Sunday, December 23, 2012

Saturday Sauerkraut-Making at The Butterjoint

Here's a math problem for you:  
        1 huge batch of thinly sliced veggies
        + salt
        + time = ?
The answer is sauerkraut! 

Butterjoint, the new cocktail lounge that is part of Legume restaurant on N. Craig Street in Oakland tweeted recently they were holding a FREE sauerkraut making class -  first come, first served who responded to the Tweet. I hopped right onto that German heritage, and perhaps the spirits of my frugal German ancestors, wouldn't let me pass up that deal!
Tyler (left) and Trevett (right)
Six sauerkraut making neophytes gathered in the gleaming, pristine stainless steel kitchen that serves both Butterjoint and Legume. Trevett, Executive chef, and Tyler demonstrated the technique involved in the proper preparation of the soon-to-be fermented produce. Then the hands-on fun began. 

We each got our own cutting board and selected a damned sharp knife. Cabbages were plucked from plastic tubs on the counter to give our own amateur knife skills a whirl. Cabbage wasn't the only veggie waiting to be shredded...rutabagas, celeriac, turnips, carrots, kohlrabi, onions and parsnips waited to make a delightful melange of flavors. No plain Jane stuff going on here, this was going to be sauerkraut with pizzazz!  

As our busy, but careful (sharp knives, you know) group sliced and slivered our way through pounds of veggies, we deposited the fruits (veggies?) of our labors into a giant rectangular plastic bin. Slowly, but surely, the mound grew until it weighed enough to be able to end up with a quart jar of goodies for each person in the class. 

Three tablespoons of salt for each five pounds of shredded cabbage and vegetables was sprinkled over the jumble of veggie confetti. Then the muscle power kicked in. 

Developing both sauerkraut AND muscles!
Each of us took our turn mixing, kneading and squeezing the mishmash with salt until there was a bin of vegetables that had exuded liquid to become the wet mass we were looking for.

Layer by layer we tightly packed and tamped salted, wet veggies into into our own quart jars. Trevett and Tyler used a wider mouth jar and a wine bottle for the compression process - more efficient than our small ladles or muddlers.

Taking the mixture to the very top of the container and being sure to have enough liquid to cover it all, the jars were capped and the waiting began. We were cautioned to "burp" our jars regularly and not to tighten them too much.  

How long until we finally get to enjoy our very own, good-for-you homemade (okay, restaurant kitchen-made) fermented veggies? That depends on you. Trevett recommended you taste it in a couple of days to see how you like it and occasionally after that until it suits your own tastes. His advice was to refrigerate it until used once it reaches the sourness you like.

Why go to all this trouble? For starters, anything homemade tastes better than canned or store-bought and the canned variety

Then there's the health benefit. Just like live-culture yogurt, the fermentation process develops beneficial bacteria that's good for your body and for your gut. Store bought sauerkraut kills the live bacteria in the canning process.  It might taste good, but the health benefit is lost. 

Another big positive is being able to ferment whatever veggie selection strikes your fancy at the moment...and whatever is in season at the time. Probably the best reason of all is that it just tastes good.  Well, that and it was a hell of a lot of fun.          

Will I do this again?  Already I'm making a list of the combos I want to try....cabbage, onion and apple with caraway seeds is next on my list! That should be perfect for my Winekraut from last fall.  

Winekraut Casserole with Bratwursts and Dumplings

I've already checked into buying my very own sauerkraut crock. Ace Hardware has a great one at a very reasonable price.  You hear that Santa?

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