Tag Archives: sauerkraut

THE HUNT FOR KIMCHI

One Christmas gift from my spouse was a kimchi pot. It seems as though I have been fermenting things my whole life. When I was a young boy, I helped my grandmother (from a German farm family in North Dakota) shred bushels of cabbage every fall. We used a wooden slicer with a guillotine-like blade – a rustic mandoline – to shred the cabbage before salting it and placing it in very large pottery crocks lined up along the wall of an outbuilding in her back yard. The crocks were filled to the brim with cabbage, salt, and water. Then we placed a cracked dinner plate on top of each crock and weighed them down with a brick or big rock. It then became my responsibility to check the crocks each day to replenish the liquid if needed. There must have been at least a dozen crocks, and the smell of fermenting cabbage soon became overwhelming in the building, even seeping out into the backyard. For a child, the process seemed interminable although it was probably only a couple of weeks. In any event, when my grandmother decided that the process was complete, it was time to fire up the canning equipment and activate the canning crew of women and children in the family. Steam rose from several big pots on the stove as jars were sterilized, filled and processed; sweat poured from the ladies who seemed happy enough. The end product of all this effort was rows of gleaming jars filled with sauerkraut. They would get stored in the scary basement and serve the family through the winter. At least once a week the evening meal consisted of a mound of sauerkraut, mashed potatoes with no butter, and a sausage (My recollection is that it was actually a hot dog.) That menu is one I resist to this day.

Those memories inspired me to try my hand at sauerkraut making when we lived in Louisiana. I found a small crock at a potters’ in Marshal, Texas. I shredded the cabbage on a wooden shredder we had found in an “antique store” – read junk shop – in some small East Texas town. I set up my fermentation lab in a hallway between the kitchen and dining room that we had dubbed the butler’s pantry. The smell of fermenting cabbage hung in the air of the butler’s pantry.  Our children, some of them teenagers, thought that Old Dad had gone off the deep end, and they were very amused. They loved to bring their friends to inspect the crock and inhale the fragrance. The visits always ended in gales of laughter.

In Santa Fe, Susan gave me a beautiful German crock to rekindle my interest in fermentation. I have written about the sauerkraut that I made with that crock. All of the family enjoyed Reuben sandwiches made with the sauerkraut. Unfortunately, the lid of the crock was broken in our move to California. We patched it together, and we tried to buy a new one, but apparently the German manufacturer has stopped importing to the United States.  The other problem was that the crock made  a LOT of sauerkraut.

Since our move to Southern California, we have had the opportunity to eat many varieties of Asian food. Korean restaurants are especially common nearby, and there are many families of Korean background who live in our neighborhood. We have become fans of kimchi. Susan apparently thought it was time to make another effort on fermentation, so she gave me a smaller glass container specially designed so that it is automatically vented and you don’t have to worry about maintaining a water seal. Of course, you can make sauerkraut or giardiniera, but my first effort seemed like it should be kimchi. I assumed that finding the ingredients should be no problem at our local supermarket, and I headed there with shopping list in hand:

Napa cabbage. Check

Daikon radish. Check

Daikon radish

Carrots. Check

Ginger. Check

Ginger

Scallions. Check

Fish sauce. I went to the aisle labelled “Asian/Hispanic”. The only fish sauce was from Thailand!?

Rice flour. I already had some in the pantry and then U decided not to make the slurry for kimchi paste

Korean chili pepper. I looked through the shelves several times, and all I could find was Gochugang spicy miso sauce.

I totally struck out on salted, fermented shrimp so Carol drove me to the Korean market down the hill. We showed an iPhone image of what we were looking for to two young men who were stocking shelves. They averred that they had never heard of it and they didn’t have it. With persistence, Carol found a jar labelled “shrimp sauce (finely ground), Product of China” which we bought.

Having assembled all of the ingredients, I began to make my first kimchi even though I am certain that our Korean neighbors would cringe at labeling the stuff as such.  The first order of business was to cut the Daikon radish and carrots into 3 inch match sticks. For that I used a French mandoline that sits unused in its box even though it is a beautiful machine to behold.  Then the real production of kimchi began. After sitting in the jar on my desk for four days with little odor,  the kimchi was ready. I transferred it to Mason jars to be refrigerated. I also ate a good portion. If I do say, it turned out to be pretty delicious.

RECIPE

Basic Kimchi

Ingredients

  • 1  medium head napa cabbage
  • water
  • ½ cup salt
  • 2 cups Daikon radish peeled and cut into 3 inch julienne
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3 inch julienne
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 scallions, roots removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup spicy miso sauce
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ ginger, peeled and minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salted, fermented shrimp sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar

Method

  1. Cut the cabbage in half, lengthwise. Cut crosswise in 2 inch pieces, discarding the core. Sprinkle the cut cabbage with salt and then place in a large bowl. Cover with water, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 4 hours.
  2. After the cabbage has soaked,  drain in a colander and rinse to remove salt, and return to the bowl.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well. Transfer to the fermentation crock. Seal the crock with the venting lid. Place the crock in a cool place, undisturbed, for 4 days. Then bottle or eat the finished kimchi. Bottles may be refrigerated for up to a month.

