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Monday, October 3, 2016


I was practically weaned on sauerkraut. Living in and around Bavaria during my early years with a Czechoslovkian  hotel chef turned nanny sealed the deal with my love for sauerkraut. When we moved back to the States and settled into a small rural town in western Kentucky, some folks took issue with my German birth certificate. Amid the small town ruckus, it didn't take long for kids on the playground to nickname me sour kraut. Kids being kids. Unfazed, I happily wore it as a badge of honor because I was a sauerkraut loving thick-skinned army brat. Bring on the brats.

Several years ago, I helped a dear friend and his family put up their yearly stash of sauerkraut. Following the Farmers Almanac to the letter, they planned their krauting days according to the moon's signs and phases. Holed up in a dimly lit garage in midsummer, the family gathered around and used fantastic old timey equipment to shred bushels and bushels of Casey County cabbage to stuff  hundreds of quart jars for sauerkraut. The fruit of my labor? I could fill as many quart jars that I brought to the party.  At one point, I had over 37 quarts of sauerkraut stacked in our garage. Even for  kraut lover, that's a lot of sauerkraut.

Come midsummer, I always look back on that experience with great fondness. The tea kettle filled with steaming hot water. The archaic shredder mounted onto old barn wood. And the salt. Lots of salt. Basic. Simple. Honest.

Nowadays, I don't need a sauerkraut motherload. With such few ingredients, scratch made small batch sauerkraut is the way to go for a clumsy urban gardener and avid farmers market fan like me.

Small Batch Sauerkraut.
I quart.
1 Jar.
1 tablespoon salt.
2 pounds cabbage.

I trimmed the tattered outer leaves from 2 pounds Scott County green cabbage ( 2 smallish cabbages). After slicing them in half, I removed the cores,  shredded the cabbage with a sharp knife ( a food processor would have made quicker work of it), showered the cabbage with 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and set it aside for 10 minutes. When the cabbage wilted every so slightly, I massaged it for 15 minutes until it broke down and started to release its juices. After packing the cabbage into a clean quart jar. I tamped it down for a tight pack, poured the residual juices into the jar until the cabbage was completely submerged, and topped the jar with a loose fitting lid. I placed the jar in a metal bowl (to catch any gurgling overflow), covered it with a dish towel, and set it in a cool dark place to do its thing for a couple of weeks, checking it every day for mold or obvious spoilage. Keeping the cabbage covered in brine was key.

Although 2 weeks would have been fine, I let it go an extra week for deeper fermentation. It was a simple as that. Boom. Crunchy fresh sauerkraut.

Sausage and Kraut.
With a hints of Bavarian flair mixed with a Bluegrass sensibility, I've prepared sausage and sauerkraut the same way for years, changing up the sausages for variety and fun.  When I stumbled across  house made coiled ropes of beef and pork sausage from Critchfield's Meats, I was totally smitten.

The sturdy bulkiness of the rope sausage belied its delicate nature. Without a little help, the coil would have unfurled into a tangled mess.. After piercing the sausage from end to end with 2 long wooden skewers in quarters to secure the actual coil, I pan seared the sausage in a large cast iron dutch oven (carefully flipping the coil after 5 minutes) until both sides were caramelized and browned. Using two large spatulas, I removed the sausage to a side plate before tumbling 3 slivered shallots and 3 chopped garlic cloves into the spitting sausage fat. When the tips of the shallots started to crisp, I deglazed the pot with 1 cup West Sixth Street Amber Ale, let it reduce to a loose glaze, and added 1 1/2 cups chicken stock.

When the stock reached a rolling simmer, I added 1 quart sauerkraut (with juices), 2 bay leaves, 10 whole juniper berries, 1 tablespoon whole caraway seeds, and cracked black pepper. After swirling 2 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar into the simmering kraut, I carefully placed the sausage coil on top of the kraut, slipped halved rainbow carrots to the side, brushed the sausage with olive oil, and slid the dutch oven into a preheated 375 degree oven for 50 minutes, basting the sausage with the pan juices every 15 minutes.

When the internal temperature of the sausage meat reached 165 degrees (thankfully, before it exploded), I pulled it from the oven, let it rest, and finished with quick roasted rainbow carrots tossed with a biting fresh parsley, horseradish, and brown mustard vinaigrette.

Tucked beneath the snappy sausage, the softened brown sugar-laced sweet and sour kraut absorbed the drippings from the meat. While the tender braised carrots added earthy subtle sweetness, the vinaigrette-napped roasted carrots countered the fatty sausage with bright acidic punch.

Bavarian Bluegrass Sausage And Kraut.
A fun twist on a one pot wonder.

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