Sauerkraut was traditionally prepared in the autumn and then stored fermented all winter long in a cellar where the earth temperature kept it cool but above freezing. People would consume it while it fermented throughout the winter. The flavor would develop throughout the cool seasons. Springtime ‘kraut (after 6 months) would taste much different than it did in the early winter.
In its most basic form, sauerkraut is simply fermented cabbage with salt. This recipe calls for fennel bulb or tart apple to provide a mildly sweet counterpoint to the sourness. Classic German spices– caraway seeds and juniper berries, and fresh ginger (not so traditional) give it a boost of brightness.
In the autumn/winter in southern California (33 degrees north latitude), I find 5 weeks’ fermentation time at a room temperature around 65°F/18°C is ideal. It may be different in your area. Experiment with different fermentation time to alter the flavor and texture of the dish.
- 5-6 lbs./2.5 kg red or green cabbage (about 2 medium heads)
- 3 Tablespoons/45 mL sea salt
- 2 medium fennel bulbs OR 2 tart (Granny Smith) apples
- 6" to 8" (15 to 20cm) or 3-4 oz. (100-125g) by weight fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon/5 mL dried caraway seeds
- 1 teaspoon/3 mL dried juniper berries
- Clean vegetables to wash dirt off. Remove any dark green tough outer leaves from cabbage and compost or use for another purpose.
- Slice a cabbage head in half lengthwise, so that stem keeps each half together. Shred each half into ¼” ribbons using v-slicer, mandoline, or chef’s knife.
- As you shred, add to a large mixing bowl, and add ¼ of the salt (about 2 teaspoons). Let sit while shredding the next half. Brine will form as salt draws water from cabbage. Repeat until all cabbage has been shredded.
- Slice the fennel bulbs or apples into the same size strips as cabbage (using a chef's knife or on mandoline) and add to bowl. Use the green stems as a handle while cutting or slicing. Discard or compost stems.
- Slice or julienne ginger (to create matchstick-sized pieces) and add to bowl. Peeling ginger is optional (we like to leave it on, as it adds to the good bacteria).
- Add spices to bowl (optionally TOAST them; see next section). Mix thoroughly with tongs or clean hands.
- Squeeze the mixture with clean hands to break more cell walls and encourage more water to come out of vegetables.
- Add veg to a gallon-sized or larger glass jar or ceramic crock, or about 2 quart-sized wide mouth mason or other canning jars. Make sure to get every last drop of brine that formed in bowl into the container(s)!
- Pack down contents so that surface is even and flat.
- Heat a dry skillet to low heat (about 250°F/121°C).
- Add spices to skillet. Keep an eye on it, tossing spices occasionally. After reaching a golden brown color and toasty aroma, remove from heat.
- Pour toasted spices into a mortar and pestle and crush gently. Add to mixture (see above).
- Place a lid or plate that fits into the container on top of the surface. Add a weight like a sterilized rock, a jar or glass bottle filled with water. OR, if using a small batch fermentation kit, add the weight(s) to the jar.
- There should be enough brine to just cover the contents when weighed down. It is normal for more brine to form in the first day or so after putting up.
- Cover container with a dish towel or tea towel to keep out flies and dust. Secure with a rubber band, twist ties or elastic strap. Stash it in a cool, dark place– a cellar, under the stairs, or under the sink in the kitchen.
- Check on it every few days. Mold and/or yeasts may form on the surface. THIS IS NORMAL. Remove weight and lid, and wash them with warm soapy water. Scoop out any surface mold, getting as much as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t get it all. Then stir the contents and re-pack the surface. Any residual mold will quickly be killed in the acidic environment of the brine. The contents are safe under the brine.
- Cabbage will start to ferment within a few days. It’s up to you how long you want to keep it fermenting. Fermentation time varies with the seasons and the climate. Four to 8 weeks in the winter and 2 to 4 weeks in warmer months are typical fermentation times.
- When taste and texture are to your liking, move to the refrigerator (aka "fermentation pause button"). Sauerkraut will last in the refrigerator several months.
Sauerkraut, like all fermented vegetables, should be enjoyed like a condiment. Eat a little before each meal, and eat it often!
Looking for something more traditional? Try our Slow Sauerkraut recipe.
Want to see the fastest Sauerkrauter in the West?