 

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MORE SAUERKRAUT: THE REUBEN SANDWICH

A while back I wrote about making sauerkraut. The recipe called for two heads of red cabbage. Even that small amount of cabbage makes a lot of sauerkraut, especially if you are eating other things during the long winter.  Such surplus calls for creativity in what to do with all of the sour cabbage.

One thing comes to mind immediately: make some Reuben sandwiches. These are a real delicatessen classic, and if you have ever been close to the Lower Eastside in Manhattan, guaranteed you have had a Reuben. Katz’s Delicatessen on East Houston is one of the most famous purveyors, but that is not where the sandwich got its start.

As a matter of fact, nobody is exactly certain as to the origins of the Reuben. There are at least three stories about the creation of the sandwich. The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, edited by  Andrew F. Smith and Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food contain the most authoritative descriptions of the history and the controversy surrounding the sandwich.

The most likely explanation seems tied to the famous New York delicatessen, Reuben’s Restaurant, on East Fifty-eighth Street. Arnold Reuben, the owner, reportedly created a huge sandwich for Annette Selo (variously described as making a Charlie Chaplin movie or as an out-of-work actress) who came in one day asking for something to eat. Reuben created a big sandwich which Annette suggested should be called an “Annette Special”. The reply came back something like, “Fat chance,” from Reuben, and the sandwich became so popular that it wound up on the menu as “Reuben’s Special”. It consisted of rye bread, Virginia ham, sliced roast turkey, Swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian dressing..

The second explanation is that the original was created in the 1920’s for some hungry poker players at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha Nebraska, by Reuben Kolakofsky. The sandwich included corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing. An  employee of the hotel or maybe one of the poker players entered the recipe in a sandwich contest, winning the contest and ensuring the fame of the sandwich.

The third explanation is that the sandwich was created in 1937 at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska. The hotel has reportedly produced a menu which includes the name of the sandwich and its ingredients along with the date, thus providing the only written documentation for the creation of the sandwich.

Over time, the stories have become interwoven and the dates have changed in various tellings of the stories. So, it seems likely that the real origin of the Reuben sandwich will never be known with reliability. Still, there is no doubt that the Reuben has become one of the all-time favorite American sandwiches. These days, the ingredients usually include rye bread, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and thinly sliced corn beef. Pastrami and Thousand Island dressing are common substitutes. The sandwich is often grilled and best when it is hot.

My version substitutes dark pumpernickel bread for the rye and pastrami for corned beef. Also, I am not a big fan of Russian dressing, so I have made my own sauce. The recipes that follow reflect those preferences.  But the sine qua non to me is the sauerkraut, so this is a perfect place to use that kraut you made in your own crock. I used our George Forman grill to toast the sandwiches, but you can use a panini press or a skillet. This recipe makes two large sandwiches.

RECIPES

Reuben Sandwich Sauce

Ingredients 

¼ Cup mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 Tablespoons ketchup

2 teaspoons grated horseradish

2 Tablespoons dill pickle relish

1 hard-boiled egg, chopped

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, mix, and set aside.

Reuben Sandwich

Ingredients

4 slices pumpernickel bread

Reuben sandwich sauce

½ pound shaved delicatessen-style pastrami

1 Cup sauerkraut, preferably home-made, well-drained

6 slices Swiss cheese

½ Cup thinly sliced white onion

2 Tablespoons butter melted

  1. Spread sauce on each slice of bread, one side only
  2. Arrange half of the pastrami on two of the slices of bread, and top with half of the sauerkraut
  3. Arrange three slices of Swiss cheese over a bed of sliced onion on each of the remaining two slices of bread and form two sandwiches.
  4. Brush the tops of both sandwiches with half of the melted butter and place the sandwiches, butter side down, in a skillet over medium heat. Press down occasionally with a spatula until the bottom is well-toasted. Alternatively, butter both sides and toast in a George Forman grill or a panini press.
  5. Brush tops of the sandwiches with the remaining butter, turn the sandwiches in the skillet, and continue toast until the sandwich is well-done on both sides.
  6. Serve immediately, preferably with a large whole dill pickle and potato chips or potato salad.

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MAKING SAUERKRAUT

When I was a little boy, we lived next to my grandparents. It was the Second World War, so everyone had a Victory Garden. We were no exceptions, and we even had a chicken coop where I collected eggs each morning. My grandparents, though, were serious about feeding themselves. In addition to a big garden, they had a small barn and a pond complete with ducks and a hissing goose.  Both grandparents had grown up on farms in the Dakotas, so they were used to putting up quarts and quarts of tomatoes, pickles, string beans, peas, cherries, and peaches beginning in the early spring and continuing until the first frost in the autumn.  

