A few months ago my husband and I decided to get into fermenting as a way of preparing and storing perishable food to get more out of what we eat. Armed with a copy of Sandor Ellix Katz’s ‘The Art of Fermentation’ we set about learning how to ferment everyday things like vegetables, fruit, milk etc.to see what would happen.
Without any prior experience of fermentation, we began by doing a sauerkraut – a traditional German cabbage dish – because we had at least some frame of reference for what it should look and taste like. Our first attempt was a hurried scuffle to pack salt and cabbage into a jar and get the process started, but we were overzealous with the salt and created a vile brine that rendered our cabbage completely inedible.
Our second attempt, however, has been a triumph! After a trip to the Vic market to buy a whole 2.5kg white cabbage we got it home and thinly sliced the leaves, discarding the fat, hard core and packing the crinkly slices into a tightly sealed jar. This time, using far less salt, we achieved a delicious and tangy sauerkraut that I have been using for all sorts of things, including a cheat’s kimchi that I’ll share in a later post.
Cabbage, salt, black peppercorns and bay leaves.
There is no exact science when fermenting cabbage – varying air temperatures, a proliferation of different bacteria and of course the type of cabbage and salt you use will all have an affect on the overall outcome of your sauerkraut.
The main thing to remember is this:
Weight of cabbage multiplied by 0.02 = amount of salt needed.
Therefore, if you are using 1kg of cabbage you’ll need 20g of salt.
Slice the cabbage into nice thin strips and sprinkling a little bit of salt with each handful, stuff it into the jar, pressing down hard with your knuckles. The aim is to draw moisture out of the cabbage as you pack it. You’ll see that the harder you press down onto the salted cabbage, the more moisture will be released – this is good.
Once all your cabbage is packed tightly into the jar you’ll need to ensure that all the cabbage sits beneath the water line – you don’t want any stray slices poking above. A simple way of doing this is to fill a plastic zip lock bag with water and, remembering not to leave any air in the bag, seal it and place on top of the cabbage as a weight. Then simply add in your black peppercorns and bay leaves, seal the lid and leave it alone for between 6-10 weeks.
After such time the cabbage will have a delicious tangy flavour, not quite like a pickle but similar. The longer you leave it to ferment the stronger the flavour will become, and this is up to personal taste. Whenever you are happy with the flavour put it in the fridge so the fermentation stops.
Remember, too, that this won’t go bad so as long as you store it in the fridge it will last forever.