Kraut-chi: A Step-by-step Guide

January 7, 2015 16 Comments

kraut-chi

I’m so excited to share this post today, not only because I get to talk about kraut-chi, but mostly because of my special guest! My mom agreed to be my beautiful hand model for this post, allowing me to take step-by-step pictures of how easy kraut-chi is to make.

If you do any blogging or food-picture-taking you know how crazy it can get trying to prep the food, keep track of what you’re doing so that you can write about it later, style it up for the photos, and then get behind the camera to attempt capturing something more-or-less composed despite the tornado that went through your kitchen. Not only did my mom do a great job with the cooking and modelling parts, but my kitchen was sparkling when we finished, way cleaner than its been in a long time. Thanks, mom!

Kraut-chi

Just in case you’re not familiar with kraut-chi, it’s the delicious fusion of sauerkraut and kimchi – made with cabbage, like kraut, but with kimchi-inspired add-ins. I stumbled on it through my own failed experiments. I’ve been making sauerkraut for a while now, but my trials with kimchi weren’t so successful. Several failed attempts ended in a trip to the Korean store and after a while, I gave up entirely. Experimenting with different kraut add-ins, one day I decided to put all those kimchi goodies into my kraut…and…whaddayaknow! It tasted kimchi-ish, but crunchier like kraut…and I really like crunchy.

It was later that I realized that kraut-chi was actually a “thing” and that I’m not the only genius out there making this stuff. While it’s quite popular online, I bet that many of you haven’t tasted it yet, so I’m here to give you another little nudge.

What You’ll Need

Ingredients (see step 4 for quantities)

  • 1 head of green cabbage – weight doesn’t matter, but take note of it
  • 1.5 – 2 tsp. of salt per pound of cabbage (or 1.5 – 2% of cabbage by weight)
  • carrot
  • green onion
  • garlic
  • gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
  • fish sauce (optional)

Equipment

  • kitchen scale – if you don’t have one make sure to weigh your head of cabbage at the store or market and write it down
  • sharp knife, mandoline, or food processor
  • large bowl or stockpot
  • a canning funnel and some small knobby device (like a pestle) to help can the kraut are helpful, but not required

Step 1: Work the Cabbage

Before shredding the cabbage, discard any wilted or discoloured outer leaves. Then remove one good leaf and reserve for covering the cabbage at the end. Cut the remaining cabbage into manageable chunks and shred using a knife, mandoline, or food processor (see note below on shredding), tossing it into a large bowl or stockpot.

What kind of “shred”? There are no rules for shredding the cabbage, but results will vary depending on how it’s done. When the cabbage is very finely shredded, it’s fast to draw out the juice (see next step), but you may sacrifice some crunch. While I’ve seen cabbage fermented in large chunks, it’s difficult to draw out enough cabbage juice to submerge the chunks, so water needs to be added, which complicates the process a little. A coarse shred is my preference (as pictured), which is easy to do with a knife, is fine enough for juice extraction, but coarse enough to stay crunchy.

cutting cabbage

Step 2: Salt & Toss

Sandor Katz, the author of The Art of Fermentation and the king of fermentation as far as I’m concerned, recommends a 1.5% – 2% salt to veggie ratio, or about 1.5 – 2 tsp. per pound of veggies.

I’ve been seasoning to taste long before discovering that there’s a ratio and when I weighed it out, I was around the 1.5% mark.

Use the weighing method (or tsp. measurement) if you’ve never done this before. If you’re salting to taste, the cabbage/salt mix, once it sits for a few minutes, should be distinctively salty but palatable – like the sea (not the dead sea) and definitely saltier than your preference for the final kraut. It will mellow as all the ingredients mingle.

Sprinkle the salt over your bowl of cabbage and toss gently with your hands.

tossing raw cabbage

The purpose of salt: Salt is important for a few reasons. First of all, it draws out the cabbage juice, which is needed for submerging the shredded cabbage. It also helps preserve the cabbage (which is good), and as a result, slows down the fermentation process (which is ok, unless you add too much). It also helps the cabbage retain its crunch, and obviously taste better. While kraut-chi is pretty forgiving, keeping those things in mind will help troubleshoot if you run into any problems.

Step 3: Take a Nap

…or do something useful like clean up your tornado mess and prep the ingredients for the next step. [insert mom cleaning kitchen picture here]

Many recipes call for massaging the cabbage, and you can do this if you’re in a hurry, but I prefer the lazy way of just letting it sit for about half an hour.