Harsch Steinzeug crock

My grandmother, though, had even more preserving to do when the rest of the harvest was over. She came from a large German family who had immigrated to North Dakota from Russia in the 1880s. German farmers had lived in Russia since the days of Catherine the Great, but when the Russians made it uncomfortable for them, the emigrated by the thousands to the Great Plains – especially to North Dakota. There they continued their German ways, including the production of huge quantities of sauerkraut to see them through the long winter.  

Red cabbage and red onions

Grandma continued that tradition in her back yard, so in the early fall bushels of giant cabbage heads would magically appear between her garden and the garage door. That would then become the place for an organized production line. A big wooden kraut slicer would be hauled down from storage in the garage. Big 25 gallon crocks would be brought up from the basement to be scrubbed clean. Boxes of salt would be brought from the kitchen. A kitchen chair was moved out to sit in front of a huge bowl where the cabbages would be shredded into heaping mounds. Then the packing began: shredded cabbage was layered into the crocks, salt was sprinkled on top, and the process was repeated until the crocks were completely full. Then the crocks would be lined up along a cool wall in the garage, covered with cheesecloth and big plates. Bricks would be placed on the plates for weights, and the real process began.  

Various utensils for slicing slaw

Fermenting the cabbage went on for weeks, and it was my job to check the crocks daily, skim off any scum, and add water if they looked too dry. During those days the garage was not a good place to spend much time because the dense smell of fermenting cabbage hung in the air. Finally, my grandmother pronounced the process done. At that point all of the women fired up their canning equipment and filled dozens of quart jars with the fragrant kraut until the crocks had been emptied.  

Slaw and salt ready to go in the crock

To my dismay, the supply of sauerkraut lasted all winter, and at least once a week we had the same meal for supper – sauerkraut, bland mashed potatoes, and a big sausage.  As much as I dreaded that menu, it left a lasting impression and surprisingly fond memories.  

The finished sauerkraut

For that reason, I decided to make some sauerkraut in the butler’s pantry in our home in Shreveport. All of the children were school age, and all of them regularly brought home their friends who wanted to know what was in the crock sitting on the counter.  When the children announced that it was sauerkraut their dad was making, there came a long pause and shoulder shrugs. The episode also became the basis for a favorite family story – one in which Dad gets a lot of laughs.

A bowl of sauerkraut ready to serve

I have never made sauerkraut again, so I was surprised when my Christmas gift from Susan was a beautiful had-crafted sauerkraut crock made by Harsch Steinzeug in Germany along with instructions for how to make sauerkraut. My crock is the five-liter size. You can get them up to 50 liter, but unless you have a big German family and eat sauerkraut every day, the 5-liter size seems perfect for home use.  

Once again, I am making sauerkraut. I have adapted the recipe that came with the crock into the one that follows. 

RECIPE

Ingredients

2 medium heads, red cabbage

2 medium red onions

10 grams coarse kosher salt for each kg of sliced cabbage + 15 grams for brine

water

 

  1.  Remove the outer leaves of the cabbages, quarter, and remove the core.
  2. Shred the quartered cabbage as thinly as possible. You may use an authentic wooden slaw cutter, a French-style mandoline, a plastic mandoline, or a very sharp chef’s knife. Each implement has distinct advantages and disadvantages. The wooden cutter is the most authentic, but the blade must be sharp, and it requires a lot of muscle. The French-style mandoline works very well and is adjustable, but with all of its parts it needs a lot of cleanup afterward. The plastic mandoline is inexpensive and usually not adjustable, but the slices are fine, and the blade is very sharp.  Cleanup is easy. The knife must be very sharp, and it is hard to get the cabbage shreds as thin as you would like. I prefer the plastic mandoline.
  3. Shred the red onion and combine with the cabbage.
  4. Weigh the shredded cabbage and onion. Weigh separately 10 grams of salt for each kg of cabbage and onion.
  5. Arrange a layer of shredded cabbage and onions in the bottom of the crock. Sprinkle with salt. Continue the process, alternating cabbage and onions with salt until you have filled the crock no more than four-fifths full. This is important. Otherwise you will not be able to fit the weight stones into the pot.
  6. Press down so that liquid is released and rises an inch or so above the weight stones. If it does not, pour in brine prepared by boiling then cooling 15 grams of salt in 1 liter of water.
  7. Cover the crock with the lid, Seal the lid by pouring water in the groove to that it is above the notches in the sides of the lid, and set in a cool place.
  8. In 2 or 3 days you should hear bubbling as the kraut begins to ferment. This will continue for a week or so. Do not open the crock, but continue to make sure to keep the water seal refreshed.
  9. After three weeks or so, open the crock, remove the weight stones, and dish out your first sauerkraut. Replace the weight stones and reseal to use again at another time. 

Red cabbage sauerkraut, bratwurst, German-fried potatoes, and fresh bread

Around my grandmother’s table, we had sauerkraut, sausage, and mashed potatoes at least once a week. With my first batch of kraut, I tried to reproduce that meal, substituting German-fried potatoes for the mashers. The crispy red sauerkraut was much better than that of my memories, the freshly made bratwurst from the butcher was flavorful, and the meal turned out to be a big success with everyone.

 

 

 

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