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.
- 2.25 kg (5 to 6 lbs.) red or green cabbage about 2 medium-sized heads
- 200 g (½ lb.) tart apple OR fennel bulbs about 2-3 apples
- 30 g (1 oz. or 3 inches) fresh ginger root
- 45 ml (3 Tbsp.) fine sea salt
- 5 ml (1 tsp.) dried caraway seeds
- 5 ml (1 tsp.) 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 the core keeps each half together. Shred each half into ¼” ribbons using v-slicer, mandoline, or chef’s knife.
- If adding fennel bulb, slice the lower (white) part thinly (using a chef's knife or on mandoline) and add to bowl. Pluck the fronds and add them, too. Discard the fibrous green stems and tough root (below the bulb).
- Slice apples thinly (⅛" thick) using a chef's knife or mandoline and add to bowl.
- Mince ginger root. Peeling ginger is optional (when using organic ginger, we like to leave it on, as it adds good bacteria).
- Sprinkle salt evenly over and throughout bowl.
- Add spices to bowl. Mix thoroughly with tongs or clean hands.
- Squeeze the mixture with clean hands or a kraut pounder to break cell walls and encourage water to come out of vegetables.
- Add mixture to glass jar(s) or other fermentation vessel(s). Make sure to add every last drop of brine that formed in bowl into the container(s).
- Pack down contents so that the top surface is even and flat.
- 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. Or if using an airlock lid, add it to the top of the container.
- Label your container with the contents and date started. (I use blue painter’s tape and a permanent marker, and I always stick the label on the side of the container, rather than the lid. (Those lids have a notorious habit of switching jars when you’re not looking, usually in the middle of the night.)
- Stash it in a cool place, out of direct sunlight.
- Sauerkraut can ferment in as little as 5 days. Typically, I ferment sauerkraut two weeks in warm weather, or four weeks in cooler weather. Fermentation speed varies with the seasons and the climate.
- Yeast and/or mold may form on the surface during fermentation. This is normal, especially when the top surface is exposed to air. Remove any weight and lids. and rinse them with water. Wipe, scrape, or scoop off surface yeasts or mold from the top and sides of the jar with a spoon, or clean paper towel, 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. If you want to ferment longer, replace the weight and lid, and check again in a few days.
- When taste and texture are to your liking, transfer to jars (cleaning surface again if necessary), secure jars with the standard lids (not the airlock lids if you used them), and move to the refrigerator. Sauerkraut will last in the refrigerator for 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?