Sauerkraut is a traditional winter food of Germany and Eastern Europe. Although available in cans, it tastes so much better when you make it yourself – and it is so much healthier for you. And it is easy. We eat sauerkraut with most meals, and if we don’t have fresh salad from our garden on the table, sauerkraut is definitely there.
- Grate the cabbage up finely, or leave it in bigger pieces. It works even if you leave the cabbage whole as some European countries do.
- Weigh the cabbage and weigh out the correct amount of salt
Note: How much salt you use depends on how much you like salt. As a rule of thumb, to every 1 kg of cabbage, use 15 g (1 tablespoon) of salt. Preferably use a good quality mineral salt, such as Himalayan salt. If however you don’t like salt much, don’t put as much in. The key is to taste the mixture. Add more salt if it needs it, but it is more difficult to remove salt if you’ve put too much in. The salt serves as a preservation material, but more importantly, you have to like the flavour.
- Layer the cabbage and salt in the crockpot, mashing each layer down as you go. You can also add any herbs or spices you want to at this stage. I like the more traditional sauerkraut with carraway seeds and juniper berries.
- As you mash the cabbage, juices are released. There should be 4 to 6 cm of juices on top of the cabbage. If there is insufficient juice (this can happen if a cabbage is not processed directly after harvesting or has been harvested in a dry period), make up a brine (1 tblsp salt to 1 litre of water) and add it to the crockpot (make it up beforehand and allow to cool – just in case
Note: Fill the crockpot with cabbage and brine so that you can still easily fit the weights on top. We recommend you fill the pot rather than leave it only half or even less full as the fermentation is an anaerobic process and the less air there is in the pot, the more quickly the lactobacillus that create the fermentation gain dominance and safeguard the cabbage. Put the weights on top of the cabbage and then the lid on the crockpot
- Fill the moat of the crockpot with water, and make sure the moat is kept full throughout the fermentation. In summer, this is particularly important as evaporation rate is so high. If you are having trouble keeping water up to the moat or if you need to go away for a couple of days, drizzle oil onto the surface of the moat water as this will impede evaporation.
- Leave the crockpot at room temperature (ideally 20 to 22 °C) for 2 days then 15 to 18 °C for up to 8 weeks. Fermentation will slow right down in about 3 weeks. Ideally, you shouldn’t open the lid until the end of the fermentation, but how will you know when fermentation has finished if you’ve never done this before, particularly as speed of fermentation depends on the ambient temperature? So when you are starting out, open the lid and taste the sauerkraut every few days, and once it has achieved the acidity you like, stop the fermentation.
Note: I have found that sauerkraut is much more robust than specific prescribed temperatures and fermentation periods led me to believe when I started. I’ve made sauerkraut in the ambient temperature of our kitchen in the middle of summer with over 40 degrees outside temperatures and in the middle of winter with temperatures below zero. And we don’t have central heating or airconditioning. I’ve left it for 3 weeks and for 7 weeks. As long as I keep water in the moat, it seems to work. People are successfully making sauerkraut all over Australia – in cool temperate climates and in the hot tropics so the temperatures during fermentation are not critical. They just change the speed of fermentation. The hotter your ambient temperature, the faster the fermentation.
- Store sauerkraut in glass jars in the fridge.