Apparently there are eastern European recipes for making sauerkraut with whole heads of cabbage immersed in large barrels of brine. I don’t think our small cellar-like cupboard could handle a barrel of fermenting heads of cabbage–to say nothing of Kat’s olfactory sensibilities–but I still want to experiment with this type of sauerkraut recipe, just on a smaller scale.
What better method than by using nature’s scaled-down version of the cabbage, the brussels sprout, I wondered. They have many of the same sweet-mustardy flavours that cabbages do just in a smaller, more concentrated format. So that the finished product will stay where it belongs when served on top of sausage on a toasted bun I have included some of the traditional shredded cabbage in this recipe. This was also done to hedge against the possibility that because brussels sprouts are stronger-flavoured than cabbage they might be less palatable after a month of fermentation.
Almost all sources for sauerkraut recipes make it seem like adding extra brine is the exception to the rule. They confidently state that freshly-picked cabbage, when salted to this degree, will exude enough water in twenty-four hours to mix with the salt and serve as a natural brine. Admittedly, I’m using cabbage that was probably picked five months ago but even when I made sauerkraut in October the cabbage didn’t produce more than about twenty percent of the water needed. Unless you’re using cabbage fresh enough that you picked it yourself or bought it within sight of the field in which it grew I bet you will also have to add water to keep all of the cabbage submerged. And submerged it must be, because as anyone who has made sauerkraut can tell you bad things (blue-black and very rank) happen to cabbage that is exposed to the air.
The three best sources I have found for sauerkraut recipes–Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (Chelsea Green Publishing), The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich (Harvard Common Press), and Stocking Up by Carol Hupping (Rodale Press) –all call for the same ratio of cabbage to salt: 5 pounds to 3 tablespoons. Some don’t even go as far as to specify kosher (the best option in my opinion, coarse sea salt is second) but even then brands of kosher salt vary enough that this measurement should really be given by weight. On my scale with my brand of kosher salt each tablespoon weighs 18 grams or 0.7 ounces. So, for every two-and-a-quarter kilograms (five pounds) of cabbage you need 54 grams or 2.1 ounces of (kosher) salt.
- 10 medium brussels sprouts (about 300 g or 2 / 3 lb.), halved from the tip through the stem and the woodiest part of the stem removed
- half a head of white cabbage (about 450 g or 1 lb.), shredded finely with a chef’s knife, a mandoline, or a handheld food slicer
- 18g kosher salt
- 1 L Mason jar, very clean
- Halve the brussels sprouts and shred the cabbage. Disperse the brussels sprouts throughout the cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt as you go along. The goal is to evenly distribute salt throughout. Be somewhat gentle about the mixing so that the brussels sprout have maintain their integrity.
- Pack the cabbage and brussels sprouts into the mason jar, trying to keep the halves of brussels sprouts evenly distributed. Pack tightly with a wooden spoon, another sturdy kitchen tool or just your clean hands. To keep the cabbage pressed tightly and submerged use a jar small enough that it fits into the mouth of the Mason jar. Extra weight (I’m using a bottle of vodka) on top will help press water out of the cabbage.
- After 24 hours check the jar for the level of the liquid. Top up with water and kosher salt. Also look for any air bubbles and try to shake them free.
- Let jar stand in a dark, cool (between ten and sixteen degrees celsius is ideal) place for four to six weeks. Skim any scum that forms on top of the brine and test the flavour of the sauersprouts periodically.
Note: This is a test batch and I have listed the quantities that I used. If you are more adventurous, have a bushel of brussels sprouts on your hands, or can’t bear to only have about two pounds of sauersprouts after a month of waiting feel free to scale the recipe up. Just maintain the ratio of 18 g of salt for every xxx g of cabbage mix.
Another Note: If you want to tweak the flavours of the finished product go ahead and add herbs and/or spices to your mix. Juniper berries, carraway seeds, mustard seeds, and black peppercorns are all obvious and traditional choices. Unless you really know what you’re doing avoid anything animal based, or that alters the sweetness (honey, maple syrup), acidity (vinegar), or saltiness (soy sauce) because I would be worried about potential (possibly dangerous) affects on the fermentation environment.