Quick & Easy|
By Beverly Barbour
Sauerkraut really a vegetable, not a condiment
In our country we use sauerkraut as more of garnish, on hot dogs and sandwiches, but in the rest of the world it is eaten in gratins, tarts, soups, stews, etc. Canned sauerkraut is better than no sauerkraut and bagged sauerkraut that is found refrigerated in grocery stores is a step up. Best of all is homemade kraut and it is surprisingly easy to make and very, very inexpensive because cabbage is one of our best buy vegetables. Sauerkraut is made by the fermentation of cabbage in the absence of oxygen. A two to three percent salt solution limits the bacteria to desirable ones that can survive during the fermentation. The fermentation creates lactic acid, which gives sauerkraut its characteristic flavor and texture.
Large, heavy, dense cabbages are best. There are special varieties grown just for sauerkraut making but you can use any variety. The big heads weigh eight to 20 pounds. If the cabbages haven’t been recently harvested you may want to add a small amount of salted water to get things started. This time of year you probably will need a little salt water to get the fermentation started.
HOW TO MAKE BASIC SAUERKRAUT FROM SCRATCH
Do not use iodized or flavored salt. Sea salt is highly recommended and pickling salt will do.
5 pounds or more of cored and thinly sliced cabbage
Weigh out enough coarse sea salt or pickling salt to equal 2 to 2 1/2 percent salt. Put the cabbage in a ceramic crock or plastic bucket, in layers, alternating with the salt. Pound with a pestle until the cabbage is covered by a thin layer of juice. More liquid will appear as the salt draws out the moisture. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, and add enough weight (such as clean bricks, stones or canned goods), to equal 10 to 15 pounds, which will hold the cabbage below the surface of the liquid and press out the cabbage juices. Cover the container with a pillowcase or other covering to keep out foreign matter. Store the container in a location between 60 and 75 degrees. (My grandmother used to put it on the top step or two leading to the basement. In cooler temperatures, the fermentation will take longer, up to a month. In warmer temperatures, it may take only a week. Skim off the foam as it appears, rinse the plate and replace it on top of the cabbage. When the fermentation is finished, the cabbage will have been transformed into raw sauerkraut. Now it can be stored in the refrigerator, covered in its brine, for up to a month, or drain, rinse and cook immediately.
3 pounds raw sauerkraut
Preheat oven to 325 F. Rinse the sauerkraut several times in cold water to remove the brine. Drain and pat dry. Melt the fat in a deep pot over low heat. When it has melted, increase the heat to medium, add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute, then add half of the sauerkraut. Tie the juniper, cloves, peppercorns and bay leaf in cheesecloth to make a spice bag and put it on top of the sauerkraut. Add the remaining sauerkraut and pour the wine and water over it. Sprinkle with pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and put the pot in the oven. Cook 1 hour for still-crunchy kraut or up to 2 1/2 or 3 hours for a very tender, nearly melting sauerkraut, adding more liquid during the longer cooking period if needed to prevent the kraut from drying out. Remove spice bag. You can eat as is for a vegetable or use in recipes.
A CHOUCROUTE MEAL
Both my German and French Grandmothers made variations of this dish. My mother used ham hocks or pigs feet, any pork or ham product will do.
2 pounds smoked ham hocks
Begin with the Basic Way recipe above, but add the smoked ham hocks with the spice bag, and cook for 1 hour. Remove from the oven; bury the bacon and pork belly in the sauerkraut, cover, and return to the oven to cook for 45 minutes longer. At the end of that time, remove the pot from the oven and add the potatoes. Cover and cook for another 45 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. About 8 to 10 minutes before the potatoes are done, add the sausages, cover and cook until done. To serve cut the pork belly and bacon into slices and arrange on top. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
SAUERKRAUT & SAUSAGE SANDWHICH
This open-faced sandwich probably inspired the popular Monte Cristo sandwich, with its layers of meat, sauerkraut and cheese.
1/4 pound linguica or other sausage
Cut the sausage into two 4-inch lengths, then split each down the middle. Put them in a skillet and heat until cooked through. Spread the bread with the mayonnaise and mustard, top with the kraut and then the sausages and sprinkle on the cheese. Place under a broiler and broil until the cheese melts. Careful, this only takes about 2 minutes. Serve piping hot. Makes 1 sandwich.