How to Make Sauerkraut

This fermented hot dog and sandwich topper is simple to make at home. Here's how.

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How to Make Sauerkraut

To get started, first remove any damaged or discolored leaves from the cabbage.

Get the Recipe: Sauerkraut

Shred It

Start by shredding the cabbage — the finer you shred, the more surface area you expose to salt and the more liquid you’ll pull out through osmosis. There's no need to overdo it, though. Vary the thickness for some textural variety, from millimeters thin to 1/4 inch thick.

Salt It

The recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of kosher salt for every 5 pounds of cabbage, or 1 1/2 to 2 percent salt by weight, for those with a kitchen scale. Transfer the shredded cabbage to a large bowl or stockpot and toss with the salt and juniper berries, if using. 

Knead It

With clean hands, firmly knead the salt into the cabbage for a minute or two, alternatively tossing and squeezing firmly. This breaks down cell walls and kick-starts the release of liquid.

Weight For It

Weight the cabbage with a plate, and leave it for a minimum of 4 hours to give the salt time to do its work. Better yet, leave it overnight. Toss and knead the cabbage a couple of times while you’re waiting. For crunchier 'kraut, salt longer and knead gently.

When the cabbage has collapsed into a sodden mass and there is considerable brine pooled in the bottom of the bowl, the salting phase is finished. Before you move on, though, taste for salt. You'll likely find that the cabbage tastes less salty now and warrants further seasoning. (You want the cabbage just shy of seawater salty.)

Pack Into Jars

Firmly pack the cabbage into 2 wide-mouth quart jars — you'll be amazed how much you can fit in there.

Briny Quarters

Tamp the cabbage with something sturdy, a wooden spoon or a cylindrical glass, to press out air pockets and raise the level of the brine above the cabbage. Leave 2 inches of headroom between the top of the brine and the mouth of the jar to allow room for expansion. The biggest challenge of the whole endeavor lies in keeping the cabbage submerged under its brine and thus out of the reach of yeasts and molds. The cabbage will naturally float to the surface of the brine, where it becomes food for a variety of harmless microbial fungi that can introduce off flavors. This is far from catastrophic — just discard the top layer and enjoy the rest — but there's an easy workaround.

A Solution Solution

Find a glass that fits just inside the mouth of the quart jar, and use it to press down on the cabbage, submerging it under brine. Leave it there for the length of the fermentation. Store at cool room temperature, away from heat sources and direct sunlight, for 2 to 4 weeks (at 70 to 75 degrees F) or 4 to 6 weeks (at 60 to 65 degrees F). Check the brine level periodically — it will rise during the bubbly early stages of fermentation, then fall as the cabbage reabsorbs its brine — and press down on the glass to raise it back up. Problem solved. If more weight is required to keep the cabbage under brine, fill the glasses with water and reinsert them into the quart jars.

Within days, you’ll have a teeming aquarium on your hands. The first stage of fermentation is the most dramatic, with lots of active bubbling, as the first wave of lactic acid bacteria digests cabbage carbs and throws off copious carbon dioxide.

Taste, Then Refrigerate

After 2 weeks, start tasting the sauerkraut. Sauerkraut prizes slowness and rewards patience. The acidic tang that makes sauerkraut so addictive requires weeks to develop, and, within limits, the longer the fermentation, the more acidic the ‘kraut. When it has soured to your liking (if you love pungent flavors, try letting it go for as long as 6 to 8 weeks), remove the glasses from the jars, screw lids on and transfer the finished sauerkraut to the refrigerator. It will keep there, souring slowly, for months.

Ready to Eat (and Keep)

In Europe, sauerkraut has traditionally been a fall product, intended to serve as a valuable source of nutrition throughout the winter. And to this day, ideal storage temperature during fermentation remains a fall-like 60 to 65 degrees F, though terrific sauerkraut can be made at temperatures well above and below this range. Something to keep in mind: At higher temperatures, add a little extra salt to slow down fermentation, and at lower temperatures, go lighter on the salt.

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