Although I grew up just outside of New York city, there are some things I never assimilated. One was the accent, another was the ubiquitous sauerkraut on hot dogs. I always thought it was nasty, foul-smelling and -tasting stuff – at least the kind that came out of a can. It wasn’t until I started making Reuben sandwiches with my own beef that I realized that sauerkraut could actually taste like cabbage. When I saw the fermenting crock shown above (the other side says “ferment”), I took it as a cue to try my hand at homemade kraut.
I only needed four components: chopped cabage, salt, the crock, and my copy of The Art of Fermentation. Within a few hours I had a crock full of cabbage and brine.
I weighed down the lid and placed the crock in my cheese fridge, which is set to a constant 55 °F. I wanted a slow ferment, which would produce a less sour kraut. After a week I had evidence of active fermentation: small bubbles forming on the surface of the brine.
I tested out the batch by adding some to reubens made with Montreal smoked meat. The kraut was crunchy and salty, but only had the slightest amount of acidity.
While I waited another week for more fermentation, I brined, cured, and smoked some pork belly and hocks to make bacon and ham.
Shortly after that I read the latest post from Nose to Tail at Home, Bacon Knuckle and Pickled Cabbage. I had been unaware of that recipe, but I’m not nearly the Fergus Henderson expert that Ryan Adams has become. He leads, I follow.
Henderson’s pickled cabbage includes a lot of aromatics I had intentionally omitted from my first attempt, so I added them to the pot along with the rest of the ingredients for a long braise: cabbage, bacon chunks, a whole hock, bay leaves, peppercorns, and a handful of crushed juniper berries.
I covered everything with more cabbage, the entire skin from the bacon slab, and an entire bottle of white wine.
Three hours later we dug into this plate of loveliness (with pretzel bread from a local bakery):
Tender smoky pork, chewy skin, bright salty cabbage – this was a winning combination, heartily endorsed by He Who Will Not Be Ignored as “a keeper.” I still had a lot of braised kraut and bacon left, so I worked up this variation with duck breast and roasted carrots.
How do you improve on a bacon dish? Add duck fat.
I still have about a quarter of the kraut remaining ion the crock. I will continue to sample it until it stops tasting good, then I’ll have an outside date for the fermentation process. Next I’ll try a version with the traditional caraway and juniper. And after that? I see more kimchi in my future.