You know what we have a lot of in Shanghai in mid-winter (aside from rain, rain, zero visibility, unheated buildings and, er, rain)? Cabbages. We have a lot of cabbages. All sorts of cabbages.
Aside from the usual assortment of sturdy greens, turnips, radishes, leeks and potatoes (both sweet and regular), our sidewalk veggie vendors have stacks of huge cabbages filling up their tiny little shops.
Until now, I had pretty much just stuck to using the elegant, pale savoy-esque cabbage in our soups, where it melts down to nearly nothing and doesn’t make the house smell like death. You can stuff most of a cabbage the size of a small baby into a crock pot full of chicken soup and a few hours later no one will ever know it was there. It’s that subtle. It’s like a Brassicaceae ninja.
After a few months of covert cabbage action, I decided I wanted to do something with a little more flair, a little more (dare I say it, for such a flatus-friendly vegetable?) oomph.
I decided to go on a fermentation bender. I decided to make sauerkraut. After all, the possibilities are endless with a reliable choucroute stash!
Reuben sandwiches, possibly improvised with Hunan smoked beef and some toaster oven focaccia!
Sauteed sauerkraut with bacon and onions on the side of absolutely everything!
This enthusiasm is the reason why my lovely crock pot has been out of commission for about two weeks now, stuffed as it is with a vast quantity of sliced cabbage, fermenting in its own brine.
But first, before I show you how you too can make your own sauerkraut in your very own home (yes, you!) I want to interrupt this post to bring you a word from the Unhip Squirrel, who kindly decided to award this blog with a Liebster Blog award, which is a blogger-to-blogger award recognizing the smaller, more unknown blogs.
I’m guessing Liebster Blog is fancy, corrupted German for Blog Love (very apt for a sauerkraut post). And I do love me some blog-love.
Thank you for the award. I’ll put it above the fireplace.
With awards, however, there come responsibilities.
These are the rules to follow if you’ve been awarded with a Leibster award.
- Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
- Link back to the blogger who presented the award to you.
- Copy and paste the blog award on your blog.
- Present the Liebster Blog Award to 5 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed.
- Let them know they have been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog.
As I’m not really sure how many followers the writers I like have (and it would be presumptuous of me to ask or to even presume they are as unpopular as I am), I’m just going to list the ones I really enjoy reading regularly.
Since this is my food blog (as opposed to my Shanghai blog), I’m going to list the blogs I like to read that are either about preparing food, eating food, occasionally overdosing on specific foods (er, like dumplings and cookies), or grossing your Chinese husband out with your weird foreign food.
To all of you below, congratulations! I raise a tasty glass of, um, sauerkraut brine to you!
~Tales from Hebei Kelly lives up in Hebei, is married to the best husband in China, and was able to gross him out with her tales of Canadian food. Win.
~MJ’s Kitchen This was a new find but a great find- this was the source of my roasted garlic oil and accompanying springroll wrapper chips. Lovely recipes of all sorts. Tons of chilies and garlic- the key to my culinary heart.
~Life on Nanchang Lu Fiona will eat pretty much anything (which is a good thing) and can make even unappetising things look awesome with her mad photography skillz.
~Unbrave Girl Sally is famous for dumplings, cookies and, apparently, Lays chips. She also lives down the street from quite possibly the best pork sandwich maker in Wuxi.
~Ivory Pomegranate Kirstin lives in Kyrgyzstan and has a tendency to make gorgeously photographed cupcakes.
The Sauerkraut Project
I did a lot of research for this one because I really didn’t want to be responsible for Doug’s death by botulism. In the end, I settled on this site’s process because they seemed to really know what they were doing and insightfully answered all of my hypothetical disaster questions right off the bat.
I used 1.5 rather large savoy-type cabbages, sliced thinly.
I quickly rinsed the grunge off the cabbage, picking out living bits of protein and the seven layers of toxic residue from the farm, then placed the cabbage shreds into a well-scrubbed food-grade bucket, sprinkling kosher salt onto each layer as I went.
That was how it started out. However, my pistachio-hued Jiadeli bucket proved to be too shallow to accommodate the vast amount of cabbage I’d shredded. Thus, I introduced my lovely crock pot insert.
When all your cabbage is packed and salted in the bucket, press it down further to get rid of any air pockets and lay a snug-fitting, flat-bottomed plate over it.
On top of the plate, put something heavy to keep it all down. Cover it all with a pillow case or huge towel so bugs and dust don’t get in.
As you can see, my plate wasn’t quite as snug as I would have liked and I ended up having a small problem with shreds of cabbage floating up to the surface as the water was extracted from the cabbage.
You don’t want floaty bits because they’ll be exposed to air. Air is BAD! More about the floaty bits after this brief photo montage.
Remember what I said about floaty bits of cabbage? I solved it by placing a colander over the plate, with the weight (AKA water bottle) holding it all down. The colander let the brine rise but held the cabbage down. Repress the cabbage!
Oh, and notice how I now have only one bucket? After a few days, a ton of cabbage water was pressed out of the cabbage shreds and the actual volume of cabbage was greatly reduced. I moved everything over to the crock pot.
Every day or so, I checked in to make sure it wasn’t turning green and furry and that there were no animals bathing in it. It was fine. The colour deepened daily but the smell was never weirder than just a light pickle brine fragrance.
This is what the sauerkraut looked like at around 7 or 8 days.
At the one-week point, I decided to try a handful as an experiment.
I made some noodle-dough pierogies (stuffed with garlic mashed potato and paneer) to accompany my improvised attempt at sauteed sauerkraut. I had wanted to fry it with bacon but there was none in the supermarket.
I used Chinese chorizo instead, which I’m not a huge fan of (some of the spices just don’t suit my nasal passages) but at least it’s in the smoky-fatty-porky category and can be sauteed up to a nice crispiness. Oh, and the usual ton of garlic, half a small onion and 4 bullet chilies.
I hauled out a large handful of sauerkraut from the crock and wrung out the excess brine.
I peeled and chopped the chorizo, diced and minced the chilies, onion and garlics, then sauteed them together until they were nice and caramelized.
I sauteed the sauerkraut in a big knob of sizzly butter, then added the chorizo mix when it was nice and hot.
And this is what we ate in the end.