Make Sauerkraut In A Crock

November 12, 2014 · 6 comments

When I was growing up, the only time I recall hearing or using the word “crock” was in reference to something that was seriously hard to believe.

As in, the last word of the declaration, “Well, that’s just a crock of [fill in the blank]!” wasn’t sauerkraut.

Well, Wolfgang, times have changed.

Make Sauerkraut in a Crock | rickandkathy.com
Sauerkraut — aka fermented cabbage — once known mostly as a staple for Reuben sandwich and hot dog eaters, is also one of the most nutritious, easiest and delicious fermented food you can make.

How to Make Sauerkraut in a Crock
Plus, raw, lactic-acid processed (aka “fermented”) sauerkraut is darned good for you.

In an era where “How much probiotics is needed daily*?” is an emerging hot topic at everything from cocktail gatherings in Manhattan to the Metamucil queue in seniors’ homes, this ancient food’s star is on the rise again.

Low in calories, easy and inexpensive to make, and reputedly able to tame cranky digestive tracts, cure canker sores, and even inhibit the growth of cancer cells… What’s not to love?

This is especially great news when your resident Hunky Punkin is also a rabid fermenter.

Here’s how Rick consistently produces sauerkraut to live for.

sauerkraut-cabbage-wedges
The best sauerkraut recipe, straight up:

Buy about 15 pounds of  fresh white head cabbage, bring it home, and wash your hands. (That last instruction isn’t for you. It’s for those other people who sometimes forget to wash their hands before starting to cook. Not you.)

Cut the cabbage into quarters and remove the tough core.

sauerkraut-sliced-cabbage
Slice to about the thickness of a quarter either by hand (grab a good big knife), with a dedicated cabbage shredder, or with your handy dandy Cuisinart. This is the type of task for which your Cuisinart lives.

sauerkraut-bowl
You’re going to work in batches here, so place the first batch, about a third of the cabbage (5 pounds-ish) in your BIG mixing bowl.

For those of you without a BIG mixing bowl, do yourself a favor. At well under $20 at the time of writing, this highly-rated 12-quart stainless steel mixing bowl is a no brainer, and within about 15 minutes of having one in your kitchen, you’ll find yourself wondering what you did without it.

sauerkraut-picling-salt
Add 3 tablespoons of pickling salt and thoroughly mix with your hands, then pack the salted cabbage firmly into a crock. Pickling salt is iodine free so it won’t darken foods or create a cloudy residue in the liquid.

(BTW, if you want to buy your pickling salt at Amazon with other kraut-related supplies, pass on the Ball brand: apparently they have some serious shipping/packaging issues with the “convenient” pouch. Go with the Morton’s in the sturdy box instead.)

Salt the remaining two batches of five pounds each the same way, adding each batch to the crock with a firm hand.

Cabbage can be kinda pushy, so we must stress: be firm. If you’re using a smaller-necked crock or packing jar, you might need a specialized tamper tool.

sauerkraut-crock
This is the crock we’ve used with great success.

It’s the right size for the amount of kraut we like to make at a go, and not only does it do the job, but it’s solid, cute and shiny and looks like it should have starred alongside the singing and dancing tea pot and china cups in Disney’s Cinderella.

Laugh if you will, but as your crock will be sitting in a corner of your home burping merrily away while it does its magic, life is better if you enjoy both its personality AND how it looks.


10 L Polish Fermenting Crock Pot

The Boleslawiec (above) ships with right-sized weighing stones to keep the fermenting cabbage submerged in its brine and its mouth features a channel that’s filled with water to create a simple yet highly effective air lock when the lid is in place.

The air lock prevents oxygen from entering the crock while letting carbon dioxide escape (burp!), which ensures the lovely anaerobic environment that promotes the healing bacteria and mouth-pleasuring tang you’re looking for. Also, you don’t want your fermentation vessel exploding from the build up of CO2, right?

In theory, you can accomplish this system with something as simple as a mason jar with a layer of olive oil over the of the ferment or DIY contraptions that involve installing airlocks in the white lids of mason jars. However, we hate wasting our time and money (well, mostly time as cabbage is pretty darned cheap) on trying to develop some knowledge and skill in new areas with home-grown DIY tools that presume you know what “failure to thrive” looks like in case the tool doesn’t quite work out.

