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!
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)
- green onion
- gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
- fish sauce (optional)
- 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.