they should be removed because if they are left to develop they can make the final sauerkraut taste of mould and turn your batch mushy rather than crisp. Under the top layer of white mould you’ll find fresh, fermenting cabbage. Simply stir the kraut again, push up some fresh juice and leave to rest. Once the cabbage has acidified enough you can place the jar in the fridge or in a cool cellar (with ambient temperatures below 16 degrees centigrade) and it is much less likely to develop surface moulds.
[*] The exact amount of salt used in a sauerkraut it is an intuitive, as opposed to, an exact science. Sauerkraut is a dry-salted ferment so requires less salt than a brined one and the conventional wisdom suggests a salt percentage of roughly 2% to the total weight. The best way to gage this is by sprinkling some salt over the cabbage leaves and tasting as you go along – if it’s too salty go easy, if the salt is barely perceptible on the tongue add some more. Remember salt is not the primary preserving ingredient in a sauerkraut, acid is. The salt aids fermentation but it does not need to be so high as to kill all bacteria. Even LABs struggle in food environment which is too saline.