Lithuanian Sauerkraut | Rauginti Kopūstai [Recipe]
In our house certain things happen so often that they have been given their own name. One of our most frequent occurrences is “where-is-age”, a phenomenon whereby Arūnas can’t find something he needs, despite the fact that the item is exactly where it’s supposed to be. “Where’s my wallet?” “It’s in the drawer, darling.” (Where it always is.) “Where are my keys?” “They’re in the drawer, darling.” (Where they always are.) You get the gist.
Next on the list is “kickage” (also known as “bounceage”). Arūnas is full of energy and cannot sit or lie still for any length of time, whereas I can sit virtually motionless for long periods, my only movement being the turning of a page or my fingers on the keyboard. His legs appear to have a life of their own, particularly when he’s talking. Unfailingly, they move to the beat of his words. Getting through a movie is a nightmare – the legs are crossed, then uncrossed, then crossed again, then tucked under him, then curled to the side. It drives me bonkers.
And then there’s “pickleage”. Lithuanians love fermented foods, with cucumber pickles, sauerkraut and sour milk or kefir being eaten regularly and in abundance. As luck would have it, I also love fermented foods, so much so that I have a section of my worktop permanently dedicated to fermenting foods. My little fermentation station usually has my sourdough starter, a flask of yogurt and a 3 litre (3 quart) jar of either pickles or sauerkraut. We never, ever run out of fermented vegetables, yet Arūnas still asks at every meal “is there any pickle?”
(I guess I should add that there is also lots of love-age, but we won’t talk about that here.)
When the first snow fell recently I rushed out to rescue what was left of my brassicas. I still had lots of cabbage, kale and sprouts growing and wasn’t sure how the snow might affect them. My cabbages had started the season as show specimens but had, in later months, been decimated by caterpillars. The remaining heads were unattractively moth-holed. By the time the outer leaves were removed they were quite small and didn’t look like they would keep well, so I decided to turn them all into sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut is not a uniquely Lithuanian food, but ingredients do vary from country to country. Traditional Lithuanian sauerkraut contains cabbage, carrot and caraway seeds. Every home cook has their own recipe, but typically there is a much higher proportion of cabbage to carrot. White cabbage is usually used, particularly at this time of year when they are widely and cheaply available.
Sauerkraut is incredibly easy to make – shred or grate your vegetables, add salt and any other seasoning, squeeze the salt into the vegetables to extract the juices and then leave the vegetables, covered in this natural brine, to ferment for several days. There are a few keys to the success of your sauerkraut, though. First and foremost, calculate the quantity of salt carefully. If you want a consistent result you must use a consistent quantity of salt. Estimating the quantity of salt needed will most likely result in a product that is either inedibly salty or limp and bland. I have found that 2% salt works perfectly, giving us a crunchy, tangy sauerkraut typical of what we might buy in the market. If you’re new to sauerkraut-making, I suggest sticking with 2% for the first few batches, and then adjusting up or down to suit your taste.
Your fermentation jar must be spotlessly clean. Fermentation is initiated by organisms naturally occurring on the vegetables, and presence of any competing bacteria may spoil the whole batch. Wash your jar thoroughly with hot, soapy water, rinse well and dry with a fresh cloth. Finally, the fermentation process is anaerobic, meaning it happens in the absence of oxygen. The process does, however, produce gases. Thus, you need to cover your vegetables in such a way that prevents contact with air but allows gases to escape. I find a zip-closure bag perfect for this as it adapts to the size of your jar and the quantity of vegetables. Push the bag down on top of the vegetables, then fill the bag with water to keep the vegetables weighed down under the brine. Any gases produced can escape around the sides of the bag.
Lithuanian Sauerkraut | Rauginti Kopūstai
2 kg | 4.5 lb head white cabbage
200 g | 7 oz carrot (1 medium carrot, approx)
40 g | 1.5 oz fine salt (or 2% total prepared vegetable weight)
10 g | 1 Tbsp caraway seeds
- Peel the carrot. Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage, rinse the whole cabbage under running water and then cut the cabbage into pieces that will fit through the funnel of your food processor, discarding the solid heart.
(You can use a coarse grater for the carrot and a mandolin slicer for the cabbage if you don’t have a food processor.)
- Weigh the cabbage pieces and the peeled carrot and calculate the exact quantity salt required – 20 g of salt per kilo (1/3 oz per pound) of prepared vegetables.
The sourness of your final sauerkraut depends on the quantity of salt used, so for consistent results do spend a little time calculating this weight correctly.
- Shred the cabbage using your food processor’s fine slicing disc. Transfer to a large saucepan or food grade bucket. (I use a 7 litre | 7 quart stew pan.)
- Grate the carrot using your food processor’s coarse grating disc and add to the cabbage.
- Add the salt and caraway seeds.
- Using your hands, mix the ingredients together and begin to squeeze and massage the vegetables. After just a few minutes you will see liquid starting to come out of the vegetables and notice that the volume of the vegetables is reducing. Continue to squeeze until the vegetables are fully covered with liquid when pressed down firmly. (See photograph.)
- Transfer the mixture to a clean 3 litre | 3 quart jar. Push the mixture tightly down into the jar until the liquid just covers the top of the vegetables.
- Fit a 2.5 litre (3 quart) zip-closure food bag into the top of the jar. Put your hand into the bag and push the bag down onto the vegetables and right out to the sides of the jar. Carefully fill the bag with water and zip it closed. The bag will act as a weight to keep the vegetables under the brine and will keep insects and dust out of the jar, but will allow gases that are created during fermentation to escape.
If you don’t have a large enough jar you can leave the vegetables in the saucepan or bucket, weighing the mixture down with a plate and covering with a clean tea cloth.
- Label the jar with the date so you know when fermentation began. Set the jar on a plate or tray (as some liquid may bubble out during fermentation) and leave at room temperature for a minimum of 5 days.
- After 5 days test the sourness of your sauerkraut. If it is not quite sour enough, refit the bag and allow to ferment for a further 2-3 days. If you are happy with the sourness you can transfer the sauerkraut to clean jars or zip-closure bags. Zip-closure bags are ideal as they can be squeezed to remove any air before sealing, regardless of whether or not the bag is full. If using jars, pack the jar as tightly as possible, leaving just a small head space (½ cm | ¼ inch) at the top to minimise air contact.
We go through quite a bit of sauerkraut so I find that 1 litre (1 quart) bags works well for our needs. However, if you only use a little at a time I would recommend storing it in smaller quantities as sauerkraut begins to deteriorate once it is exposed to air.
- Your sauerkraut will keep for several months if stored in the fridge. It will continue to sour a little as time progresses.
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