Labor Day is just around the corner which means we are heavily into our biggest brat-grilling season. Happily, there’s a vegetable out there that invariably forms a happy marriage with brats: cabbage. Brew up a batch of tasty red kraut in no time at all and enjoy a tasty tangle of it atop a grilled brat wedged into a heated St. Agnes brat bun slathered in whole-grain mustard.
Cabbage benefits from cooler weather (Minnesota and Wisconsin); it’s tastier when it doesn’t get too much water (California’s drought). You can’t lose with this season’s cabbages, whether they’re regional or from California.
Here’s a very simple kimkraut you can ferment on your countertop for about two weeks to produce a stellar topping for brats, steak or fish tacos, or to stir into a leaf-lettuce salad, soup, or omelet to wake it up. If your household includes children, they’ll enjoy watching the ferment work. Just be sure to leave plenty of headroom in the jar so the kimkraut can heave and bubble!
TASTY RED KRAUT
This turns a beautiful fuschia as it ferments. Quantities below make enough for two 1-quart canning jars or one 1½-liter jar (the tall glass ones with glass lids and metal bales). This is a mild kraut—if you want a fierier one, throw some dried Thai chiles into the mix and increase the quantities of garlic cloves and ginger. (This season’s Georgian Fire garlic is already on the shelf in the Produce section.)
1–1½ pounds red cabbage, outer tough leaves removed
1 tablespoon of sea salt
2½-inch piece of ginger, skinned and coarsely grated on a box grater*
4 garlic cloves, minced
zest of half a Valencia orange; juice of 1 Valencia
2 scallions, sliced in half lengthwise, then thinly cross-cut
¼ cup of red pepper flakes, mild or hot
1 carrot, coarsely grated on box grater or a coarse Microplane
*Don’t use a Microplane for this; it will produce a lot of ginger juice but almost no ginger shreds.
1. Divide cabbage lengthwise into four sections, then core each section and cross-slice it very thinly (by hand, in a food processor, or with a mandoline). Put cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt.
2. Add other ingredients to the bowl, and use your hands to vigorously mix the kraut, squeezing and kneading so that the water flows out of the cabbage leaves. Your goal is to create enough brine from the cabbage’s juice and the salt that it will cover the kraut when you cram it into the jar(s).
3. Wash out two 1-quart jars (screwtops) or one 1½-liter lightning jar in hot, soapy water, rinse thoroughly, dry interiors with fresh paper towels, and divide the kraut between them. Use your hands or anything heavy—a well-washed rock, a kraut pounder, the handle end of your chef’s knife—to compress the kraut. Make sure it takes up no more than 2/3 of the space in the jar. Close up the jar, and next day, if the juice hasn’t risen above the top of the kraut, make a brine of 1½ tablespoons of sea salt and 1 pint of water. Pour enough over the kraut to keep the fermenting kraut beneath the liquid. If you’ve mashed the kraut down well enough, you probably won’t need to add a rock or a plate to keep it submerged, but if it floats up, add something to the ferment that keeps it beneath the brine. Close the jar back up immediately.
4. As soon as you can see bubbles rising vigorously through the kraut (usually 3–5 days), crack the lid once a day to let out any excess CO2. Close back up immediately. Continue to release excess CO2 until the ferment quiets down (usually around 5 days).
5. After 10 days, taste your kraut; the longer it sits out, the sourer it will become. Once you like the taste, transfer the jar to the refrigerator, where it will keep for many months.