The fermentation process is a beautiful thing, and we, as humans, have been fermenting things for a really long time. Don’t believe me? Well, there’s sourdough bread, kimchi, beer, wine, liquor, chocolate (yeah, THAT chocolate), pickles, yogurt, cheese, miso, kombucha…the list continues on, and I bet there’s at least one thing on that list that you love.
Sauerkraut is another prime example of a fermented food, and it’s one of my favorites. I love sauerkraut because it’s bright, crunchy, a little tart, and cuts right through fatty delicious meats like pastrami or bratwurst. And did I mention that it’s easy to make? Homemade sauerkraut is amazing, and might just well blow some minds at your next dinner party. No special equipment, no strict temperature monitoring, no special ingredients. All you really need is time.
Depending on the size of container you use, your kraut will take longer or shorter to sauer (bigger container = more time needed). We’re using quart-sized Mason jars, so your sauerkraut will be done in about 14 days, though you can let it go longer or shorter if you want. Feel free to taste it throughout the fermentation process, and once it tastes the way you think it should taste, throw it in the fridge to essentially halt the fermentation.
Basically, what you’re going to do is slice the cabbage, massage some coarse-grained salt into it so it starts to macerate, add some seasoning, stuff it in the jar, pack it down tight, and then let it ride (don’t worry, more detailed directions are below). It’s an anaerobic fermentation process, so you want little to no air in contact with the sauerkraut.
You can use either red or green cabbage for this, but I personally love the beautiful color of red sauerkraut. I’ve done two different methods here; one is classic, and the other is spicy and not-so-classic. Feel free to experiment with other seasonings as well — the only thing you have to lose is some cabbage (and time, I guess).
As I mentioned earlier, sauerkraut really wants some fatty meat with it, and for me, that needs to be bratwurst. Making sausage is a pain in the ass, however, and buying bratwurst seemed like a cop-out for my fresh kraut, so I took some pork butt, seasoned it like bratwurst, and braised it in beer (aka “Brat Butt”). To top it off, I baked some apples, because it’s fall, and doesn’t that just sound good with everything else?
- 1/2 head green cabbage
- 5 teaspoons coarse-grained pickling salt and kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Purple Fire Kraut
- 1/2 head purple cabbage
- 5 teaspoons coarse-grained pickling salt or kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
- 1 tablespoon red chili flakes
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
- Up to one teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4-5 pounds pork butt
- 3 tablespoons demerara sugar (or light brown)
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon red chili flakes
- 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
- 2 tablespoons coarse salt
- 2-3 large sprigs fresh sage
- 2 sticks fresh rosemary
- 1 can cheap lager
- 3 granny smith apples, cored and sliced
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
- 1/2 cup Demerara Sugar
For the sauerkrauts
Take off one layer of the outer leaves of each head of cabbage and reserve for later.
Cut each head of cabbage into thin threads (keeping each color separate). There is some room for variability here; it just depends on how thick you like your sauerkraut.
In separate large mixing bowls with plenty of extra space, work the salt into the cabbage for about 10 minutes. The shreds should then be soft and releasing a little liquid.
Mix in the other seasonings.
Tightly pack each color of seasoned cabbage into a freshly cleaned quart-sized Mason jar and pack it in as tight as you can. Right out of the dishwasher is best, but a good hot scrub in the sink will do the trick.
Take the outer leaves you reserved and use them to create a seal on top of each jar. If you have small mise-en-place bowls, you can use them to weigh down the top as well, otherwise small clean stones, marbles or some other kind of weight will work to keep things submerged.
Loosely seal — some air should be able to get in/out.
For the first 24 hours, open the lids every couple of hours and press down on the cabbage. As the fermentation process starts, the cabbage will become more limp and easier to push down.
After about 24 hours, your sauerkraut should have given off enough liquid to be submerged in the jar. If not, you can add some salt water to help cover it (1 teaspoon salt to 1 cup water).
Let the jars sit in a place that has no direct sunlight and is moderate temperature for 14 days. Too hot, and the kraut will get mushy. Too cool, and the fermentation process will slow down.
You can let it sit longer or shorter, it's up to you. The longer it goes the "sauerer" it will be. Feel free to check on it by tasting it — it's safe to eat throughout the whole process.
If you notice any scum or mold forming on top, simply scrape it off.
Once your krauts have hit the level of funk you want, remove the weight(s) and the whole leaves on top, seal the jars tightly and stick them in the fridge.
That's it. Congratulations. You did it. You can keep this in the fridge for a few months (if it lasts that long).
For the brat butt
Rub the whole pork butt down with all the dry ingredients.
Place into your slow cooker with the herbs and add the beer.
Cook on low heat for 7-8 hours.
Transfer the pork to a large mixing bowl, and once cool enough to handle, pull the meat apart and remove any large pieces of fat.
Add 1/4-1/2 cup cooking liquid back into the pork and toss it well. You can add as much or as little as you like.
For the baked apples
Preheat the oven to 375° F.
Toss the apple slices with the other ingredients.
Pack the slices into a cast-iron skillet or casserole dish, peel-side up.
Sprinkle some additional sugar on top if you like. If you like some sweet with your savory, feel free to really go for it.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until sugar is caramelized and the apples are soft.
Plate the cabbage, pork and apples and serve.