Learn how to quickly start fermenting foods with this easy, 8-Step Process to Quick Sauerkraut
I remember my first attempt at making sauerkraut. I fermented pounds and pounds of cabbage and did not know what good, home-fermented foods taste like. I was a little afraid if the truth be known. So, I packed some up and went to see a friend of mine who is from Romania. I call him “Bud.” I went up with my pint-sized jar, “Here Bud, try this amazing sauerkraut.” (Yes. I am a little ashamed).
“Man, that’s good sauerkraut,” he said.
So, I tried it and, sure enough, it tasted WAY better than that stuff in a jar from the store. Good and crunchy and sour and…dang! Where’s tissue? My mouth is waterin’.
There are more ways than one to make sauerkraut. However, I know you want to get started quickly on your fermenting journey. Let’s start out with a simple, easy, small-batch-type recipe that can be made in less than an hour.
Directly translated, sauerkraut means “sour cabbage.” This sauerkraut recipe uses finely shredded cabbage that is fermented by various lactic acid-producing bacteria, including Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus. The distinctive sour flavor comes from the lactic acid that forms when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage.
Sauerkraut wonderful all by itself. I especially enjoy sauerkraut mixed up in salads and even cooked into other recipes (though the benefits of the homemade sauerkraut are lost during cooking). One of my favorite thing to do is set a bowl with about a cup or so of sauerkraut and pour on some tomato sauce that I made from my garden tomatoes and eat it for breakfast alongside some cottage cheese. Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it…then again…knock it around; I may be the only person on the face of the earth who eats sauerkraut that way.
Sauerkraut is healthy. There’s a whole lot to say about the health benefits of sauerkraut, but you already know that. But, if you don’t, I cover the health benefits in this article about fermenting, lacto fermentation, probiotics, and prebiotics.
Here is my recipe for Quick Sauerkraut:
3 tablespoons of sea salt to 5 pounds of cabbage.
Whole cabbage leaves (or any other edible leaf like kale, mustard, chard, and the like [you’ll be using these at the end to pack the cabbage down]).
This is the ratio for any sauerkraut recipe. Keep in mind that when I say, “5 pounds of cabbage,” I really mean 5 pounds of ingredients. If you add onion, garlic, carrot, peppers, or whatever, measure out the amount of salt to ingredient ratio of 3 tablespoons to 5 pounds. NOTE: This excludes the whole cabbage leaves you’ll use for packing.
In the video, I had 3 pounds of cabbage that I prepared. You may not always have 5 pounds of cabbage to prepare at one time, or you may end up with 7.5 pounds or 8 pounds. When considering 3 pounds is 60% of 5 pounds, we used 60% of the salt needed for 5 pounds of cabbage.
1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
3 tablespoons = 9 teaspoons
60% of 9 teaspoons is 5.4 teaspoons. We used 5 teaspoons because we were just a bit shy of 3 pounds.
So, 3 tablespoons of sea salt to 5 pounds of cabbage and other ingredients is the basic recipe. However, mixing the ingredients is only half of the battle. There’s technique, as well.
Step 1) Using a cheese shredder, prepare the cabbage.
Step 2) Weigh the cabbage, and then use the ratio of 3 tablespoons of salt to 5 pounds of cabbage. I know that math may not be your (not you, but people I know) strong point, so I have made up a chart that should help you out.
