Continuing my Culinary A-Z, I have decided that this week should big up the humble cabbage. Stuffed and baked leaves, zingy crisp slaws, and… rumbledethumps are but a few of the reasons to love this much maligned brassica. But this week, I want to sing the praises of sauerkraut (and get you making it).
Sauerkraut gets a bad rep.
However, when it’s good – it attracts rave reviews:
Ok, so it splits opinion.
As regular readers of the blog will know, I have been messing about with fermentation recently. We’ve been eating a lot of pickled and fermented foods of late, and I think it’s been doing us some good. Readers will also know that I came third in my first triathlon last month. Coincidence? Almost definitely.
This week, though, I want to encourage you to try making a jar of kraut. It’s the perfect gateway ferment to draw you into the seedy world of controlled decay (indeed, the recipe below uses fennel seeds), and it only takes 15 minutes.
So why make sauerkraut?
1. It’s bloody tasty.
Real kraut (i.e. unpasteurised and lactofermented – rather than vinegar pickled) is sharp, sweet, and tender. It is the perfect foil to rich and fatty meats, enhancing sausages and stews. The fermentation mellows the cabbage-y-ness of the veg, and takes on other flavours beautifully. We’ve been adding kraut to sandwiches a lot recently, and there’s not much better than smoked ham, gouda, dijon mustard, and a good whack of kraut on sourdough. You can really mess about with the flavours in your kraut, though we have settled on the simple recipe below as a favourite.
2. Healthy, innit.
As Ocado shopper, and lyrical reviewer ‘Sheckjay’ attests: ‘The only reason to overcome one’s instinctive aversion to such a stinging, redolent taste experience as sauerkraut affords, is because it promises amazing health benefits.’
Kraut is basically just cabbage and salt. The salt draws moisture out of the leaves, submerging the shredded veg in stinky juice. However, this process produces a selective environment for the growth of particular bacteria, and the ones which are able to grow are apparently really good for us. The probiotic (think Yakult) and vitamin rich qualities of kraut are a great reason to get stuck in! Fermented stuff is far from the panacea many Californian trust fund yogis would have you believe, but it is alleged to rebalance our gut flora (yum) – and there are a whole host of other potential benefits which I’ll let you explore yourself.
3. It couldn’t be easier.
Honestly, I can’t think of a more fool-proof recipe. It is also pretty impressive. That’s the golden combination right there. 15 minutes of work, a month of waiting, and no time at all to eat the whole lot (I’ve made two jars this time)!
The recipe below will fill a 2L swing top Kilner style jar (I’ve got both Kilners and cheaper versions, and there’s really not a lot of difference).
Recipe: Simple Kraut
- Take a medium white or red cabbage (you can use any cabbage, but greener ones can get a bit sulphuric), chop a disc off the bottom, and set aside before slicing the cabbage into quarters length-wise, and removing the tough core.
- Shred the cabbage into long thin strips using a mandolin, a knife, or a grater (the mandolin does the best job, and a knife will do well too – the grater is ok if you’re in a rush, but doesn’t get the best consistency).
- Weigh the shredded cabbage, and mix with 2% of its weight in fine sea salt in a large bowl or bucket (e.g. 2g salt to every 100g cabbage), and massage firmly until it softens and it’s juices are pooling. You can leave it for half an hour to get really soggy at this point if you like.
- Mix through 2tsp of fennel seeds (or anything your wee heart desires), and pack tightly into a clean jar with its exuded liquid. Push the shredded cabbage below the level of the liquid (which should be plentiful by now), making sure that it is fully submerged.
- Take the disc of cabbage from earlier, cut off any manky bits, and trim so it just fits through the neck of the jar. Push this down to keep the kraut under (and away from oxygen) as it ferments.
- wait for a month or so, releasing built up gas every day in the first week (burping your ferments, us fermenty types call it). As long as the veg is below the liquid, it will keep indefinitely, and it just gets funkier more intense tasting the longer it goes. You can transfer it to the fridge once it tastes as you like it, though, and that will really slow the fermentation process.