Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Great Sauerkraut Experiment (Part 1)

Sauerkraut. One of the easiest dishes to make and yet, like so many easy dishes, one I have never attempted. Today, I'm changing all that. My darling wife, in an effort to encourage the creation of said sauerkraut, purchased 2 very large heads of cabbage, each over a foot across. I designated Saturday to be Sauerkraut Day.

The first thing I needed to do was to procure a food grade plastic bucket. My plan was to go purchase one at the store but Kat, ever frugal, managed to find a couple for free by calling around bakeries and donut places. I got 2 five gallon buckets from Voodoo Doughnut, giving my sauerkraut a world-famous edge right from the get-go! I went out this morning, brought the buckets home and washed them real good. (After all, the last thing I want is frosting flavored sauerkraut - though it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Voodoo came up with a sauerkraut flavored doughnut! But I digress...)

Once I had my buckets nice and clean, I began preparing my vegetables. My original intention was to do two separate buckets, flavoring each differently. I found, however, that this was not going to work and opted to put it all in one bucket. The problem I had was that once I got the veggies in the bucket, the plates I had planned on using to hold the cabbage down wouldn't fit! The only thing in my kitchen I could find was an old pot lid but there was only one. I will leave the flavor experimenting for later.

I gathered my vegetables together and cleaned them well. I sliced and diced a little at a time, putting a layer in the bucket then covering it with a tablespoon or two of sea salt. I continued to pack in layer after layer, pressing each down as hard as I could and covering each with a sprinkle of salt. Here's what I put in:

2 huge heads of cabbage, quartered, cored and sliced thin
3 good sized carrots, shredded
3 large white onions, quartered and sliced
2 heads of garlic, cloves removed, peeled and chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped fine
approx. 3-4 T caraway seeds
approx. 1 T celery seeds

I mixed all these ingredients together real well and pressed them down as hard as I could. I took the pot lid that fit inside the bucket (now half full) and covered the cabbage, making sure that the lid covered all of the cabbage. I let it sit for an hour or so and then checked in on it. The salt had already done a great job of extracting the water and juices from the vegetables and when I pressed down, the liquid covered the top of the lid. This is a very good sign as this is the liquid that the sauerkraut will ferment in. If for some reason the salt had not pulled enough liquid out of the veggies by the time they had sat for a day, I would have added enough salt water to cover the cabbage. With this current batch, however, this step will be unnecessary. With everything in order, I sealed up the bucket and let it sit.

Tomorrow I will check on the cabbage and, if all is well, I will move the bucket to the basement. Placing it in a cooler location will mean that it will take longer to ferment but I'm in no hurry. It should take at least a couple of months to completely ferment, though it could sit longer. If I were to ferment it in a warmer location, it could be done in as little as 4-5 weeks. I will check on it every couple of days or so and will be writing more as the process goes along.

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