|Weight of Your Prepared Cabbage and Other Optional Ingredients||Amount of Sea or Kosher Salt to Add (Do not use salt substitute or low-sodium/lite salt)|
|0.5 pound / 0.23 kilogram||1 tsp (just shy of a tsp)|
|1 pound / 0.45 kilogram||1 ¾ tsp|
|1.5 pounds / 0.68 kilogram||2 ½ – 2 ¾ tsp|
|2 pounds / 0.91 kilogram||1 TBL and ½ tsp (3 ½ tsp)|
|2.5 pounds / 1.13 kilograms||1 TBL and 1 ½ tsp (4 ½ tsp)|
|3 pounds / 1.36 kilograms||1 TBL and 2 ½ tsp (5 ½ tsp)|
|3.5 pounds / 1.59 kilograms||2 TBL and ½ tsp (6 ½ tsp)|
|4 pounds / 1.81 kilograms||2 TBL and 1 ¼ tsp (7 ¼ tsp)|
|4.5 pounds / 2.04 kilograms||2 TBL and 2 tsp (8 tsp)|
|5 pounds / 2.27 kilograms||3 TBL (9 tsp)|
|5.5 pounds / 2.50 kilograms||3 TBL and 1 tsp|
|6 pounds / 2.72 kilograms||3 TBL and 1 ¾ tsp|
|6.5 pounds / 2.95 kilograms||3 TBL and 2 ½ – 2 ¾ tsp|
|7 pounds / 3.18 kilograms||4 TBL and ½ tsp|
|7.5 pounds / 3.40 kilograms||4 TBL and 1 ½ tsp|
|8 pounds / 3.63 kilograms||4 TBL and 2 ½ tsp|
|8.5 pounds / 3.86 kilograms||5 TBL and ½ tsp|
|9 pounds / 4.08 kilograms||5 TBL and 1 ¼ tsp|
|9.5 pounds / 4.31 kilograms||5 TBL and 2 tsp (8 tsp)|
|10 pounds / 4.54 kilograms||6 TBL|
|As far as the 1/2s and 1/4ths, use your good judgment. I tend to round down on the fractions of a teaspoon (tsp) but NOT on the fractions of a tablespoon (TBL).|
Step 3) When you have your cabbage all weighed out, pour the salt evenly on the top, and then it mix all about. I use gloved hands. Bare-handed works, as well, but you may add a bit too much bad bacteria, or the salt may work a number on those soft hands of yours. Either way, you should be A-OK.
Step 4) Eventually, the brine will began to run, and you can start packing the salted cabbage (it’s not sauerkraut just yet) in the jars. If you are unsure about how long this takes, don’t fret. All you have to do is look at the bottom and you’ll see the brine pooling up. Or, take a handful of the salted cabbage and gently squeeze. If “water” comes out, that’s the brine.
Step 5) Pack the salted cabbage in a crock, glass jars, or a plastic food-grade bucket. I like glass, myself. There’s little risk of contamination by using glass. A ceramic crock is my next preference. Do not fill the jars up too full. The brine will erupt from the jar and get all over the place. Leave a few inches at the top for the cabbage to expand as carbon dioxide bubbles form and “fluff” the cabbage upward. Fermenting cabbage is an anaerobic process. That means without oxygen. When you pack the salted cabbage in the jar(s), pack it in very tight. The brine will rise to the top and cover your packed, salted cabbage.
Step 6) Cover the salted cabbage with the whole cabbage leaves. This will keep the salted cabbage under the brine and keep the mold and other aerobic (air-loving) bacteria from messing up the top layer. Press the leaves in tightly around the edges. NOTE: In the video, we didn’t take this step, and we used to have to throw away an inch or so of sauerkraut each time. Now we use the leaves, and this practice saves dozens of pounds of cabbage a year.
Step 7) Set the jar out on the counter top for a few days. The longer it sits out, the sourer it gets. You will have many factors that will influence the fermentation time. Two of the most common are 1) your taste preference and 2) the temperature of the area you are fermenting the cabbage in.
Step 8) I leave it out for about a week, and then I refrigerate the sauerkraut .(Yes! We can now call it sauerkraut.) It’ll keep for months in the refrigerator, but it’s so delicious that it’s not likely to last that long. Don’t be surprised if the brine magically disappears when the sauerkraut is refrigerated. Where does it go? Who knows?
When you are ready to eat your sauerkraut, pull off those leaves you used to pack the cabbage down and throw them away. Trust me, I will not have to talk you into doing this. The leaves will be yucky-looking. Now, don’t let the little bit of slime-like clear liquid bother you. If it smells like sauerkraut, it’s gonna be sauerkraut. But, you could find a Romanian friend to try it first…
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