With most of the country under stay-at-home orders there has been a dramatic surge in the interest of baking our own breads. Sourdough starters and classically made french baguettes are flooding instagram as everyone rediscovers one of the great side-effects of baking--it occupies your time. Though there are infinite types of bread to make, yeast fermentation can be taken a step further into your daily menu.
Modern food supply means we are rarely lacking in access to fresh produce. Green houses and international supply chains have ensured that you can eat fresh grown strawberries and tomatoes in the dead of Winter. This is a wonderful achievement for our society but it has also robbed us of a whole subset of flavors and adventures in fermentation. Fermentation can transform some of your favorite food items into something completely new, adding to the flavor profiles of your favorite dishes.
One of the basic fermentation processes is an effect called lacto-fermentation. This is caused by a group of healthy bacteria called Lacobacillus which convert naturally occurring sugars into cellular energy and produce lactic acid as a byproduct. (This is a completely separate process to yeast which can produce alcohol or acetic acid.) This process was originally used as a preservation method but it is a great way to use up extra vegetables and add a little zing to your relish plate.
While these principals can apply to pretty much any vegetable, sauerkraut (or sourkraut) is one of the easiest to start with and great to have on hand for sandwiches or hot dogs. Making the switch to homemade sauerkraut offers a whole world of flavor and customization and is cheap and simple. All you need is:
1 head of cabbage
1 yellow onion
2 tsp caraway seeds
3 tbsp kosher salt
2-4 quart sealed jar
The process is simple after that; time does the heavy lifting in this recipe:
Thinly slice cabbage & onion (to your preference)
Toast caraway seeds (optional: crush them as well)
Mix together cabbage, onion, and caraway in a bowl with 2 tbsp of salt
Let the mixture sit in the bowl for about an hour. (It will shrink by almost 50%)
Place into your chosen jar (see vessel notes)
Mix the cabbage after 1-2 days to get an even ferment
Vessel notes: ideally you’ll want to have a vessel with a one way valve for the most control. Alternatively you can store in a sealed jar but plan on “burping” it every day or two to release built up gas. You can also tightly cover with a cloth for a more traditional setup if you’re feeling bold. This recipe filled my 4 quart jar a little over half way.
And that’s it, after 3-7 days your sauerkraut should be aromatic and sharp. You can eat it right away or store it in your fridge for several months to develop additional flavor. That's right, months, so it's time to start working on your Summer BBQ menu. You could even make a spicy sauerkraut by throwing in a jalapeno!