Cabbage is calling, ‘Come and get it’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 20, 2010

This past weekend at the Red Stick (baton rouge in French) farmer’s market in Baton Rouge I saw piles of great fresh cabbages. I was reminded of visiting my daughter in the late fall of 1998 in Beijing where on the sidewalks in the various neighborhoods were huge piles of cabbage—a staple of the winter diet. I have always had trouble growing cabbage. Here in the South it is best grown as a winter crop although this winter has been rather harsh. Not having any cabbage (or anything else for that matter in the cold wet garden this winter) I purchased a head. It was only $2!

I have a favorite new recipe that I have repeated a number of times this past winter (We are at the end of winter are we not?).

This recipe is from The Times-Picayune, March 18, 2009. The food editor, Judy Walker, said she got it from a Cajun friend. It doesn’t have a name but I have called it My Favorite Cabbage Recipe, and it is. It is the smothering technique that gives this dish its true deep flavor. If you are not a cabbage fan, this recipe will change your mind.

My Favorite

Cabbage Recipe

Makes 8 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

1 head cabbage, cored, leaves separated, bigger leaves cut out to fit in the pot

12-15 1-inch pieces pickled pork or salt pork (I use salt pork)

½ cup water

1 cup rice

In a stockpot, heat oil. Add cabbage and about half-cup water, Cover and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, until cabbage begins to wilt. This takes about 20 minutes. Add pork when the cabbage is wilted but not yet browned.

As it cooks, the cabbage might stick to the bottom of the pot. Add a small amount of water, just enough to loosen the browned cabbage from the bottom of the pot, and scrape up the brown bits. Cook slowly until the cabbage caramelizes, is completely soft and light brown, the color of a brown paper bag. All the water should be cooked out before the cabbage completely disintegrates.

Serve over white rice as the Cajuns do. (I usually don’t and use as a side by itself.)

John Egerton in Southern Food lists cabbage as a Southern staple. He notes the basic cooking methods are essentially two: shredded and fried in bacon grease or a piece of salt pork; or cut into wedges and boiled. The latter produces a fine pot likker if seasoned with salt, pepper and pork. When given a richer appearance and taste it becomes a “company” vegetable. Scalloped cabbage is such a dish.

Sarah Rutledge’s Carolina Housewife (1847) has this directive: “make a good sauce, with a pint of milk, butter, flour, and salt; put (the vegetable) in, let it have a boil up, and serve.” Jean Anderson in A Love Affair with Southern Cooking takes it a step further with this dish.

Scalloped Cabbage

Makes 8 servings

5 tablespoons butter

1 medium yellow onion, halved lengthwise and each half thinly sliced

1 large cabbage, (about 3 pounds), trimmed, quartered, cored, and each quarter sliced

about ½ inch thick (remove overly coarse leaf veins)

1½ cups chicken broth

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 cup half-and-half or milk

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

2 cups soft white bread crumbs tossed with 2 ½ tablespoons butter, melted, (topping)

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large Dutch oven over moderate heat, add the onion, and sauté for three to four minutes or until limp and lightly browned.

Add the cabbage, turning until lightly glazed; pour in ½ cup of the chicken broth and adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles lightly.

Cover and cook the cabbage for about 40 minutes or until crisp-tender, stirring occasionally and bringing the bottom pieces up to the top. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the cabbage to an ungreased 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

With high heat under the Dutch oven, boil the cooking for two minutes or until reduced by about half. Turn the heat to moderately low, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, and when it melts, blend in the flour and nutmeg. Whisking constantly, add the remaining cup of broth and the half-and-half and cook for three to five minutes or until thickened.

Note: At first the mixture will lump, but if you whisk hard, it will smooth out.

Add the cheese, salt, pepper and whisk until the cheese melts. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.

Pour the hot sauce evenly over the cabbage in the baking dish, stir gently to incorporate, then scatter the topping evenly over all.

Slide onto the middle oven shelf and bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until bubbling and richly browned.

Serve at once as an accompaniment to baked ham or roast pork, turkey or chicken.

Note: You can prepare the cabbage ahead and cover and refrigerate. When time comes to bake, just add another 10 minutes to the bake time.

Jean Anderson has another recipe which you should try. It uses BACON—so how could it be bad? Use Benton’s Smoked Bacon, of course!

Skillet Cabbage with Bacon

6 slices hickory-smoked bacon cut crosswise into strips ½ inch wide

One small cabbage (2-2 ½ pounds), quartered, cored, and each quarter sliced 1 inch thick

1/3 cup chicken broth or water

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

Fry the bacon in a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat for 10-12 minutes or until the drippings cook out and only crisp brown bits remain. Scoop the bacon onto paper toweling and reserve. Pour off the drippings, then return 2 tablespoons of them to the skillet.

Add the cabbage, turn in the drippings for two to three minutes until nicely glazed, then add the broth, salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and separating the pieces of cabbage, for 10-12 minutes or until crisp and tender.

Return the reserved bacon to the skillet, toss the cabbage well, then taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.

Serve hot with baked ham, ham loaf, or roast pork, turkey or chicken.