The first attempt
Have you ever had a project go awry? You follow instructions but when push comes to shove something goes totally askew?
Oh ok… I guess it is just me.
And so it went when I tried to make sauerkraut. I have heard my mother tell stories about my grandmother’s sauerkraut and how delicious it was. I assumed that is was pickled in brine and was surprised to learn that it was just salted and allowed to ferment in its own juice. And by fermentation, I don’t mean the kind that I am doing on VinoVerve… making alcohol and wine. Sauerkraut is fermented through another process… Lactic acid fermentation.
Lactic acid fermentation is different from alcholic fermentation in that the the sugars that feed the process are converted into cellular energy (essentially cooking the cabbage) and fermental acid (pickling it).
For all of this complicated chemistry, the process for making sauerkraut is remarkably simple. Five pounds of shredded cabbage is tossed with 3 tablespoons of salt. Traditionally, people use pickling salt which has no iodine or anti-caking agents because they cause can cloud the brine and a smaller crystal to increase the speed in which it forms a solution. I have been unable to find actual pickling salt, so I have been using a fine sea salt. Sea salt is not a pure sodium chloride but I was confident that it would work as so many parts of the world have depended on it and used in pickling for millenia.
However the first time that I tried to make sauerkraut, it was an unmitigated disaster. I mean nasty. The salt is supposed to draw moisture out of the cabbage. Within an hour or so the liquid extracted from the cabbage should submerge the cabbage. But the problem was that it didn’t. As instructed, I packed the salted cabbage, covered it with weighted plate and hoped for the best…
And there was no hope for this project.
However, I did try, try again..
Last week, I shredded up some cabbage and tried again. First thing? I shredded the cabbage using my mandolin. Now, I know that a lot of people don’t like mandolins.. but I do. Is it a dangerous piece of equipment? Absolutely. Should you exercise precautions? DUH! But I go about it slightly differently.. I don’t use my mandolin’s guide.. because it doesn’t work efficiently. But I do use a stainless steel glove. And because I used the mandolin, I managed to get uniformly thin slices of cabbage. When these slices mixed with the salt they excreted liquid more readily… and managed to within an hour submerge themselves… YEAH!
Looks better already
Within an day or so, the cabbage began to bubble… YEAH! Fermentation…
And within two weeks? Well, we had some lovely, tasty sauerkraut. It wasn’t as sour as some that I have tasted, in part because my recipe didn’t use as much salt as some others that I have seen… Additionally, before cooking the kraut, I drained in rinsed the cabbage. This washes excess sodium from the cabbage, as well as some of the sulfur that exists naturally in the cabbage (making it gassy). Unfortunately, it also removes some of the vitamin C that exists within the vegetable. But since excess sodium is a problem for members of my family with blood pressure issues, I find this an acceptable exchange.
It is possible that longer fermentation would create a stronger kraut flavor. But I was THRILLED with the taste that I got in my sauerkraut. Not overly salty or overly brined and this encourages me to make more.
Heck, even the overly sensitive palates of my children were pleased. So I am planning to try again!
Because, if at first you don’t succeed? Try, try again!