Thursday, February 18, 2010

A shout out to kraut

For all you science geeks out there, remember when we used to sit in the lab looking at things under the microscope?  My junior year of college in my microbiology class, my lab group of three decided that we would isolate a virus from a bacterial strain that grew from sauerkraut.  Thinking back on this, attempting to isolate a virus FROM an isolated bacterium in a basic science lab was probably not a smart idea, and the experiment most definitely failed.  So did the sauerkraut.  What started out as about 5 lbs of raw shredded cabbage in an industrial bucket with salt dumped on it turned into a smelly, moldy, microbiologic disaster.

While most people find gross memories scarring and unappetizing, for me they ignite my hunger.  (This does not include any foods that have actually made me sick.  I will never eat Hot Sauce Williams again…or drink lemon-lime Gatorade.)  I always came out starving from gross anatomy class the first year of medical school, and the operating room reminds me of BBQ—in a good way.  Probably, I’m just hungry all of the time and it can be challenging to carve out lunch time in the hospital. Grossness becomes a regular part of life, and I just eat around it. 

The sauerkraut incident should have turned me off from fermented salty, acidic cabbage, but alas, it only made me want more.  Of course, we all know that I love bitter vegetables.  Sauerkraut has its health benefits too.  The brining of cabbage brings out cancer fighting compounds that are vitamin C derivatives.  A recent study shows that cabbages grown in winter have the highest concentration of ascorbigen, one of these cancer fighting compounds 1.  Who knew that winter could actually provide health benefits?   

On a slightly more disturbing note, I also found this study titled “Use of human urine fertilizer in cultivation of cabbage—impacts on chemical, microbial and flavor quality.”2  Supposedly, peeing on your plants is an excellent and delicious way to fertilize them.  This might just be the motivation to go organic (although urine is probably organic anyway).  Maybe I’ll just start eating pesticides.

Nothing about this post should convince you to eat sauerkraut.  If you have read this far, you are probably gagging, nauseated, or revolted.  Eat it anyway!  In this recipe I make a whole chicken cut up and cooked in sauerkraut, beer and veggies.  It’s a hearty winter dinner just for you, and your friends, and your drunken downstairs neighbors.

Chicken with sauerkraut and beer

One onion diced
One carrot diced
One pound sauerkraut drained (I rinsed mine but I wish I hadn’t…I like the acidic kick)
2 slices bacon chopped (if you don’t eat pork just use butter or olive oil instead)
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 ½ tbsp brown sugar
Pepper to taste
One whole chicken cut into thighs, wings, and breasts (to cut up a chicken look here, or just buy whichever pieces of chicken you like…this recipe is better for chicken with bones)
One 12 oz bottle of stout beer
Sour cream to top

Cook bacon over medium high heat in dutch oven or other large cooking vessel.  Put bacon on paper towels and drain excess fat.  Leave about 2 tablespoons.  Over medium high heat, sauté onions and carrots until translucent and soft, about 8 minutes.  Add red pepper, fennel, allspice and cloves.

Add sauerkraut and saute for another 1-2 minutes.

Add brown sugar, bacon, salt and beer and allow to cook for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat cast iron pan with about 2 tbsp canola oil and brown chicken for about 8 minutes.  If you are using a whole chicken, cook the thighs and legs first, add the wings and breasts a few minutes later.  Add chicken to dutch oven, cover, and simmer over medium heat until chicken is cooked through about 12 minutes.  Serve over brown rice, noodles or mashed potatoes and top with a generous dollop of sour cream.

Martinez-Villaluenga, C., et al. 2009. Influence of fermentation conditions on glucosinolates, ascorbigen, and ascorbic acid content in white cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata cv. Taler) cultivated in different seasons. Journal of Food Science 74, no. 1:C62-7.

Pradhan, SK., et al. 2007. Use of human urine fertilizer in cultivation of cabbage (Brassica oleracea)--impacts on chemical, microbial, and flavor quality. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 55, no. 21:8657-63.


  1. I always feel hungry coming out of the operating room. I get the sense that all that work was a big caloric expenditure that I can balance with a big hamburger. Sadly the work was probably mostly mental.

  2. Perhaps as an attending it was mental! But as a medical student I can assure you that the Richardson made my biceps huge retracting all that gut.

  3. Well, I hear sauerkraut can have some fantastic bacteria, and what I need to know is how do you ensure great bacteria? That is, how can you make it yourself? I know how to make yogurt (not that I take the time to do it and usually buy Greek yogurt), but how do you get the right bacteria for sauerkraut?

  4. David, I'm not sure exactly how to make sauerkraut in order to not make sure it doesn't spoil, but all it takes is salt, cabbage and time and the acidity comes from lactobacillus bacteria. Perhaps this website will help?