INTRODUCTION TO OUR KRAUT, KIMCHI
Pure and simple, our Krauts and Kimchi’s & Lacto-Pickles ferment for quite some time in stoneware crock-pots, allowing the beneficial bacteria to feel at home in their earthy clay environment and amplify naturally. Vegetable fermentation is a labour of love. The right amount of salt and hand-massaging pulls the natural juices out of the vegetables so that they can be submerged during their 1 month period of slow fermentation. By creating a selective environment, salt narrows the range of which pathogen causing (bad) bacteria can grow, giving the salt-tolerant good lactic acid bacteria a competitive advantage. Salt extends the potential for preservation by slowing the fermentation, slowing the pectin-digesting enzymes, and slowing development of surface moulds. It does this by breaking down pathogen causing bacteria and invites real live pro-biotics (lactic acid producing bacteria) into the crock-pots, surrounding the veggies and creating our signature savoury flavours. The microscopic mighty microbes do the pickling, we are merely the flavour guides!
Kraut & Kimchi are the terms that best describe our unique pro-biotic vegetable fermentation of the original Polish and German Sauerkraut and Korean Kimchi. Our house Kimchi is a milder version to the traditionally heavily spiced Korean style pickle. Kimchi it is a chunkier vegetable cut with more veg variety to the thinly sliced Kraut cabbage. We slow ferment our Kimchi & Kraut in the same stoneware vessels. It would be inaccurate to describe fermented vegetables as “pickled,” but pickling covers much ground beyond fermentation. Pickles are anything preserved by acidity. Most contemporary store bought pickles are not fermented at all; instead they rely upon highly acidic vinegar, usually heated in order to sterilize vegetables, preserving them by destroying rather than cultivating microorganisms (Pro-biotics). For pickles, fermentation was the primary means of preservation until the 1940’s, when direct acidification and pasteurization of cucumber pickles were introduced.
Our Krauts & Kimchis are concoctions that do not fit any homogenous traditional ideal. But of course, everything we have learned about Kraut and Kimchi reveal that neither of them constitutes a homogenous tradition. They are highly varied, from regional specialties to family secrets. Nonetheless, certain techniques underlie both traditions and our practice is a rather free-form application of these basic techniques rather than an attempt to reproduce any particular notion of authenticity.
In a crock-pot, the steps I typically follow when fermenting vegetables are:
Chop and/or grate organic vegetables.
Lightly sea salt or Himalayan salt, the chopped veggies (add more as necessary to taste), add local foraged seaweed, then proceed to pound and massage the salt into the vegetables until they begin releasing moisture.
Pack the vegetables into stoneware crock-pots, pressing down after each few handfuls in order to release more and more moisture. Once finished packing, add a weight so that all the vegetables are submerged below the liquid (that has accumulated as a result of the salt drawing the water out).
Wait for over a month, taste frequently, and enjoy!
In summary: CHOP/GRATE; SALT; SEASON; PACK; WAIT!
CHOP OR GRATE
Every rule has exceptions. Even though the basic Kraut & Kimchi process above starts with “Chop,” it is not necessary to chop or grate vegetables in order to ferment them. If vegetables are to be fermented whole, or in big chunks, they are best fermented in salt water brine, or buried in other chopped or grated salted vegetables. Chopping and/or grating create more surface area, which facilitates in pulling juice out of the vegetables. The more finely chopped or grated they are – the more surface area is exposed – the faster and easier it is to pull water out of them, and the juicier the vegetables will be; but coarse rustic chopping or mixed veggies, is good too.
DRY-SALTING & BRINING
Just like being flexible with the methods you adopt in chopping and grating, so too can the salt ratio and technique for fermenting be varied. Salt is not absolutely necessary for fermentation, but with even a modest amount of salt it
generally taste better, maintains a more pleasant texture, and has the potential to ferment longer and more slowly. Natural Sea Salt and Himalayan Salt are the best forms of salt that I ferment with.
Salt facilitates the fermentation in a number of different ways:
It draws the water out of the vegetables so that they can be submerged under their own juices over the fermentation period.
By creating a selective environment, salt narrows the range of which bacteria can grow, giving the salt-tolerant lactic acid bacteria a competitive advantage.
Salt extends the potential for preservation by slowing the fermentation, slowing the pectin-digesting enzymes, and slowing development of surface moulds.
The art of vegetable fermentation and making delicious Krauts & Kimchi’s is getting the right salt to vegetables ratio that suits your taste. We do not have exact measurements of salt when we ferment, although we have rough guidelines of 2 to 3 tablespoons of salt to 2.3kg of vegetables, or 1% to 1.5% salt to the weight of vegetables. Measuring salt by volume rather than weight is inexact, as different grinds of salt will yield different weights for a given volume. I lightly salt as I chop and grate the veggies, then mix them together, taste, and add more salt if necessary. It is always easier to add salt than to remove it. Salt can be diluted by adding more veggies without salt, or by adding water. Excess water can be poured off, and with it salt will be removed.