You’ll want the cabbage to wilt and some juice to collect at the bottom of the bowl. I’ve never had a problem getting here with 30 minutes of lazy time, but if you’re not getting any juice, make sure you have enough salt and let it sit a bit longer or give the cabbage a little massage. If you’re STILL not getting any juice then either the pieces are too big, there’s not enough salt, or you have one freak of a cabbage. You can call it a day and make salty coleslaw, or continue and add water at the end.

Step 4: Add the Chi to the Kraut

kraut-chi ingredients

This picture says it all, but you will need to approximate add-in quantities based on the size of your cabbage. For a 6-ish pound cabbage I added 1 medium carrot, a small bunch of green onions, 3 small cloves of garlic, 2 Tbsp. of fish sauce, and 2 Tbsp. of gochugaru. The only semi-rule here is that the weight of your add-ins shouldn’t exceed 10% of the cabbage weight, but as long as everything is easily submerged in the cabbage juice at the end, you’ll be ok.

Careful with the gochugaru. It’s hot!

And the fish sauce…it’s way stinky if you add too much. You can leave it out for a vegetarian version or if you’re averse to fish sauce, but it does add a special kick of umami to the kraut-chi, without tasting fishy at all. Give it a chance if you can!

Add everything to the cabbage bowl and toss with your hands until everything is combined.

tossing dressed cabbage

Step 5: Pack it in!

The 6-ish pound cabbage yielded about 2.75L (almost 3 quarts) of kraut-chi – 2 1L jars, 1 500ml jar, and 1 250ml jar. It’s great to have a variety of jar sizes to work with, but you can just approximate with whatever jars you have.

Wash the jars with hot soapy water and dry them. You can sterilize them if you want, but this isn’t necessary if you’re making a relatively small batch that will be refrigerated and consumed within a few months.

Stuff the cabbage into the jars, ensuring that it’s as tightly packed as possible. You should start seeing the liquid coming up the side of the jar, which is great news. By the end, the cabbage should be fully submerged in liquid, with a nice layer of juice at the top. If there’s any remaining juice in the bowl after you’ve finished packing the cabbage, divide it between jars, but make sure to leave about 2cm (3/4 inch) of headspace. If you don’t have enough juice, add a little bit of filtered water, just enough to cover the shredded cabbage.

stuffing jars

Tear the reserved cabbage leaf into pieces and place one in each jar to help keep the shredded cabbage from floating up. It’s ok if some of the top leaf is exposed.

Close the jars and set them aside to ferment at room temperature, away from sun, heat sources and drafts.

If you close the jars tightly, burp them diligently and carefully (see next step). You can leave the lid loose, gradually letting out the fermentation gasses. This can make a cabbage juice mess when the fermentation is most active, so place the jars in some sort of a container to protect the surroundings.

open jars

Step 6: Wait & Taste

How long the fermentation will take depends on a few things such as your room temperature, humidity, salt content, amount of naturally occurring bacteria present in the cabbage, etc..

I usually leave it out for about 3-5 days, but you can go longer if you want a little more funk and are comfortable with the process.

When the fermentation begins (usually in about 12-24 hours), you’ll start seeing bubbles in the jar and pressure building up under the lid. Start burping the jars (loosening the lid to break the seal, releasing the built up gas) over the sink once or twice a day. I love this little clip by Sarah Ramsden, from her Fearless Fermentation class – it’s ok to make a mess!

Keep the shredded cabbage submerged in liquid, pushing it down if necessary. It’ll try to float to the top if you open the jars, but hopefully your little cabbage leaf will help protect it.

Once the fermentation starts to subside (less bubbles, calmer burps), start daily tastings of a cabbage piece from each jar (they’re not always the same), until the kraut-chi tastes pleasantly sour and delicious. If you’re not sure, give it another day.

Once ready, store it in the fridge for up to a few months.

What about mold? I’ve never had any, probably because 3-5 days is a really short fermentation cycle. If you ferment longer and start seeing mold, it’s probably due to surface air exposure. If it’s on your top leaf, just toss the leaf out. As long as the cabbage underneath is free of mold and tastes good, it’s good to eat. If there’s any discolouration, slime, or mold below the surface, or the kraut-chi tastes bitter or gross, toss it all out and email me with a few details about your process – I’ll help you troubleshoot and your feedback will help me improve my process and instructions.

