Sauerkraut & dry-salting
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 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 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
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.