Sauerkraut is an easy way to prepare cabbage, all you need is cabbage, salt*, a bowl to mix it in, a container to store it in and a knife to chop it up. I use a cleaver because that is my preferred knife, but you can easily use a chef’s knife. I use the small paring knife to trim off any small ugly bits and sometimes to remove the core. Save a few of the outer leaves and keep those whole.
You will want sea salt or pickling salt or Pink Himalayan, do not use plain table salt – that often contains anti-caking agents and could affect your kraut’s ferment in unexpected ways.
At this point I weigh the cabbage. The cabbage weight is needed to calculate the amount of salt to use. For 2 lbs of cabbage, use 3 teaspoons of salt, then add 1 teaspoon of salt for each additional half pound of cabbage (so 3 lbs of cabbage needs 5 teaspoons of salt, 4 lbs of cabbage needs 7 teaspoons of salt and so on). Measure out your salt now and then continue chopping.
As each section is chopped add it to the big bowl and sprinkle it with a pinch of the salt we just measured out. Continue in this way until all the cabbage is chopped and all the salt sprinkled. Don’t worry if you get to the end of one before the other, just make sure it all ends up in your bowl.
Now for the fun part – beat up that cabbage! I like to start by pressing down on it with my knuckles and then bring out the heavy equipment – a nice marble pestle. This is why I use a stainless steel bowl and not a glass one – with a glass bowl you will want to stick with you hands or a wooden cabbage stomper (they sell them on Amazon and Etsy if you really get into your sauerkraut making).
The pounding and stomping softens the cabbage and encourages it to release water. I’m not sure how well that shows up in the pictures, but the top one, before mashing, is dry and the second one, stomped cabbage, is quite moist. You can stomp and mash and pound and tamp until you tire of it, the cabbage will continue to release its moisture.
The next part takes me much longer than it will take you because I have no ability at all to judge how much cabbage will fit into which container. None. At. All.
Pack your cabbage and all the released liquid into a jar of appropriate size. You do not want to fill your jar to the very top – leave plenty of space for more liquid and gas to be released.
Not the gallon jar.
Or the quart jar in the middle, but the half-gallon jar is just the right size. See how much liquid the cabbage released? I have not added any water or brine to this.
Top the cabbage with one of the cleaned outer leaves and weight everything down – I used a small mason jar, but you can use specially made weights or, if you use plastic, a Ziploc bag filled with water (if you add 1 teaspoon of salt per cup of water you won’t have to worry about the bag leaking). If I can fit the smaller jar in with its lid on, I fill it with brine for extra weight. You want all of your cut cabbage to be held under the liquid – if will spoil if it floats up and comes into contact with air.
The lid to your jar (now a fermenting vessel) needs to allow gasses out. I do this by tightening it normally and then backing it off a 1/4 turn, but you can leave it tight and “burp” it occasionally or you can use an airlock (as I do with smaller jars).
That’s it. Leave for 4-6 weeks – this is art as well as science – it takes less time in a warm room and more time in a cool room. Take a taste when you can’t bear waiting any longer, some people like it sour and crunchy (about 2 weeks), other people like it sour and soft (6 weeks) and some people just can’t help eating a little each week to “see if it’s ready yet.” When it is done to your liking pop it in the fridge and it will keep for weeks, maybe even months, but I have no experience of that!