Want some ideas for how to make good use of your kraut-chi? How about some breakfast tacos? Or these sweet potato wraps?

Have you tried making kraut-chi? I’d love to hear about your experience with it, or how you use it in the comments below! And as always, if you have any questions or concerns about your fermentation process, feel free to email me or send a note.

dog loves kraut

16 Comments

  1. Reply

    Lu @ Super Nummy Yo!

    January 7, 2015

    Whoaaaaa, a sauerkraut + kimchi mashup?? This is super cool!

  2. Reply

    Sandra

    January 8, 2015

    I have not heard about kraut-chi before either, but now I know I’ll definitely want to make some. Except for the addition of carrots, this recipe is very similar to the one I use for regular kimchi, but I love the thought of using a firmer cabbage for better crunch! All your pictures are stunning. I understand how much fun it is to having an extra set of hands….and she was very brave to get her hands in there without gloves on too! Well done!!!

    • Reply

      Sofia

      January 8, 2015

      I don’t think the dried chillies burn like the fresh ones do, as long as you don’t put your hands in your eyes! Thanks, Sandra. Let me know how it turns out if you make it. It would be great to have feedback so that I can get better at this step-by-step thing!

  3. Reply

    Stephanie

    January 11, 2015

    Friend, send some of this my way, yum!

  4. Reply

    ruth

    January 13, 2015

    I’ve been making a similar version myself. As i can’t get hold of the Korean chilli i use dried chilli flakes. I put apple, onion and ginger (makes it quite fiery) recently made one with some broccoli and cauliflower. Sometimes i add a small amount of sugar. I always put the fish sauce… smelly but yummy!

    • Reply

      Sofia

      January 13, 2015

      Yum! Your version sounds delicious. Not sure if you’re able to order from Amazon but they sell the Korean chilli flakes (I updated the post with a link if anyone else is looking for it). Do you add broccoli and cauliflower in addition to the cabbage? or use them instead?

  5. Reply

    Mary

    January 29, 2015

    i am definitely going to try this. My daughter is addicted to kimchee and we have tried to make it but it never quite tastes like that at the Asian markets or Korean restaurants. Thanks for the great instructions!

    • Reply

      Sofia

      January 29, 2015

      My (napa cabbage) kimchee never tasted great either. I don’t know what it was – I’ve tried so many recipes. I hope this kraut version works for you as it did for me! Let me know when you try it. I’d love some feedback :) Thanks, Mary

  6. Reply

    Teresa

    March 4, 2016

    This sounds so good! And it’s so nice that your Mom came over to help. I love cooking with family.

    • Reply

      Sofia

      March 4, 2016

      Yeah! It was so much fun to work on this together :) Thanks, Teresa!

  7. Reply

    Samantha @mykitchenlove

    March 4, 2016

    I didn’t realize that if Kim-chi had additions it was called Kraut-chi! I’ve been experimenting with kim-chi a lot lately. I love Kim-chi guac and Kim-chi “tarter” sauce. Since kim-chi is so powerful it’s lovely when combined with more mellow flavours and textures like guac and mayo.
    Your mom did a lovely job!

    • Reply

      Sofia

      March 4, 2016

      It’s more like sauerkraut with the addition of Korean pepper flakes, garlic, onions, and fish sauce (i.e. kimchi seasoning) to make a fusion of sauerkraut + kimchi :) I’ve never tried kimchi in guac, but totally intrigued. Thanks, Samantha :)

  8. Reply

    Sean

    March 4, 2016

    Awesome awesome awesome. I haven’t tried this yet, but I want to (I make kimchi already, so it’s not much of a stretch). And don’t you just LOVE gochugaru? Seriously, it may be the best crushed chili out there… a little heat, sweet, and smoky… it’s just so good! I got Katz’s book for Christmas and there are just so many things that I want to try!

  9. Reply

    Lily @GastroSenses

    March 5, 2016

    Wow, this seems like my sauerkraut dream! I love love love sauerkraut and kimchi! Must try your recipe soon!

  10. Reply

    Billy

    July 17, 2017

    I’ve always wanted to try making something like this at home! I’ve seen a bunch of different recipes using jalapenos but I wanted to use similar spices that I’ve always seen in kimchi. And here it is! Thank you very much for sharing, I can’t wait to try this at home.

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