Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How to Make Sauerkraut (Choucroute)

Before my fateful trip to Alsace, I didn't think much about the lowly cabbage and I certainly didn't think much about sauerkraut. Sauerkraut was the stuff I picked off my hot dog. It was the rubbery white stuff that was always too tangy, too salty, or just too weird for me to eat. Then, I was lucky enough to spend 2 weeks in Alsace, where cabbage is king. Just look at this dish, choucroute garnie:
The woman who owned our guest house made this memorable dinner for us. Okay, I'll admit that it doesn't look like the most delicious thing ever, but it is - don't be fooled by its humble appearance! It is basically a casserole layered with choucroute (sauerkraut), liver dumplings, and sausages. The choucroute was unlike any sauerkraut I had before: it was only mildly sour and it still had hints of green, both in appearance and taste.

When I returned to the States, I just had to eat more sauerkraut. However, store bought sauerkraut was just as awful as I remembered it, which meant that my only choice was to make it myself.

Making sauerkraut seemed relatively simple, the real stuff is just cabbage and salt, but I was skeeved out by the fermenting vessel. Most instructions I read talked about making your 'kraut in a plastic bucket with a pillowcase over it. Yuck. Those same instructions talked about how it is important to monitor your 'kraut and to skim off any white scum that floats to the top. Double yuck.

Enter the Harsch crock. Although wonderful sauerkraut can be made without it, it made a lot less scary to have this tool on my side since it eliminates the "skim off the white scum" step that it is most 'kraut recipes.

Are you interested in tasting what real sauerkraut? Unless you have an awfully good supplier in your neighborhood, tasting fresh sauerkraut means making it yourself. So, here's my method for making tasty 'kraut. You can click on the pictures if you would like to see a larger image.

Tools you'll need:
  • Knife
  • Cutting board
  • Kitchen scale
  • Food processor with a slicer blade (not necessary, but a huge time saver)
  • Crock and weight stones
  • Masher (I use a French rolling pin)
  • Pen and paper
  • Calculator

  • Cabbage
  • Kosher or sea salt

Start with green cabbages. In my neighborhood, I can find organic green cabbage at Monterey Market and El Cerrito Natural Foods. Pick cabbages that seem unusually heavy when you pick them up. Give them a good rinse in the sink and let them dry.

Next, use the knife to halve, and then quarter, each cabbage on the cutting board. Use the cabbage's core as its centerline. Once the cabbage is quartered, you can easily cut out its core.

Weigh the cabbage and write down this number. You'll need it later when you have to calculate the needed amount of salt.

Slice the cabbage using the thinnest slicer blade on your food processor (a mandolin or even a knife can be used instead to slice the cabbage).

Now, it is time to calculate how much salt you'll need. Grab that piece of paper with the cabbage's weight. What you're going to do is to calculate 2% of that weight. This resulting number is how much salt you'll add to your cabbage. For example, if you have 1000 grams of cabbage, you'll need 20 grams of salt because 1000 g X .02 = 20 grams. Use the scale to measure your salt.

Here comes the fun part! First, put a layer of salt on the bottom of the crock, and then place a layer of sliced cabbage. Repeat until the salt and cabbage is all in the crock.

Pick up that stick, channel your teenage angst, and mash that cabbage!

As you mash, liquid from the cabbage will release, resulting in a satisfying "walking through the mud with rain boots" sound.

Since I like to ferment around 8 pounds of cabbage at a time, I repeat these steps a few times until my 7.5 liter crock is at capacity.

When your crock is full, place the weight stones on top of them. They should press down on the cabbage with enough force for the stones to be submerged.

Stick the lid on your crock, fill the gutter with water (if your crock has one), and let it sit in a cool, dry place. The temperature in my house fluctuates between 55-65 deg F, and at this temperature, it takes 4 weeks for my sauerkraut to be ready to eat. Once I like the consistency and taste of my sauerkraut, I store it in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process.

Enjoy! If you have any questions or make this using these instructions, please let me know in the comments section.


  1. I used to make sauerkraut when my daughter was little. We loved it. Our crock was huge, and we filled it almost full of cabbage. It was great, when we did it right. When we did it wrong, or if we got a hot spell in the summer, then yuck, what a mess. Worse, what a smell! When we did it wrong, we got the white scum. When we did it right, no scum.

    Then I put it in jars and canned it.

    And...I tagged you for yet another meme: http://fuzzknitter.blogspot.com/2008/03/another-meme.html

  2. First time I stayed at your house, I wasn't so much petsitting as krautsitting. ;)

  3. What constitutes a weight stone? What other objects can I use to weight the cabbage? Since I'm not making any Rumtopf this year I might use that pot for sauerkraut. Does the crock need to be air-tight? I use saran wrap under the lid for rumtopf.

    Perhaps I should make rumtopf. I'll be able to drink rum by winter... *smacks lips in anticipation*

  4. You can use a plate as a weight stone. Basically, you want something that can be soaked in brine and is heavy enough to keep the cabbage submerged.

  5. Okay, just LOOKING at these pictures is making me feel kind of gassy.


  6. When I make sauerkraut, I find that the food processor chops it too fine..I use a cabbage shredder..which was my grandma's...when adding the salt-cabbage layers, I "squish" the cabbage between my hands to incorporate the salt after every layer...my mom used to use the plate and stone weight..then went to filling a garbage bag with water, tie the top and put it over the cabbage in the crock...I use a 12+ gallon crock...so that it is covered..never had to skim the skum when using this method...as far as the smell..that's how you tell if it's done!!! Then I seal it in jars by water-bath canning it just 10 min. to seal lids..

  7. I´m making Sauerkraut for the first time. I went out to buy Kosher or Sea salt and found out by reading the nutrition facts label of all the salt brands here in my country ( Colombia, South America) contain iodine, even the Kosher and sea salt brands contain ( Iodine 50-100 ppm and fluoride 180-220 ppm ) * based on a 2.000 calorie diet.

    I even went to the authorized Jewish kosher stores here and they also sell kosher Salt with the same percentage of iodine.

    Doing my research, I read on multiple websites that iodized salt will make the cabbage go black or will prevent a good fermentation process.

    I don´t know what to, it looks that by law in this country salt has to be iodized.

    Can I make the Sauerkraut with the Kosher salt or Sea salt that I can buy here?

    Need some advice, please!!

    Thank you in advanced.

  8. It seems to me that iodine is a natural part of sea salt. The trace elements in seasalt can be iron, magnesium, sulfur or iodine.

  9. rachel says...instead of any other SALT I loove to use pink himalayan salt, it is very good quality and tasty..

  10. Thanks for these tips. We are going to make our first ever batch this weekend. I hope it turns out well.



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