Sauerkraut & dry-salting

Learn all about sauerkraut and dry salting as a way to preserve food.

09 Nov 2009


Preserving food in salt is making a comeback in the home kitchen, but because the knowledge hasn't been passed on through the generations quite as it should have been, few know how to do this. Today we're going to show you how to make your own sauerkraut and some other classic dry-salted foods.

Dry-salting is nothing more than rubbing salt into food to draw out the juices, which then produce a brine that starts the fermentation (and preservation) process. Dry salting is used for pickling many vegetables and fruits including cabbages, limes, lemons and cucumbers, as well as fish like anchovies, mullet, herring or salmon. For dry salt pickling any variety of common salt is suitable as long as it is pure. Impurities or additives can cause problems.


When cabbage is preserved in salt, it produces the German delicacy once again gracing the tables at the top restaurants of the world: sauerkraut. To make your own – and you'll never buy the tinned variety again – is really simple. Shred the leaves, discarding the core, and toss them in a bowl with kosher or pickling salt and flavourings such as caraway seed, juniper berries or black peppercorns. Let it all stand for about five minutes, then pack into a large sterilised crock, pressing the cabbage down with a pestle and leaving about 8cm at the top. Weight the cabbage with a plate, cover the crock with a cloth and store in a cool place (at about 20 degrees C).

After about a week, uncover and skim off any scum on the cabbage or on the rim of the crock. Repeat daily for at least a month until no more scum appears. This means the fermentation has stopped and the sauerkraut is ready to be served or used in a recipe (see below). Pack into smaller, sterilised jars and put in the fridge. That's it.

Dry-salted pickles

Dry-salted lime pickles are a favourite in Asia and North Africa. Use ripe limes, wash and quarter them. Place in a layer, approximately 2.5 cm deep, into a fermenting container and sprinkle with salt. Alternate layers of lime and salt until the container is 3/4 full. Cover with a cloth, press down and put a weighted plate on top. Leave for 24 hours. Place the container in the sun where it will start to ferment for between one and four weeks, depending on how hot it is. Generally, you'll need about one kg of salt for every 4 kg of limes.

Gravad Lax

Gravad Lax is another dry-salted speciality, famous in Scandinavia, where it's most often flavoured with dill. The cut side of a thick salmon fillet is sprinkled with coarse salt, sugar and crushed peppercorns and another piece of fish is placed on top of it, cut side down and head to tail so the fish is an even thickness. If you've got dill, place this between the fish too. Set a heavy board or weighted plate on top of the salmon, cover loosely and put in the fridge for two days. Turn the salmon over once a day and baste it with the juice drawn out by the salt.

The favourite West Coast bokkem is made in a similar way, though some fishermen soak the fish (often snoek, herring or mullet) in salt water for two days before wind-drying it then packing the fish in layers of salt. To reconsitutute, the fish is soaked in water until once again soft and springy and ready for soups or stews.

Tip for dry-salt preserving
Larger pieces of food will take longer to cure, but the slowness of the process offer great rewards - lik dry-cured ham. Fish takes about a week to dry-salt; ham, bacon and pork take two to three days for ever 500g. Signs of poor salting include salt rystals on the food, discolouration and soft or dry, stringy texture.


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