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Kimchi’s less fashionable relative (a little like a lesser-known Kardashian), sauerkraut is nonetheless my firm favourite. I’m not quite so au fait with Korean cuisine to know for sure if you can cook kimchi. Probably - but with full respect to kimchi of course, it won’t quite have the comfy palatability of choucroute for European taste buds.
I make this traditional, albeit largely made up, Christmas side dish of cooked sauerkraut with lots of wild dried mushrooms - tonnes of flavour. Chorizo and choucroute is lovely, choucroute garnie with sausages and speck comes in the same league as a good cassoulet and tastes just as blissful. There is something reassuringly tame about sauerkraut that makes it a fantastic canvas for cooked dishes which kimchi with all the arrogance of gochujang cannot match.
But I should be talking all about raw and fermented so I’m side-tracking. Recipes abound, everyone is fermenting like crazy and the reports of all those good bacteria doing wonders to our guts are making poor old sauerkraut blush. Ah, yes - you CAN make it with red cabbage, too.
The visions of heads upon heads of cabbage and special crocks (sic) necessary for the exercise are a vast exaggeration. A bit like making jam, you can shred barely a head with a couple of garlic cloves at a time and throw it in one medium sized jar - and it needn’t even be a special pickling type. It’s easy.
And it doesn’t smell the house out, honest.
sauerkrautServings: 1x 2 pound jarTime: 1 hour plus fermenting over several days
- 1 head of spring cabbage, about 450-500g when shredded
- 1 medium carrot
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 10g good quality sea salt
- 1 dried chili, deseeded and snipped into little pieces with scissors
- 1 tsp caraway seeds
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- ½ tsp fennel seeds
This amount of cabbage makes less than one 1 litre jar, kilner or an ordinary jar with a well-fitting lid.
1. Shred the cabbage quite finely, discarding any blemished outer leaves but save one. Julienne or coarsely grate the carrot.
2. Place the vegetables with the garlic in a large bowl, add the salt and rub it into the cabbage with your hands for a couple of minutes. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave for a few hours, up to overnight.
3. Rinse the jar with boiling water. Add the spices and chili and toss them through the cabbage with your hands. Put the cabbage into the jar in four or five goes, packing it tightly in with a handle of a wooden spoon or a meat mallet. Pour any left juices over the top.
4. Rinse the spare leaf and press it into the jar on top of the cabbage – ideally there should be enough juice to cover it, the leaf is there to keep it immersed. Weigh the leaf down with a clean large pebble, a cup or a small bowl, anything that will fit into the jar. Leave it open but cover with a piece of muslin or a clean cloth.
5. After 24 hours check if the cabbage has not floated to the top, press it down again with the wooden spoon to get rid of any trapped air, recover with the leaf, bowl and the cloth and keep it in a cool, darkish spot. The fermenting will take between 1 – 3 weeks, depending on the season and the temperatures.
6. After a week start tasting the sauerkraut. When it’s sour and tart enough for you, discard the leaf, close the jar with the lid and keep the sauerkraut in the fridge.