Recipe: Simple Small Batch Sauerkraut

Branden Byers

Branden Byers › Branden Byers is a writer, photographer and podcast host for FermUp, a fermented food podcast and ...

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The first written record of sauerkraut is in French from 1607. Although the English language adopted the German word for “sour cabbages,” I sometimes wish it had used the French choucroute instead because it sounds so sweet and innocent. But that first record described sauerkraut as a German product, so it seems the German word stuck by the time it was first written in American English in 1776.

The Germans didn’t actually create sauerkraut, either. The first known history of fermented vegetables dates back over 2,000 years in Asia. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans most likely fermented their cabbage as well. There is a long history of fermented cabbage and for good reason. By fermenting cabbage in a salt brine, it not only stores for longer periods of time, it also tastes great!

While throughout history, cabbage has generally been fermented in large batches, today we’re going to focus on a quick method that produces a small and easily manageable portion. If this is your first time fermenting cabbage, then this is a great place to start.

To make sauerkraut, all you need is cabbage and salt. All that you need to do is shred the cabbage, salt the cabbage, massage the cabbage, and store the cabbage in a container for a few days to a few weeks. Simple right? While there are a few things that can go wrong in the process, this really is one of the simplest foods to ferment.

Ingredients

1 medium-sized cabbage

4 teaspoons salt

Wide-mouth quart mason jar

4oz mason jar (optional)

Method

Shred the cabbage with a knife or food processor. Place the shredded cabbage in a large bowl and add the salt. Massage the cabbage with your hands for a few minutes until the cabbage is soft and has released a lot of juice.

Stuff the cabbage into the quart-sized mason jar leaving roughly two inches of space at the top. Make sure that the cabbage is submerged below the cabbage juice. If using the small 4oz mason jar, insert the jar (without lid) into the top of the wide-mouth mason jar in order to press down on the cabbage.

Close the lid of the wide-mouth mason jar and store in a cool dark place for a few days to a few weeks. Refrigerate once the sauerkraut tastes to your liking.

You will want to quickly open and close the mason jar lid everyday to release C02 buildup. If you don’t, there is a chance your mason jar could explode. If you are not using the optional 4oz mason jar to hold the cabbage below the juice/salt brine, then you will also need to press down any cabbage that floats to the top on a daily basis.

The longer you let it ferment in a cool dark place, the more time the lactic acid bacteria will have to metabolize the sugars into lactic acid. Some people like their sauerkraut young and sweet while others like it old and tart. The best part of making it yourself is that it tastes just the way you like it.

If you would like to make a larger batch, just remember that the ideal salt to cabbage ratio is 2.25% for optimal bacterial growth. If you prefer, you can use a little more or a little less salt, but I recommend keeping it simple for this first batch and following the 2.25% ratio. Too much or too little salt can lead to off flavors or mushy sauerkraut.

For this recipe, any type of salt will work. You might want to stay away from iodized salt, but even with that, the lactic acid bacteria are rather tenacious. I generally use a good sea salt such as Redmond Real Salt or Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.

Beyond salt, the other factor that is very important is temperature. Store it in a cool place, but not too cold (55-68°F). And if you don’t have anywhere cool, just be prepared for the sauerkraut to ferment faster and possibly develop sharp flavors.

As long as you follow these instructions, you’re almost guaranteed to produce a super-tasty sauerkraut. And if for some reason you are a person that doesn’t like sauerkraut (and still managed to read this entire post), I recommend trying the kraut every single day in the fermentation process. Sauerkraut tastes much different as it goes through the different fermentation stages so if you don’t like store-bought sauerkraut, you might be surprised by how good a young homemade sauerkraut can taste. Experiment and enjoy!

Do you ferment your own sauerkraut at home?

Photo Credit: Branden Byers

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