Saint Patrick’s Day Cabbage Never Tasted Better!
Although green cabbage is ubiquitous in every supermarket, for most of us it’s not on the weekly — or even monthly — grocery list.
It’s one of those foods that we may have only occasionally, and then in the same predictable ways — often in coleslaw. Sometimes in stuffed cabbage or cabbage rolls.
And, of course, many of us eat it (or at least serve it) as an accompaniment to corned beef on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Maybe we neglect cabbage because, fairly or not, it is seen as a staple food of “poor” folk — perhaps including our own cash-strapped immigrant ancestors. Even though many of us seek out “ethnic” food, cabbage doesn’t seem to qualify as the right sort of ethnic.
Then there’s the preparation problem. Too often, cabbage is boiled to a pulp, resulting in a limp, bland-tasting, stinky mess.
Well, it’s time to give cabbage its due. Molly Stevens has developed a recipe for braised cabbage that she calls the “World’s Best Braised Green Cabbage.”
After you taste it, you may conclude that it’s not just the best braised cabbage recipe — it’s the best ever cabbage recipe!
Recipe: Braised Cabbage
Braising is moist-heat cooking. It’s a long, slow simmer that results in a fork-tender dish. We often use it as a technique for cooking meat (think pot roast and dumplings or boeuf bourguignon), where the lengthy simmer softens connective tissues, making tough meat tender.
But braising works well for many vegetables too. It’s particularly good with vegetables that can run towards the bitter, like endive.
The difference between a meat and a vegetable braise? Meat is almost always browned before liquid is added to begin the braise. Vegetables sometimes are browned, but more often are not.
This recipe requires a large gratin pan or baking dish (the 9 x 13 inch Pyrex-brand glass dish works well).
The recipe serves 6 – 8, and is adapted from Molly Stevens’ All About Braising. If you use water or vegetable stock, this dish is suitable for vegetarians.
- 1 medium head green cabbage (about 2 pounds)
- 1 large onion peeled, halved and sliced thickly (yellow or red onions work best)
- 2 – 3 carrots, cleaned and cut into chunks of 1 inch or so
- 5 – 10 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole (optional)
- salt (coarse salt like kosher is best)
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 – 2 teaspoons herb of choice (optional; dried thyme works well, but see notes)
- ¾ cup vegetable stock or water (chicken stock is a fine substitute for the vegetable stock; you can use a little less liquid, but see notes)
- ¼ cup olive oil (or more)
- coarse sea salt or Fleur del sel to finish dish (optional)
- extra-virgin olive oil (optional, to finish dish)
Spread the cabbage out in the braising pan with minimal overlap. If you have too much cabbage for your pan, reserve a bit for another use. If you don’t have quite enough cabbage, just fill in the gaps with onion and carrots.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust oven rack to middle position.
- Lightly oil your braising dish (a large gratin pan or baking dish)
- Remove any blemished outer leaves from cabbage, cut in half, remove core, then cut each half into 4 wedges (8 wedges total).
- Peel your onion and cut in half through the root end. Cut into thick (½-inch) slices (cut parallel to the onion’s equator).
- Clean and peel your carrots. Cut into chunks of an inch or so. I often slice in half the chunks from the “large” end of the carrot.
- Peel your garlic (if using), but leave whole. The easiest way to peel garlic is to place each clove on your cutting board, place a large knife on it, and with the heel of your fist give the knife a firm whack (not hard enough to crush the garlic). You should be able to easily slide the peel off. (See notes for a “cheat”)
- Place cabbage wedges in dish, keeping overlap to a minimum. Fill any gaps between wedges with carrots and onion, and scatter rest across top. Season to taste with salt, pepper, red pepper, and optional herb.
- Add stock to dish and drizzle oil over the top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and place braising dish on center rack of oven. Cook until tender and tasty (~2 hours). Note: Stevens recommends carefully turning wedges at the 1-hour point, but in my experience this makes little difference, so I don’t do it.
- When cabbage and vegetables are tender (about 2 hours), turn oven up to 425 degrees, remove foil, and cook until vegetables begin to brown (10 minutes or so). You can also run the baking dish under the broiler for a few minutes, but be careful that you don’t over-char the vegetables. Err on the side of too little rather than too much cooking at this stage; overcooking can cause unpleasant odors and tastes.
- Serve hot or at room temperature. If you wish, serve with the coarse sea salt; or just add regular salt (kosher works best) and pepper at table. A very light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil applied to each serving will also enhance the flavor.
- Leftovers keep well for a few days tightly covered (in fact, this dish tastes better the second or third day). If the recipe makes too much for your table, you can easily halve it (but trust me, you’ll eat more than you think).
- The quantity of onions and carrots specified in the recipe will give you “enough.” But if you enjoy the flavor of braised carrots and onions – as I do – then why not add more? You can double the quantity specified here without overwhelming the braising dish.
- Braised, whole garlic cloves are wonderful, so I include them in this dish. Omit them if you don’t like garlic. Rather then peel the garlic, sometimes I use a “cheat:” I purchase a jar of whole, peeled garlic cloves. You can find these in your supermarket produce section for $3 or so for a 6 ounce jar (Spice World is one big distributor). The quality isn’t quite as good as fresh peeled, but you won’t notice the difference when roasting. Keep the jar refrigerated. My experience is that the garlic stays good almost till the expiration date on the jar.
- If you want to use an “herb of choice” in this recipe, I recommend dried thyme. Fresh rosemary is also nice (use 2 – 3 tablespoons), as are caraway seeds. If you opt for caraway seeds, use about ½ teaspoon, and add them when you remove the foil (their flavor can overpower if added at the beginning of the cooking process). This dish is also great with no herb (just the salt, pepper, and red pepper).
- You can use less water/stock than I recommend (you may be able to get by with as little as ¼ cup), but you run the risk that it will evaporate. If it does, no problem — just add more. But this means you’ll have to check during the braising process, a step I prefer not to bother with. So I just add more up front. Water works well in this dish, but stock — either vegetable or chicken — adds some oomph. Because you’re using so little stock, you may want to use a soup base instead. For more information about soup (stock) bases, see Stock Excuses.
- Molly Stevens is less well known than she deserves to be. Her All About Braising is excellent, and I thoroughly recommend it. You will find yourself cooking multiple recipes from this book. You may also be interested in checking out her website.
Braised cabbage has an intense, succulent flavor that pairs well with St. Patrick’s Day corned beef. Because you cook it separately, it’s also vegetarian-friendly if you don’t use chicken stock.
The dish complements many roasts and chops, particularly pork. I haven’t yet tried it, but I think a braise of white beans would make a nice vegetarian main course with this dish.
Although this is a slow-cooking recipe, it avoids the problems associated with overboiled cabbage — the characteristic “stink” and the windy gastrointestinal effects that afflict some people. That’s because the cabbage in this recipe is well cooked, not overcooked. Wikipedia says that boiling cabbage releases sugars, which causes the characteristic cabbage “aroma.” Braising lets you sidestep that.
We all know that cabbage is loaded with nutritional value, particularly vitamin C. It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits, and is extremely low in calories. Yet most of us avoid it. Part of the reason may be that cooking odor.
But now you have a recipe that’s easy to prepare, with smashingly good flavor. And all of its aromas are sweet, so they will delight (not repel) you.
Why not give it a try? This Saint Patrick’s Day, you may find that you actually eat the stuff sitting next to your corned beef.