Sauerkraut, Comfort Food from the Old World

SauerkrautIn many countries, sauerkraut is as popular a comfort food as chicken soup. Sauerkraut (German for sour cabbage) is made by fermenting finely cut cabbage, and it is either eaten by itself or used as a condiment for various traditional foods.

Sauerkraut’s Flavorful History

In Food History, a blog coordinated by Chefs Stephen Block and Stephen Halloway, the two food history buffs mention that, Although sauerkraut – German for ‘sour cabbage’ – is thought of as a German invention, Chinese laborers building the Great Wall of China over 2,000 years ago ate it as standard fare. Chinese sauerkraut, made from shredded cabbage was fermented in RICE WINE.

Most likely it was brought to Europe 1000 years later by Genghis Kahn after plundering China.  Although in Germany instead of using the wine, they dry cured it by sprinkling salt on the shredded cabbage. ..”

Since Ghengis and his Tatars used sauerkraut in their lunch pails, this fermented dish has been a popular item in Eastern European and Germanic cuisines.

Making Sauerkraut

Making sauerkraut is a fairly simple operation. In a gallon-sized glass jar, alternately layer five pounds of cored and shredded cabbage with a sprinkling of salt. Use three tablespoons of salt for your cabbage and compress each layer as you go, ending with salt as your top layer.

Let the mixture sit for a day. After 24 hours, the cabbage should be submerged in brine. If it isn’t, add more brine using 1 ½ teaspoons of salt for each cup of water.

In three days, the top of the mixture will start developing a white scum. Remove this daily for two weeks or so. The bubbles should stop rising to the top at this point, indicating that your sauerkraut is ready. To preserve your sauerkraut, simmer it for15 minutes, pack it in quart-sized jars and sterilize these in a water bath.

Sauerkraut All Over the World

Sauerkraut is enjoyed as a traditional food complement in many parts of the world. The Polish love it with pork chops or sausage, and they use it as a filling for pierogi, a traditional dumpling usually served with fried onions. Sauerkraut and pork is considered a traditional lucky meal for New Year’s Day, and of course, in the United States, it is one of the classic toppings for a really good hot dog.

Pairing Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is not particularly easy to pair with wine, but the Chicago Tribune mentions interesting possibilities from two pairing pros, Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. In their book, What to Drink with What You Eat”  they recommend Alsatian gewurztraminer; dry riesling, especially a German kabinett  to go with sauerkraut. However, the experts do not rain on anyone’s parade, and they add that good old darker German beer or lager are good pairing options for this Old World comfort food.

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