A Prost to Oktoberfest

I am a sucker for any outdoor festival focused on fermented cabbage, strong beer, and the unequaled camaraderie of satiated drunks….so naturally Oktoberfest is right up my alley. Florida is not exactly the best place to celebrate this particular excuse for drunken revelry, although the fledgling Oktoberfest Tampa celebration can be a good time.

For those of us who prefer to treat Oktoberfest as a month-long excuse to eat bratwurst and drink beer out of glass boots, I recommend whipping up a batch of homemade sauerkraut to ensure you have sufficient supplies to make it through the month.

Reuben with red kraut on marble rye, homebrewed marzen and homemade sweet chipotle pickle

Sauerkraut is cabbage fermented by lactobacillus bacteria. Lactobacillius is an ubiquitous bacteria which is responsible for such diverse delectables as yogurt, cheese, sourdough bread, sour pickles, tabasco sauce, sour beer and kimchi. Lactobacillus consumes sugar and produces lactic acid, which pickles and preserves the food and gives it a delightfully sour taste. Lactobacillus is a “good bacteria” that is great for the immune and digestive systems, making sauerkraut an extremely healthy, pro-biotic food.

Cabbage is one of the most readily lacto-fermentable vegetables. There is really nothing to it – chop it up, add a little salt, stuff it in a mason jar and pound the hell out of it. Three weeks later you will be rewarded with the freshest, crispiest sauerkraut you have ever tasted. There is no need to add lactobacillus to ensure fermentation – the salt inhibits other bacteria long enough for the lacto which lives naturally on the cabbage and in the air to start the fermentation spontaneously.

The only ingredients/tools you will need are: a head of cabbage, kosher or sea salt, caraway seeds (optional), something to chop the cabbage with, mason jars or some other sort of glass vessel to ferment in, and something to pound the cabbage with (your fist will work in a pinch).

Chop the cabbage and stuff it into the jars. Add salt and caraway seeds as you go (add a bit to each layer). Use about 2 tablespoons of salt per head of cabbage.

Once the cabbage is stuffed into the jars, pound it with a blunt object until the liquid is released and covers the cabbage completely.

Cover the jars loosely, and weigh the cabbage down so that it stays submerged in the liquid. The shredded cabbage will be wont to float in the liquid so it can take some creativity to keep it submerged. I like to set aside a couple large pieces of cabbage leaves and lay them on top of the shredded cabbage, which can then be weighed down without anything floating up around it. I weigh the cabbage down by sticking a shot glass into the jar an screwing the lid down on top of it.

Remember not to close the jars tightly. Carbon dioxide is produced as a byproduct of the fermentation process and must be able to vent out of the top of the jar.

Store the jars in a warm, dark place. A temperature between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. After a day or so you should see bubbles in the liquid, a telltale sign of fermentation.

The liquid is not actually that dark, it should be off-white and cloudy

Taste a bit of the kraut every week or so, until it tastes as sour as you like it. After three weeks or so it should be ready. Transfer it to another jar or zip-lock bag and store in the fridge. It will last for months.

You can use regular green cabbage for traditional kraut, or you can use any other type of cabbage you want. Napa cabbage, bok choy, and red cabbage, all work great. I have even heard of lettuce being used.

Personally I prefer red cabbage for the slight sweetness and visual awesomeness:

Word of warning: there is a chance you will like this kraut so much that you become one of those weird people who put sauerkraut on everything, making reubens for breakfast and snacking on it right out of the jar. People will not understand. That is ok. It is perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed about.

Now pick up a case of you favorite Oktoberfest beer (or, even better, brew your own…) and enjoy!

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