Where was I?

sauerkraut-stuffed-crock
Ah, yes… a lovely crock pot full of salted cabbage.

The cabbage begins releasing water very soon after the salt is introduced. Within an hour or so, the cabbage will have released enough liquid to provide enough brine to completely cover the cabbage (provided it’s packed tightly enough).

sauerkraut-stones
Place the weighing stones on top of the whole shebang to ensure the cabbage stays submerged during fermentation.

sauerkraut-weigh-stones
As I mentioned above, the crock we use came with stones right-sized for the crock. It’s such a simple yet effective design that enables the large stones to clear the bottleneck of the crock yet provide the maximum tamping/weighting effect.

So simple, in fact, that it just screams “a couple of millenia on the draft board” elegance.


1000 Stone weight, 5-Liter

You can buy the weighting stones independently if you already have a crock and just need some helping sitting on your cabbage for the fermentation period.

Final five steps:

  1. Once the stones are in place, cover the crock with the lid and set in a room temperature location where the crock can live undisturbed for the duration.
  2. Add water to the channel to create an air lock.
  3. Check the water every day or two to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated from the airlock, adding more to keep the seal when needed.
  4. Wait a month. Yes, your cabbage will be safe at room temperature for that long, and yes, the fermentation process needs that long to give the various strains of friendly bacteria time to develop fully and mature.
  5. As long as you kept the seal on the airlock (aka, didn’t let it dry out) and didn’t expose the fermenting cabbage to oxygen, you shouldn’t have any spoilage, but… safety first! You will definitely want to check it anyway for any of the following: browned or pink cabbage, yeasty odor, slime, and mold.

If any of the above show up, toss it, give your crock a good clean, check it for cracks, and start again. Seriously, it means the bad bacteria got the upper hand and you will definitely NOT be doing your gut any favor by taking a chance. And scraping off the mold isn’t a safe “cheat”: by the time you can see visible evidence of nasties, they’ve grown roots and invaded all the corners. Don’t do it.

sauerkraut-1
Ta-da!

Delicious, crunchy, low-fat mountains of almost miracle food that you will pack into clean ball jars (just run them through your dishwasher on “sani” cycle), cover with the brine, slap on a lid, and hand them out to grateful friends and rellies with instructions to store in the fridge until devoured.

sauerkraut-jar

Our favorite crock sauerkraut recipe (featured in this post) is the classic “Wine Kraut” from The Joy of Pickling.


The Joy of Pickling

sauerkraut-recipe
Wine Sauerkraut Recipe

15 pounds trimmed and cored fresh white head cabbage
9 tablespoons pickling salt
6 teaspoons whole caraway seeds
1 1/2 cups dry white wine

Proceed as above but simply add 2 teaspoons of whole caraway seeds with the 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 lbs of cabbage for the hand mixing batches. After 24 hours, remove the weights and add the wine. Replace the weights and lid, making sure there’s plenty of water to maintain the airlock seal, and find meaningful employment for four weeks while you wait for your miracle-in-a-crock to unfold.

Cooks Illustrated on Sauerkraut

In one of our go-to cookbooks, The Best International Recipe, the editors of Cook’s Illustrated notes “While making homemade sauerkraut from raw cabbage is a time-consuming endeavor, the sauerkraut you buy at the supermarket can taste lackluster served as is.” If time and/or motivation is short and you wish to limp along with the store-bought variety, Cooks Illustrated recommends rinsing the sauerkraut before cooking and adding Juniper berries for a subtle piney flavor.

Fermentation Crocks

Fermentation crocks come in many shapes, sizes, and prices. We’re huge fans of the 10L earthenware crock made in Poland described above, but here are some other choices to consider:


15 L Polish Fermenting Crock Pot

This is the big brother of the one we use. If you’re after a bigger batch, this would be a better choice, although IMHO, it’s not quite as spunky as ours.


Decorative Fermenting Crock Pot

What can I say? “Spunky cute on steroids” about sums it up…


5-Gallon Stoneware Pickling Crock with Cover

This is a great solid alternative from the reputable Ohio Stoneware Company for those who aren’t a fan of “brown spunky,” although you’ll need to buy the weighing stones separately if you want to go that route.


