A Gift of Fermented Cabbage
Every Christmas we are fortunate to receive a boxful of home preserved goodies from our family in West Virginia. In fact, it just wouldn’t be Christmas if I did not get my annual supply of apple butter, pickled green beans and sauerkraut. My father-in-law makes a stock pile of this Eastern European delicacy from the cabbage they grow in their home garden. And, every New Year’s day we are treated to Sauerkraut and Pork.
I am no stranger to sour or fermented cabbage. Koreans have a spicy version called Kimchi. The process to make both is similar. Both involve cabbage, salt and fermentation. The Korean version of fermented cabbage has more kick; it’s flavored with garlic, hot pepper flakes and fish sauce before fermentation. Both versions have a distinctive “sour” flavor which can only be achieve from fermentation.
What is Fermentation?
Fermentation is a metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases and/or alcohol. Well, that doesn’t sound very appealing. Just think of it this way: it’s the process that creates wonderful food and drinks such as wine, yogurt/Kefir, sourdough bread, miso, sour cream, soy sauce, Crème fraîche and much more. It’s the fermentation process that gives each of these foods a distinctive sour taste. Without it, well sauerkraut would just be salty cabbage.
Traditionally, fermentation was a way to preserve food. There is evidence that the ancient Babylonians consumed fermented food. Fermentation inhibits the growth of bacteria (the type that causes food to spoil) while encouraging the growth of good bacteria which starves, or fights off, the bad microbes. Fermenting processes lower the pH of foods preventing harmful microorganisms to live with too acidic an environment. The result is a distinctive and flavorful taste infused in your food that is good for you too! The good bacteria produced by the fermentation process are powerful probiotics that improve the health of your digestive tract.
Everything Tastes Better with Beer
What better way to cook my special sauerkraut treat than with beer (by the way, another product made via fermentation)? Paying a special homage to my husband’s German roots, I’ve come up with my version of a pork and sauerkraut dish. I chose to use spare ribs mostly for flavor and price. I used the beer to braise the ribs and it infuses a wonderful flavor to the meat. I used a lager (Sam Adams to be exact, but don’t tell anyone it wasn’t a German beer) It really doesn’t matter what kind of beer you use. If you prefer to skip the alcohol, use a beef stock instead. This is a hearty dish that will warm you up on a cold winter’s day.