Making simple sauerkraut at home

For anyone who thinks that sauerkraut is not delicious, I would urge you to try making it yourself at least once.  Like most things, homemade is quite different from store bought.  For the rest of us who love the stuff, it's fun and rewarding to make.  And it couldn't be simpler.  My fermentation guru is Sandor Katz, who has extensively researched and written about fermentation traditions around the world in his two indispensable books, Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation.  I highly recommend both.

The most important factor for the best sauerkraut is the quality of the cabbage.  Fresh, organic cabbage from the farmer's market is best (unless you grow it yourself - the kraut made from my garden's cabbage was the best I've ever had).  Because we're relying on the natural bacteria (lactobacillus) already on the cabbage, organic makes a lot of sense, and the same is true for freshness.  Another detail is the salt ratio.  I use a scale to weigh the salt at 2.5% of the weight of the cabbage because I have one and it's the best method for batch-to-batch consistency.  Of course you can salt to taste and it will probably be just fine, but weighing allows you to make salt adjustments to suit your preference.  I use unrefined sea salt (Korean sea salt in this batch) because it tastes better and the minerals (calcium) help keep the cabbage texture crunchy.  The final element is fermentation time, which depends on bacteria vitality, salt level, fermentation temperature, and personal taste preference.  This batch was fermented for 5 days where the room temperature was in the low to mid 60s F.  The acidity is medium low and it has a slightly fruity aroma and notes of horseradish on the palate.  The airlock is not necessary at all but I use it because it's fun and I have a lot of them lying around.  The lid is Tattler and I drilled a hole to fit the rubber stopper that holds the airlock.  The jar is the 1.9 liter Ball, the largest I can find that takes the standard wide-mouth lids.  This jar would hold at least 300 grams more cabbage than what I used.  I also have a little glass weight holding the cabbage under the liquid.  Here I used a mix of green and red cabbage, but any cabbage is fine - savoy, napa, or any other greens like kale, mizuna, etc.  A mandolin can make the cutting easy, but for me the task is just as fast with my very sharp knives.  Playing with spice additions is fun too - juniper, caraway, lavender, coriander, and such.  Don't forget to label!  Painter's tape is great for that.


mix the cabbage and salt, let sit at least 1 hour for the juices to release

mix the cabbage and salt, let sit at least 1 hour for the juices to release

Purple Sauerkraut
1300g shredded cabbage (1 red, 1/2 green)
32.5g sea salt (2.5% of the weight of cabbage)

squeeze the cabbage to get enough liquid out to cover the cabbage

squeeze the cabbage to get enough liquid out to cover the cabbage

airlock is fun but not at all necessary a glass weight helps keep the cabbage under the liquid

airlock is fun but not at all necessary
a glass weight helps keep the cabbage under the liquid

pet the kitty if he's in a friendly mood

pet the kitty if he's in a friendly mood

it came out red (magenta) but it was purple when I labeled it it tastes really good!

it came out red (magenta) but it was purple when I labeled it
it tastes really good!

Miso making

Miso making on Valentine's Day - why not?  I can think of several reasons as to why it's a good idea to make your own miso at home:

1. Quality control - I used fresh homemade koji, organic soybeans, really good sea salt, and will be deciding the time and conditions of the fermentation.  Mass-produced miso doesn't even come close in flavor.  Making your own allows full control of the salt level and other variables to suit your palate.

2. It's far cheaper than buying miso, especially if you make the koji yourself.  But even if you're buying koji and the best organic beans and salt, you will still be saving.

3. Making miso is fun and rewarding because of the long fermentation time as well as how incredibly useful it is in the kitchen.  And it's pretty easy to do.

4. You can make your friends very happy by giving them some, or by cooking for them using your miso.  It's a great idea to make a big batch and plan on giving some away and aging what you don't use within one year.

5. Great for learning - making something yourself deepens your knowledge and sharpens your appreciation of it.  Using your own miso makes you a more mindful cook overall.

For anyone who might be interested, I'm providing the recipe and photos from my 2016 batch here.

One-Year Miso
2.4 kg dry organic soybeans (soak 24 hrs)
1.4 kg koji (fresh homemade)
646g sea salt (17% of the weight of dry beans & koji)
1/4 c seed miso (from my 2013 batch)
4 c bean cooking liquid
 

soybeans after 24 hr soak

soybeans after 24 hr soak

a talkative sous chef

a talkative sous chef

koji, salt, seed miso

koji, salt, seed miso

mashing beans with a 1 liter glass bottle (beans pressure steamed 45 min)

mashing beans with a 1 liter glass bottle (beans pressure steamed 45 min)

mix everything when beans are below 100F

mix everything when beans are below 100F

press down to get out air pockets, sprinkle salt on top

press down to get out air pockets, sprinkle salt on top

plastic wrap on miso, then 1cm kosher salt

plastic wrap on miso, then 1cm kosher salt

I will check the progress in about 5 - 6 months.  Usually it takes over a year to reach the flavor I'm looking for.  Some mold growth on top is not a problem (just scrape away) but it's good to be careful of bugs and other critters wanting a taste.  One memorable incident was when the miso was stored in a shed and a rat chewed through the plastic and ate through the salt layer and then a good amount of miso.  It was heart-rending to dump that year's batch, but lesson learned.

plastic wrap on top, taped, labeled

plastic wrap on top, taped, labeled


I had leftover koji and decided to try a sweet-style miso with azuki.  This has much less salt and much more koji.  It should be ready in about 2 months.

Azuki Sweet Miso
170g azuki (no soak, boiled 75 minutes)
340g koji (fresh homemade)
30.5g sea salt (6% of the weight of dry beans & koji)
1/2 c bean cooking liquid

azuki pre-rinse

azuki pre-rinse

mashing with a glass

mashing with a glass

I will probably check this in 4 - 6 weeks.  Next up is experimenting with black turtle bean miso and garbanzo miso.

salt and koji

salt and koji

luckily just fits a 1 liter mason jar

luckily just fits a 1 liter mason jar