German Made Fermenting Crock Pot, 5-Liter

For a smaller footprint or batch preference, the mini-me of our 10-liter baby is an elegant choice.

Fermentation Books:

In addition to The Joy of Pickling and The Best International Recipe, here are some other excellent books we’ve added to our cookbook library for a deeper understanding of of all things fermentation…


The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World


Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods

Sandor Katz’s “Wild Fermentation” was one of the first books Rick had read on the subject many years ago, and we still go back to it as both a wonderfully enjoyable, almost anarchistic primer on the subject, and for the chuckle we still get from the passage on how prisoners used to make “hooch” out of Donald Duck orange drink and free airborne yeasts and microbes.


Fermentation for Beginners: The Step-by-Step Guide to Fermentation and Probiotic Foods


Mastering Fermentation: Recipes for Making and Cooking with Fermented Foods


Making Sauerkraut and Pickled Vegetables at Home: Creative Recipes for Lactic Fermented Food to Improve Your Health

Fermentation Supplies

Here are several kitchen gadgets that come in handy for making kraut:


Kitchen Scale – Baker’s Math Kitchen Scale


12-Quart Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl


Cabbage Shredder

Once you experience first-hand how easy it is to produce delicious, crunchy kraut in your own home, you’ll soon become curious about how to make other fermented delicacies. That’s what’s happened around here, so stay tuned for some additional wisdom about making pickles, wine, and more.

* The answer is tough to come up with as probiotics are really the good guys in the “War of Intestinal Bacteria.” Unless you know how many bad guys outnumber the good guys in your gut, it’s difficult to be precise. And precision in the realm of “several bajillions” is impossible to guarantee, especially if you’re on antibiotics or challenged with constipation, chronic yeast infections, diarrhea, gastrointestinal or urinary tract infections, or gum disease. (I’m kidding about the gum disease, but I wouldn’t be surprised…)

The bottom line is this: if a health professional prescribes probiotics in a supplement, TAKE IT. If no one in a white coat has mentioned probiotics to you yet, EAT SAUERKRAUT, and maybe a little yogurt, dark chocolate, and miso soup every day or two. You’ll be scaring the crock out of the bad guys in your gut.

How to Cook Canned Sauerkraut

While we don’t recommend canned (literally) sauerkraut when there’s no time to make it yourself due to a faint metallic taste most of it comes with, Libby’s is reputed to be the best of the canned varieties. Tip: if you need to buy ready made, go for a bagged kraut instead, like Boar’s Head.

To get close to the recipe we crafted above, here’s how to improve what comes out of something besides your own crock:

  1. Rinse kraut really well in cold water
  2. Place kraut in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan and pour about a cup of dry white wine to cover
  3. Add 1 clove minced garlic and 1 tbs caraway seeds
  4. Optional: 1 finely-chopped medium apple and/or some sliced onion
  5. Simmer uncovered for about an hour, stirring occasionally
  6. Enjoy the kraut, knowing that you’ll opt to make your own next time!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Carole August 7, 2016 at 10:52 am

I want a stainless steel crock. Is there such a thing? Does sauerkraut making smell up the house? Thank you very much.
Addicted to sauerkraut!
Carole

Reply

kathy September 12, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Hi Carole,

I can’t say for 100% certain that there aren’t stainless steel fermentation crocks for home use, but I’ve never come across any. And no, it really doesn’t stink up even the room it’s in. It just politely sits in the corner and burps modestly every once in a while. Go for the kraut!!

Reply

Renee April 29, 2016 at 6:21 pm

I am wondering if it will work to make a very small batch like with 1 or 2 medium cabbages in a 5 liter TSM fermentation crock I got. I know they say the airlock around the lid is important, so is it OK to have more open “air space” inside or will that cause a problem with the fermentation? I am just starting and don’t want to waste a bunch of cabbage on a batch I might have to toss at first as I am learning how.

Reply

Daniel C June 27, 2015 at 6:17 pm

“bacteria (“bacterii?”)”

Thought I would clarify (credentials: I’m a biochemist). The plural is bacteria. The singular is bacterium.

Thanks for the article.

Reply

Jane Fentiman November 13, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Who knew it was so good for me? We have loved sauerkraut for years & eaten with great relish but thought of it more as a condiment. Happily, I know someone who makes delicious crocks & gives me some!

Reply

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