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Home » Hey! What’s That Smell? My Adventure with Sauerkraut

Hey! What’s That Smell? My Adventure with Sauerkraut

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Hey! What's that smell? Why, I'm glad you asked. It's the jar of cabbage that's fermenting over on the shelf in the pantry. How did it get there? That's a very simple story.

A few Sunday mornings ago, I was doing the usual thing, which was to sit around, drink coffee, and catch up on my reading. That morning it was the glorious Sun magazine. A very interesting interview with underground food evangelist Sandor Katz (a.k.a. the fermentation fetishist) got me to thinking that it'd be fun to try to make my own sauerkraut. (This comes as something of a relief to TheWife™ as I'd been threatening to make my own mozzarella for years. For some reason, she fears cheesemaking in the home more than the sauerkraut thing. She owns more foodie books than a person rightly needs, and yet MKF Fisher and fear of homemade cheese exist under one roof!)

I found Katz's attitude about food to be quite inspiring. He makes some great points about fermentation as relates to our current thinking about bacteria, namely, that it's all bad. People have fear of the unknown on these issues, despite the fact that many popular foods come out of various fermentation processes: beer, yogurt, bread, cheese, soy sauce, vinegar. The attitudes are widespread, though: I mentioned to some co-workers that I was thinking about making sauerkraut and all the eyebrows went up. Even after explaining that the fementation's acidity makes it perfectly safe, the eyebrows remained in their suspect positions. I guess food is safe only when it comes from the grocery store.

The heck with that. I wanted my own sauerkraut!

I followed Katz's very simple instructions. Starting with shredded white and purple cabbage, shredded carrots, and rough-chopped garlic cloves, I added some sea salt and then began to squeeze. This kneading process gets the vegetables to release their water. After five minutes or so, the mixture was wet enough to pack into a mason jar. The key here is to make sure that there's enough juice to completely cover the cabbage. I found a nice dessert glass that fit into the top of the jar to act as a weight. Then, it was off to the pantry shelf. The happy bubbles of fermentation commenced just a few hours later.


In both his written material and videos, Katz is vague about the things like the amount of salt and how much time should pass until the kraut is "ready." I suspect this is because there are so many variables involved, from the rates of fermentation (partially driven by temperature) to the fact that "ready" is a subjective concept here. I intend to wait a week before the first taste test. It's going to be a long week, because the aroma (which is so far closer to kimchi than traditional sauerkraut) is driving me crazy.

That's right, it's not a "smell"… it's aroma. I'll let you know how it turns out.

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About Mark Saleski

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    If it’s good, it really does deserve some homemade kielbasa to go with. You know I’m right.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    it does…but i am not worthy.

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    I still think that with a decent recipe, it can’t be that hard to do.

  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    I applaud your efforts in the homemaking department, but frown at the kraut. Yuck.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    no saurkraut in the midwest mat?

  • http://www.joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    I love it. I want to know how the fermentation process goes. Maybe I’ll try it too.

  • Hangi

    I use mustard seeds and a touch of tumeric to add some color. Really good sauerkraut served with a couple of bratwurts and a side of speck is to die for!

  • Elizabeth Campbell

    It’s supposed to be fermented in a crock, have a much heavier weight on it, a close to airtight seal, and it takes close to a month to ferment. What you’re making is a rotting mess. Katz’s take is very poor advice and a sloppily researched.

    Nice thought to try, but good food can’t always be easy as Katz would have had you believe.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    and yet katz has been making (and eating!) “rotting mess” for years.

    right.

  • Jordan Richardson

    It’s some sort of kraut konspiracy, I know it.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    You tell ’em, Elizabeth. Katz is a con man and is obviously doing it wrong, which explains why he’s gone underground. I mean he claims “The mother of all condiments is the fish sauce”. What a laugh.

    Katz’s put one over on Saleski, a nice fella, but the man doesn’t know metal, doesn’t know technology, and certainly doesn’t know fermenting. Viva la crock!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    The dark brown hue is rather troubling. Doesn’t bode well for the eventual outcome of what is normally a rather anaemic-looking foodstuff.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    dd: i would normally agree with you but it’s not just white cabbage, but also purple and grated carrots. the photo isn’t a great one. the color is closer to a very pale rust.

  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    I’m late with my reply and for that you have my apologies. We have kraut, I just refuse to eat it. The wife convinced me to retry when we were in Strasbourg which is right on the German border so they know a few things about the dish, and it wasn’t terrible, but I can’t ever really get past the look of the stuff.

    Again I say yuck.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    i say the same thing about lutefisk although, in truth, i have never been in the same room with the stuff. not even sure if i’d try it and i’m pretty open-minded.

  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    If we ever make it up that way we’ll have to have a lukefish and sauerkraut dinner together.

    With lots of good wine.

  • le

    crocks are best, but you certainly can also make kraut in mason jars, and it has a good taste.