There are two methods people generally use to salt their vegetables for fermentation: Dry-Salting and Brining.
Dry-Salting is simply sprinkling salt on vegetables dry. This is the method I use most often. This method requires the vegetables to be chopped or shredded, for only with lots of surface area exposed can the salt pull water out of the veggies. If veggies are to be left whole, or in larger pieces, the brine method is more appropriate.
Brining involves creating a salt-water solution of water and salt, and submerging the vegetables in it. The brine liquid that comes out of the fermented Kraut & Kimchi crock-pot, is an amplified super powerful Pickle Juice Brine that we use in all Sexy Food recipes.
In considering how much salt to use in your Kraut, Kimchi, or Lacto-Pickles, it is helpful to understand the dynamics of salt in the crock-pot (fermentation environment). Salt essentially slows fermentation and enzyme activity and thereby prolongs preservation potential. Temperature also impacts upon the speed of fermentation, which is slower in cool winter temperatures, and faster in warm summer temperatures. Therefore in Summer we typically use more salt than in Winter, in order to slow down the fermentation. Conversely in Winter we use less salt as the cool temperature slows down the fermentation process too. If we ferment vegetables intended to preserve for months, we use more salt; if making a batch for an event next week, we use less. Not all salts are the same, and the Himalayan Salt works differently to the natural sea salt. Himalayan Salt has a somewhat more salty taste, yet they both work wonders. Avoid using iodized salts at all times. Lactic acid bacteria seem tolerant to a wide variety of natural salts, and are not particularly picky!
MASSAGING, CARESSING AND POUNDING
Once veggies are chopped and salted, massaging and caressing them helps to further draw moisture out of the vegetables, so that we can submerge them under their own liquid. Cells function to hold water, massaging and caressing the vegetables with salt breaks down the cell walls and facilitates the release of this liquid. This is the fun loving part of the Kraut & Kimchi making process, as you really need to get hands on! Squeeze, pound, massage, caress, rub, shake and fluff your vegetables until a noticeable amount of liquid has been secreted.
Another technique we use sometimes is soaking the veggies in salty brine (3 to 6 hours in brine of 15% percent salt by weight, or 12 hours in a 5-7% salt brine) – then drained, before mixing with a paste of herbs and spices, and into the crock-pot. The longer the process takes, the slower the salt is absorbed, the deeper the taste of the Kraut & Kimchi.
PACKING THE CROCK-POT
Once the vegetables are nice and moist, through massaging, caressing, bruising or soaking, they can be further salted or spiced, if desired, and packed into a vessel. Whether you seal them in a jar or ferment them in a crock-pot, stuff the vegetables into the vessel tightly so that any potential air pockets are forced out and the liquid begins to rise until the vegetables are submerge. If the vegetables are not fully submerged, place both hands (if possible) on the vegetables and place a substantial amount of your body weight on them to see if you can force a little more juice out. If you keep pressing, or leave the bruised vegetables under a weight for a few hours, more juice will come out. If the vegetables are not fully submerged by the next morning, or at any point it seems that the juices have been lost through evaporation, simply add a little spring water. Getting the vegetables submerged is the most critical factor for success in Kraut & Kimchi culturing. In the salty brine environment, the vegetables have a tendency to float. In the crock-pot, we place a ceramic stoneware weight upon the vegetables to force them down and keep them submerged. Another common method is to cut a piece of cabbage in the shape of a disk and place it on the surface of the vegetables. This aids to keep the vegetables submerged as well as helping to prevent oxygen contact with the vegetables. Another great technique which has proved very effective is to use a plastic zip lock bag as a weight; placing the correct amount of water into the zip lock bag that will fit perfectly on top of your vegetables, weighing them down and covering the surface area of the lid section. The zip lock bag can also go over your cabbage disk as extra protection in weighing down the veggies. If your weight does not cover the entire surface, resulting in some vegetables floating onto the surface, do not worry, as this is not a problem.
SURFACE MOULDS AND YEASTS
If some vegetables on the surface begin to discolour from oxidation, or develop surface moulds, simply carefully remove them with a sterile cup or stainless-steel spoon to get under the mould, and skim it off as best you can. The meeting at this boundary of the nutritious veggie juices and the air encourages a rich biodiversity, where moulds and yeasts frequently develop. Surface growth is common and normal; although it should be removed, but it is no cause for alarm and it does not ruin your ferment. Sometimes it is not possible to remove all the mould, because as you attempt to remove it, the mould dissipates and little bits are left remaining. If this happens, remove as much of it as you can, and don’t worry. As long as the mould is white, it is not harmful. If the mould has a different colour that starts to grow, do not eat this batch, as this is the moulds reproductive stage, gently lift the entire mould mass from your ferment. The longer you allow the mould to grow on the surface of your ferments, the deeper the mycelia penetrate. Moulds can digest pectin, leading to mushy vegetables. Eventually the vegetables can taste like mould if not taken out earlier enough. This is where it is best to discard the batch and use as compost for the garden. I like to use the outer cabbage leaves as a barrier between the shredded veggies and the surface. A good technique for using cabbage leaves, as an alternative to using them as a disc, is to wash them thoroughly and roll them up very tightly in a cigar shape, then place them side by side on top of the vegetables mixture. The mould may find its way on top of the cabbage, but the vegetables should not be affected at all.
