- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

Unless you grew up in a German family or one of Eastern European origins, you may not be familiar with sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut or “sour cabbage” developed as a way of preserving cabbage through the winter and is a traditional ingredient in both Middle and Eastern European cooking.

In that part of the world, sauerkraut is not only delicious as an accompaniment to rich smoked and roasted meats, it is often used as a basis for salad and even breads.

Probably the most famous sauerkraut dish is from the Alsace region of France. Called “choucroute garnie,” it is sauerkraut served with bacon, smoked sausages and potatoes.

Making sauerkraut at home is easy, and it can be stored in the refrigerator for several months.

It takes a few weeks, depending on the temperature, so obviously you must plan ahead. But I promise you it will be much better than most of the commercial products you find in the supermarket.

The key to making sauerkraut at home is to make sure everything is absolutely clean.

I suggest using a 5-gallon plastic tub as a container in which to ferment the sauerkraut. Constant, cool temperature (65 degrees or so) is also important, since fermenting kraut that rises above this temperature can spoil.

Although true kraut lovers believe that the lower the constant temperature, the better the flavor, at 45 degrees it can take several months for the cabbage to fully ferment.

This recipe makes 6 to 8 quarts of sauerkraut and takes 4 to 8 weeks to process.

I have included a favorite recipe for bockwurst braised in ale with homemade sauerkraut.

Homemade sauerkraut

15 pounds (6 to 8 firm heads) green cabbage

3/4 cup kosher or pickling salt

Wash cabbage thoroughly and trim away any bruised or damaged leaves. Quarter and cut away the core and discard. With a food processor, mandoline or knife, cut cabbage into uniformly fine shreds.

Into a large plastic tub, pour half the cabbage and sprinkle with half the salt. Mix and massage the cabbage and then let it stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Juices will begin to come out of the cabbage. Place this in the fermenting tub. Repeat process with remaining cabbage and salt and pack into tub.

The cabbage must be covered by juices to prevent spoilage. If there is not enough juice to cover, make some additional brine by adding 4 tablespoons salt to 2 quarts water, pouring over just to cover. (The mixture should be about 3 percent salt by weight.)

Be sure to keep cabbage submerged during fermentation. A clean plate that is the same diameter as the fermenting tub is ideal as a weight to keep the cabbage submerged. Cover tub securely with a lid or plastic wrap and then cover that with a clean towel to keep out any errant contamination.

Store in a 65-degree or so room and don’t uncover for at least 3 weeks. Remove towel and plastic wrap. There should be no bubbles of carbon dioxide gas evident in the brine. (Gently tap tub to check.) If there are, re-cover and check again in 5 days.

The process takes 4 to 8 weeks. If you see that the plate weighing down the cabbage is covered by a slimy layer of liquid, then skim it off. This is dextran, which is a bacterial byproduct of the fermentation. If left there, it can become a home for unwanted organisms.

The finished sauerkraut should have a clean appearance with no white spots or unpleasant or off odors. Texture should be firm. Pack finished sauerkraut into clean jars and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

If you find that the resulting sauerkraut is too salty or acidic for your taste, simply rinse it for a milder version. Usually homemade sauerkraut is cooked a bit before it is eaten. Often it is flavored with juniper berries or fruits such as apples or quince as it cooks. Makes 6 to 8 quarts.

Ale-braised bockwurst with sauerkraut

4 cups sauerkraut, preferably homemade

1 cups apple juice or cider

1 teaspoon whole caraway seeds

Salt, freshly ground pepper

3 bottles good, dark ale

2 bay leaves

6 whole cloves

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 pounds fresh bockwurst or other white sausage

Sweet-hot mustard of choice

Drain sauerkraut and rinse, if it is too strong. Add to a nonreactive saucepan along with apple juice or cider, caraway seeds and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer slowly, partially covered, for 20 to 30 minutes or until most of the juices are absorbed. Keep warm.

To a separate saucepan add ale, bay leaves, cloves, sugar and salt and pepper to taste and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Add bockwurst or other white sausage and simmer slowly, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes or until warmed through and plump.

Mound sauerkraut onto warm plates and top with steamed sausage and a big dollop of your favorite mustard. Makes 6 servings.


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