Reprinted from Cultured: How Ancient Foods Can Feed Our Microbiome by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019, Katherine Harmon Courage.
Homemade, microbe-fermented cabbage can offer a delightful crunch and a refreshingly clear acidity compared to the soggy, pasteurized, jarred variety from the store shelves. It also boasts a multitude of lactic acid bacteria that are along for the ride.
As with most fermented foods, variations of fermented cabbage popped up in many regions of the world. Some preparations use finely shredded cabbage. Others, such as Korea’s kimchi, Japan’s hakusai-zuke, or a variation in Eastern Europe, are made from whole fermented cabbage heads. Some are made with caraway seeds; others include seaweed or even fermented krill.
To make a traditional German-style sauerkraut, the ingredients are simple: cabbage and salt. Other seasonings, such as caraway seeds, are optional. All of the contents will go into a clean fermenting vessel: a jar, a crock, or whatever you have handy.
Chop cabbage head into thin strips and place shreds in a large bowl.
Add about a tablespoon of sea salt for every pound or two of cabbage. This draws moisture from the cabbage in addition to making the brine inhospitable to harmful microbes.
Now roll up your sleeves and get to work. With your hands, roughly smash and massage the cabbage, squeezing handfuls of it as hard as you can. The goal here is to actually break the cell walls and release as much water as possible. Don’t discard the water—you’ll be needing that.
If your hands are tired, take a break. And then work the shreds some more. Continue until you have extracted enough water to totally submerge your cabbage.
Now transfer the cabbage and liquid to your fermenting vessel and, if desired, add more salt and any seasonings.
Press the cabbage down below the surface of the liquid. Because some will always want to float back up (making it an enticing breeding ground for mold or kahm yeast, which forms a film across the surface of your fermenting liquid). So you’ll want to find a way to keep it under the liquid. Some people use a plate that fits inside the vessel opening weighted down with something heavy, such as a stone, a heavy dish, or a brine-filled plastic bag.
If your vessel doesn’t come with a lid, use cheesecloth (or any other cloth) to cover the top to keep out dust and any more macro creatures.
Now it’s time to wait. Keep the vessel in a cool space, and don’t be afraid to taste throughout the process. Owing to environmental differences (particularly temperature), this is the best way to figure out when it is ready—rather than a prescribed time period. Ready, of course, depends on your preference. Some like it crisp and light, whereas others wait until it is soft and full of funk.
Once you’re happy with the level of fermentedness, transfer all the remaining kraut and liquid into jars in the fridge to slow fermentation.