Sauerkraut – pickled cabbage – is so easy to make, the process is almost boring. You need a cabbage, a knife, a bowl, salt and a jar. It’s a good introduction to lacto-bacteria-fermentation, and thus to creating the slightly more ambitious Korean classic kimchee.
Reasons for making the stuff: it tastes good; it’s cheaper than buying it (not that it’s expensive); in some places it’s easier than finding a store that sells it; and, supposedly, it has amazing health benefits (if you’re into natural isothiocyanate compounds).
- Quarter and then finely shred a medium-size head of cabbage; a big sharp knife is fine, a grater would be greater (the sort shown below is perfect).
- Chuck all the shredded cabbage in a big bowl and stir in 1 heaped tablespoon of sea/kosher (non-iodine) salt per medium head of cabbage. Leave covered for an hour.
- When you get back, you will find it drenched in liquid. Transfer both cabbage and liquid into a clean jar or crock (no need to sterilize the jar – this isn’t canning). Press the shreds down into the liquid so there’s no air in it. Make sure liquid covers the veg (this is important: top up with a little water or weigh it down with something).
- Close jar and leave somewhere at room temperature until it’s done. If tightly sealed, loosen cap occasionally to release gas. Depending on room temperature, it might take up to five weeks. Don’t worry if it smells unpleasant for the first few weeks (like old cabbage, basically); one day you find it has miraculously turned into fine sauerkraut. Then you can store it in the fridge for eternity, probably.
Variations: to be adventurous, you can add caraway seeds or a dash of white wine from the putting-in-jar stage.
What you end up with is pickled cabbage with a characteristic sourness. The fermentation involves several different varieties of bacteria, which take it in turns to do their respective jobs. The full explanation here may help give an idea of how long it will take. A non-air-conditioned environment during a Hong Kong summer may be too warm to get optimum results, though the fermentation would be quicker.
Later… some exciting things to do with sauerkraut.