Makes 1 gallon.
Note: This will take one to four weeks, or more, to ferment. From "Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods" (Chelsea Green, 2003) by Sandor Ellix Katz.
• 5 lb. cabbage, freshly picked
• 3 tbsp. sea salt
Chop or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely, with or without hearts, however you like it. Mix green and red cabbage to end up with bright pink kraut. Place cabbage in a large bowl as you chop it.
Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. The salt pulls water out of the cabbage and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting. The salt also has the effect of keeping the cabbage crunchy, by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it.
Mix ingredients together and pack into a crock a bit at a time and tamp it down hard using your fists or sturdy kitchen implement. The tamping packs the kraut tight in the crock and helps force water out of the cabbage.
Cover kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the crock. Place a clean weight (such as a glass jug filled with water) on the cover. This weight is to force water out of the cabbage and then keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep out dust and insects.
Press down on the weight to add pressure to the cabbage and help force water out of it. Continue doing this periodically (as often as you think of it, every few hours), until the brine rises above the cover. This can take up to about 24 hours, as the salt draws water out of the cabbage slowly. Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, simply contains less water.
If the brine does not rise above the plate level by the next day, add enough salt water to bring the brine level above the plate. (To make salt water, add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water and stir until it's completely dissolved.)
Leave the crock to ferment. If you want a slower fermentation that will preserve for longer, store it in a cool basement.
Check the kraut every day or two. The volume reduces as the fermentation proceeds. Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Skim what you can off of the surface; it will break up and you will probably not be able to remove all of it. Don't worry about this. It's just a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air.
The kraut itself is under the anaerobic protection of the brine. Rinse off the plate and the weight. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months and months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.
Try starting a new batch before the previous batch runs out and pack some of remaining kraut in with the new salted cabbage. Then pour the old kraut and its juices over the new kraut. This gives the new batch a boost with an active culture starter.
CHAMPAGNE CHOUCROUTE GARNI
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: This is also good with a condiment made of fresh grated apple with prepared horseradish mixed in to taste.
• 2 tsp. black peppercorns
• 4 whole cloves
• 2 bay leaves, broken
• 1 tsp. caraway seed
• 11/2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. canola oil, divided
• 2 lb. pork spareribs (or country ribs)
• 11/2 tsp. salt, divided
• 3/4 tsp. ground black pepper, divided
• 1/3 lb. slab bacon, cut into 1-in. square chunks
• 2 tbsp. butter
• 21/2 c. finely diced onion
• 1 tbsp. brown sugar
• 4 garlic cloves, chopped
• 11/2 c. Champagne or sparkling wine (or substitute riesling)
• 3 lb. sauerkraut with juice, homemade or commercial
• 3 c. chicken stock
• 1 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
• 4 links smoked country sausage
• 3 skin-on wieners
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Make a sachet out of cheesecloth or a coffee filter -- or use a tea ball -- and put the peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves inside. Set aside.
Heat a small pan and add the caraway seed. Toast until it is fragrant and crackling. Pour out onto a cutting board and mix with 1 teaspoon canola oil and chop finely.
Season pork ribs with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large casserole that is large enough to hold all the ingredients. Brown the ribs on all sides at high heat, but don't let the bottom of the pan burn. Pour out the fat and discard. Add the bacon and brown on all sides. Set aside with the ribs.
Add the butter, onion and brown sugar. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook for 20 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the wine and cook at a boil for 10 minutes, or until reduced a bit.
Add the ribs, bacon, sauerkraut and juice, chicken stock, thyme, sachet of spices and caraway paste. Cover with a paper lid (cut to fit the diameter of the pot) or prop a lid partially on the pan, and put the pan in the oven. You want it to barely simmer, so turn the oven down if it is boiling.
Cook for 21/2 hours, then add the sausage and wieners. Cook 1 hour or more, if necessary, until the meats are very tender, for a total of 31/2 hours. Skim any excess fat from the surface. You can keep this warm in a low oven for up to 2 hours before serving.
Serve with boiled or steamed potatoes and Dijon mustard.