SEALING THE CROCK LID OR GLASS JAR
If you are sealing your ferment in a jar, remember that the fermentation process will produce considerable carbon dioxide, which will build pressure inside the jar. Liquid may be forced out of the jar through the threads; the pressure seeking to be released may contort jar tops, and jars have even been known to explode. This is why we have carefully designed the stoneware crock-pots – creating a catchment area for the brine over-flow, and a weighted lid that can release carbon dioxide without exploding! When using a glass jar, always place the lid on very lightly so to allow carbon dioxide to escape. It is recommended to have a catchment area underneath the glass jar for when the overflow of fermentation takes place.
WHAT VEGGIES TO FERMENT
Personally I love fermenting root vegetables and making them so much more digestible and absorbable – including radishes, carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, celery root, and parsley root. Shredded cabbage is certainly not the only Kraut & Kimchi ingredient! However, all the different varieties of cabbage perform a smashing base to all creative combos. There is no vegetable that cannot be fermented. That is not to say that all vegetables will ferment equally well, or that all vegetables will taste good fermented. Some vegetables get mushy faster than others during fermentation (cucumbers, summer squash); therefore, I only use these in small batches that I eat quickly rather than ageing them. Dark leafy green vegetables rich in chlorophyll (kale, collards, and other greens) will develop a very strong characteristic flavour during fermentation, which you may or may not like. Best to use small amounts of the dark leafy greens, if you so choose. I love using foraged seaweed in my fermentations, they add a beautiful colour and salt profile that aids to the mature tanginess, and is also a delicious mineral-rich ingredient. Beetroot, being high in natural sugars, can encourage a yeasty fermentation, and produce thick, syrupy brine. This is why I mix my beetroot with the plenty of cabbage. Other groups of vegetables that ferment well are Brussels sprout, cauliflower, kohlrabi, broccoli, beans, ginger, spring onion, leeks, garlic and chillies.
Fruits can be another exiting addition; adding apples, raisins, dates, cranberries, berries, pineapple or plums to Krauts or Kimchi Pickles, create a surprise element of taste-sensation!
Fermenting lemons with their peel, salt, bay-leaves and few spices is so good for making powerful vinaigrettes and can be used as a zingy base for all cooking.
The spicing of fermented vegetables is, like the whole process, incredibly versatile. Vegetables can be fermented unadulterated, mildly spiced, or as strong as you can take it. I find fresh herbs are best for shorter ferments, and organic spices and seeds work majestically for longer ferments. Most traditional spices used in fermentation were initially used as they functioned as mould inhibiters. This does not mean that mould cannot ever grow in their presence, rather that they slow down the growth of mould. Juniper berries are lovely for this. Our Chilli Ginger Kimchi is flavoured with hot peppers or chilli flakes, ginger, foraged seaweed and coriander seeds. The Turmeric Kraut is spiced with celery seed, mustard seed, coriander seed, turmeric, chilli, black pepper corns, and cumin. The Spring Dilly is super simple and is spiced with only dill seed. The Beetroot Kraut uses fennel seed. These spice mixtures are continuously changing and being fine-tuned, and add a wonderful journey to your Kraut & Kimchi fermenting experience.
HOW LONG TO FERMENT? TIME IS ART
Waiting is the hard part; this is why Time is Art! The only instant gratification you get is once you have performed the Art of Time. Certainly, after two or three days the vegetables have begun their transformation – taste some at this point, but understand that this is not the true amplification and potential of the fermented vegetables. Traditionally, fermentation has been a strategy for preserving vegetables for a season or longer. As the days and weeks pass, flavours meld, acidification increases, and textures change. Taste your developing ferment at frequent intervals. Try it at 2 weeks, and if you have any left, at two months! I cannot tell you when your ferment will be best, as many factors, including salt and temperature, will change this. You will have to be the judge of that. Some people love the mild flavours and crunchy textures of an immature “green” ferment after a few days. Others like myself enjoy a tangy and matured, longer-aged Kraut or Kimchi. Whenever you judge your crockpot of Kraut or Kimchi to be ready, remove from the crock-pot and place into jars, or if you fermented in glass jars, simply moving it to a refrigerator will slow its continued fermentation to an imperceptible pace. Well-fermented vegetables can last for years hidden in the back of the refrigerator.