Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Our homemade sauerkraut research project

I don’t post recipes that aren’t tried and true favorites. That really wouldn’t be fair to anyone who’s interested in making what I’m sharing. However, from time to time I thought it might be valuable to readers to share in the “research” aspect of cooking anything new.

I’ll start with sauerkraut. As mentioned in my previous post, we made this for the first time in October under the tutelage of friend Henry Gluch and his mother (participating over the phone). Since we like to do things using the right equipment, we bought a 3-gallon pottery crock designed for just such a use as stuffing it with shredded cabbage, salt and spices.

Several of us had a lovely afternoon and evening making about 12 gallons of kraut and Henry gladly donated his cantina to store our fermenting delicacy and also to skim it daily (something I understand is not very enjoyable because of the smell). After pounding the cabbage into submission (a very important step to start bringing out the water ), we sat down to a Polish meal washed down with wine and beer.

Then we sat back for several weeks to wait for the signal that the kraut was ready.

At the time of making it, I felt we were using way too much salt, and it turned out I was correct. The finished product tastes lovely (we used black peppercorns and bay leaf), but it was very salty. Luckily, correcting that is just a matter of rinsing the kraut thoroughly before cooking it, or soaking it in a few changes of water.

We rinsed it thoroughly before portioning it into freezer bags and chucking it into the basement to live with our stash of frozen stocks.

Last weekend when we cold-smoked a pork roast (reportage on that coming soon!), we decided we wanted some more flavors in the sauerkraut that was to accompany the pork, so Vicki went off and found a promising recipe on the Internet that used a bit of Reisling wine, juniper berries, onion, garlic and cloves. We left out the called-for duck or goose fat.

Notice something missing? We did, too – especially when we ate it. To our mind, sauerkraut needs a bit of a kick, something that usually comes in the form of vinegar. I suppose that was left out because of the wine. (Wine and vinegar don’t generally play well together, unless you’re talking about wine vinegar.) It’s a cardinal rule in the Blechta Test Kitchens here in Beautiful Midtown Toronto to never mess around with a recipe on its first try, so we went with the flow, used the wine and left out the vinegar.

Well, the kraut did taste lovely and delicate – but boring. To prove that point, we didn’t quite finish eating the portion we’d cooked up. Over the next few days, Vicki and I discussed the situation.

When it came time to clear leftovers from the fridge the other day, I heated up the bit of kraut remaining and added a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar.

What a difference! The kraut just came alive. We felt we were on the right track at last.

So, rather than sharing this recipe now, I’m going to hold off until the next time we make baked sauerkraut and have an opportunity to mess about with the recipe. I think it could simply be a matter of adding the correct amount of cider vinegar, but we’ll see.

Any experienced sauerkraut lovers like to weigh in on this? We would welcome some guidance!


Joeytheman said...

I do not come from a sauerkraut heritage, but thanks for sharing your experimental results. As I married into a German family, your end-points might be a great starting point for our next extended-family meal.
Thanks & Merry Christmas to all.

Rick Blechta said...

Stay tuned, Joe! We will be getting back to this as soon as the holidays are over, if not before.

Thanks for checking in.