These days it's known as a tangy accompaniment to an unadorned hot dog, but in the 18th century, sauerkraut was a medical necessity. German sailors at the time ate sauerkraut as a means of preventing scurvy, a disease that, in the 1500s, claimed 80 percent of Ferdinand Magellan's crew when he crossed the Pacific.
Even hundreds of years later, the methods for making sauerkraut are largely the same: Add salt to cabbage, weight it, and then wait. "It's the gateway pickle," says Harry Rosenblum, the owner of The Brooklyn Kitchen and its newly opened butcher shop, The Meat Hook. "All it requires is cabbage and salt, nothing else. You need a clean container to make it in, but there are no other additions you need.”
Rosenblum, who teaches a sauerkraut-making class, explains that the salt draws out the water and lactobacillus in the cabbage, creating a brine. The resulting liquid covers the shredded cabbage and forms an anaerobic environment for fermentation. The cabbage is then left to sit at room temperature. After that, he just samples the sauerkraut periodically over the course of a few week until it tastes like, well, sauerkraut. Once it's refrigerated, the fermenting process slows and it can be kept for several months or even a year.
For those squeamish about issues like botulism, Rosenblum says not to worry: The lactic acid is generally strong enough to overtake any other bacteria in the batch. He does note that the sauerkraut will require skimming every so often and not to worry if there's mold on top of the liquid. "'How do you know if it's gone bad?' is absolutely the most common question I get," he said. "You can use taste and smell to find out. The human body is really well tuned. You'll know when you experience it."
In addition to cabbage, Rosenblum likes to add other fruits and vegetables into the mix. Apples are one of his favorites, and he also recommends spices like juniper berries, whole peppercorns, carraway seeds and the like. His recipe for chicken and sauerkraut, and others' recipes from The Brooklyn Kitchen can be found below.
Chicken and Sauerkraut
by The Brooklyn Kitchen
- 1 whole chicken
- 2 lbs sauerkraut
- .5 lbs pork cubed
- 2 medium onions chopped
- 2 tablespoons light olive or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup water or stock
- paprika (smoked if possible)
- black pepper
- 2 teaspoons herbs de provence
- 1 tablespoon dried chile, or red chili flakes
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Heat the oil in large skillet, saute onions until they start to wilt. Add pork and cook until onions start to brown. Add sauerkraut, season with salt and pepper. Add water or stock and bring to a simmer. Toss in herbs and chiles.
3. Remove from heat and place sauerkraut mixture in the bottom of a large baking dish.
4. Rub chicken with butter, and sprinkle with paprika.
5. Place chicken on top of sauerkraut and bake in the oven, uncovered, until chicken is done. (About an hour depending on the size of your chicken.)
More sauerkraut recipes from The Brooklyn Kitchen