Hot dogs and baseball are the quintessential American pairing -- and, as thousands of people prepare to attend this year’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, my culinary mind turns not just to the hot dog, but more specifically to the accompaniment that truly completes it: sauerkraut.
In my opinion a hot dog without sauerkraut isn’t much of a hot dog, and hot dogs are one of my favorite things. Thankfully, cabbage is one of New York State’s biggest crops; annually we grow more cabbage than any other state.
It’s a veggie that keeps well if stored in a cold place. This makes it a great winter vegetable full of fiber and vitamins. I love it in coleslaw and stir-fries, or even boiled, but my favorite use is lacto-fermented in sauerkraut.
I was thrilled to learn that sauerkraut and lacto -fermented pickles are exceptionally good for you. Packed with beneficial bacteria, they aid in digestion, which makes them the perfect hot dog accoutrement because they help break down hard-to -digest proteins and carbohydrates. The process of fermenting actually increases the vitamin and enzyme content of cabbage.
In the middle of the winter, I serve sauerkraut as a vitamin-packed vegetable side, and because all the work and preparation was done a few weeks before, it is an easy and tasty addition to any meal. It is great on sandwiches instead of lettuce, too.
Making sauerkraut requires your senses of smell, taste, and sight. It is best learned in a class or through a friend, but there are a lot of YouTube videos about fermenting that can be really helpful.
The temperature of your kitchen will have an impact on how quickly, or how slowly your sauerkraut will ferment. It is best to taste a few days into the fermentation process to see if the sauerkraut is to your liking. I like mine sour, so I leave it for up to two weeks, but a week is usually sufficient. After the sauerkraut is fermented you can store it in the fridge for up to 6 months.
Homemade Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut
1 large head of green cabbage (about 2-2 ½ pounds)
1 tablespoon of salt (I prefer kosher or unrefined sea salt)
½ gallon ball jar
1. Cut cabbage in quarters and remove the tough core.
You can chop or grate it, but I like to use a grater so that the sauerkraut is uniform, although you don’t need to have uniform pieces. However, the more surface area you have the shorter the fermenting time.
2. In a large bowl, add the shredded cabbage and salt, using your (cleaned) hands to knead the cabbage. The salt and kneading will release juices that serve as essential brine for the lacto-fermenting process.
There should be a lot of liquid brine released, and the cabbage should be limp.
3. You now want to pack the cabbage into the jar (or if you have a fermenting crock, even better). I grab a few handfuls, and then use my fist or a muddler to pack the cabbage down. You really want to pound it down so that it’s submerged in its own brine. Keep adding a few handfuls at a time, and keep pounding it down. You want it to be packed firmly.
Don’t fill the jar to the top. Leave at least an inch of space because the fermentation process is active and needs space.
4. To keep the cabbage fully submerged in the brine you can use the outer leaves to weigh it down; they will become brown during the process, then you discard them. You can also use a zip lock bag filled with water, or a sterilized rock. The idea is to keep the cabbage under the brine.
5. Place the lid on loosely and put the jar on a plate to catch any escaping brine. Place jar in a dark, cool place; the best temperature is between 65-68 degrees. After a week your sauerkraut should be done, but taste it after the second day.
6. Store it in the fridge when it’s to your liking.
NOTE: The sauerkraut can grow mold, and this is where your sense of smell and taste are important. Just scrape off the mold, and smell and taste the kraut. If it tastes good then it is good. However, if you think it tastes off, throw it away – though I have never had to do this!