Three Methods for Making Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is probably the most well-known lacto-fermented vegetable. It has a long, rich history starting most likely in Europe, which has extended itself here into America.
Like any traditionally homemade food, sauerkraut is made in a variety of ways and each mother, father, grandmother or grandfather will tell you that their way is the best way. And they are probably all right.
There are a few factors you need to achieve, though, in order to make a good fermented sauerkraut
Mason Jar Method. In this method for making sauerkraut you thinly slice the cabbage, salt it, and then pound it with a mallet or potato masher for about 10 minutes. In this time the juice is released by the cabbage to create a brine under which the sauerkraut will stay.
You then move the sauerkraut to mason jars and press the cabbage down into the jar to keep the brine above the cabbage. Once filled, the jars are sealed with tight-fitting lids and allowed to ferment for 3-5 days, depending on the temperature. They are then transferred to cold storage.
Open Crock or Bowl Method. In this method a very large vessel is used - either a crock or a non-reactive bowl. Just like in the Mason jar method shredded cabbage and salt are added to the bowl. Then, instead of pounding, the cabbage is weighted down. This is generally achieved with either a crock-lid or stone or a large plate that just fits inside of the vessel. These are then weighted down even further with (clean) heavy bowls or stones.
This weighting process naturally draws the juice out of the cabbage in order to create a brine. This saves you the time and effort of the pounding process in the Mason jar technique. After a day or so the cabbage will have accumulated a fair amount of liquid at the top and some impurities may be present on the surface of the brine. These can be scraped off every day. Many sauerkraut enthusiasts prefer this method because they are able to ladle off the impurities thereby creating a purer texture and flavor.
Whole Cabbage Method. This is a variation of the crock method in that instead of shredding the cabbage you take whole or halved cabbage heads and ferment them as is. A brine is generally used as whole cabbage heads cannot form their own brine fast enough to protect them from mold and unwanted yeasts.
Obviously with this method you will need a very large vessel such as a crock or a bucket. Having said that, this may be the easiest method for making sauerkraut as it does not involve all of the labor-intensive chopping or slicing that other methods utilize.
This method also takes much longer to ferment during that first stage. Four weeks or more are necessary before moving to cold storage because of the size of the cabbage heads.
Whichever method you choose be sure to adhere to the four necessities for good sauerkraut as listed above.