Homemade Fermented Sauerkraut Recipe

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Photograph: Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Using a precise amount of salt ensures a steady and safe fermentation.
  • The right equipment makes fermentation easy and reliable.

Fermenting your own sauerkraut is one of the most fun cooking projects, and it's surprisingly easy to do. All you need is some basic equipment, and you can get fermenting right away, with the help of salt and friendly, naturally occurring lactobacillus bacteria.

We recommend using either a German-style ceramic fermentation crock, which comes with its own stone weights, or half-gallon glass Ball jars with Easy Fermenter or other airlock lids and glass fermentation weights. A gram scale is also helpful for accurately weighing small quantities of salt.

Recipe Facts

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Active: 60 mins
Total: 504 hrs
Makes: 1 1/2 quarts

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Ingredients

  • 1 small head green cabbage (about 3 pounds; 1.4kg), trimmed, cored, and shredded, outer leaves reserved (see note)
  • 28g salt (3 tablespoons if using Diamond Crystal kosher salt; if using other brands, measure by weight), plus more as needed (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) caraway seeds or juniper berries (optional; see note)

Directions

  1. If using a large fermentation crock, add shredded cabbage to crock, sprinkling in the measured salt and optional spices as you go. If using a Ball jar, put shredded cabbage in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with measured salt and optional spices. Mix well, then knead and squeeze cabbage for a few minutes to begin to release its liquid.

  2. Covering cabbage between kneadings with plastic wrap or the crock's lid, continue to squeeze and knead cabbage roughly every 15 minutes, until an ample amount of brine has formed; it should be enough to cover the cabbage when the cabbage is compressed. This can take up to 4 hours. If not enough brine forms, proceed to the next step (you will add more brine later as necessary). If using Ball jar, pack shredded cabbage into jar now, with all its accumulated brine.

  3. Lay reserved cabbage leaves on top of cabbage and press down until brine rises 1/2 to 1 inch above cabbage. Add stone or glass weights and push down to compress even more. If there is not enough brine, top it up with a 2% salt solution. (You can make this by dissolving 2 grams of salt in 100 grams of water; 1 cup of water would require about 1 heaping teaspoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt.)

  4. Seal fermentation crock or Ball jar with airlock lid following manufacturer's instructions. Put in a cool, dark place; 65 to 70°F (18 to 21°C) is ideal. After a day or two (or three), the fermentation process should kick off more actively and the cabbage should be bubbling away. If the vessel is quite full, it's best to put a rimmed baking sheet under it to catch any overflowing fluids.

  5. After the first week, feel free to open vessel, push cabbage back down below brine level (it's very important that the cabbage always remain below the liquid level), and taste cabbage to monitor its progress. If brine gets low, top it up with more 2% salt water. Keep in mind that the more often you open the vessel, the greater the chance of mold growing on the surface. If mold does grow on the surface, carefully scrape it off and continue to ferment the kraut.

  6. The sauerkraut is ready when it is quite sour, which can take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks, depending on your preference. Throw out the sauerkraut if it becomes discolored, slimy, or malodorous. (Some sulfurous smell is natural, but anything truly offensive is a bad sign.) Refrigerate in sealed containers for up to 6 months.

Special equipment

Food scale, gram scale (optional but recommended), 5-liter fermentation crock with stone weights or half-gallon glass Ball jars with Easy Fermenter lids (or other airlock lid system) and glass fermentation weights, rimmed baking sheet

Notes

The quantity of cabbage called for here will fit well in a half-gallon Ball jar, but you can easily fit 9 pounds of cabbage (or more) in the larger, 5-liter crock. You can also make more kraut and pack it into multiple Ball jars.

More important than the specific quantities in this recipe is an understanding of the ratio of salt to cabbage by weight, which makes it easy to scale up or down. You're looking for a 2% salt ratio, which means 2 grams of salt for every 100 grams of cabbage. To calculate this, weigh your cabbage in grams, then multiply its weight by .02. The result will be the amount of salt you need in grams.

Caraway will give you a more German-style kraut, while juniper will give you a more Alsatian style. You can also omit the spices.

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