~ My Grandma's Butter-Braised Cabbage & Carrots ~
Both of my grandmothers' kitchens were close to home -- dad's mom lived 4-5 miles from us, mom's mom lived 9-10. We visited them both often, and, both of them every Sunday -- lunch at mom's mom's, dinner at dad's mom's. Until I was age ten or eleven and invited to my girlfriend Cathy's house for Sunday dinner, I assumed everybody's house smelled like cabbage on a Sunday. We Eastern Europeans cook "Sunday cabbage" like Italians cook "Sunday gravy"!
I like cabbage a lot, but I wouldn't say I'm "crazy for cabbage". I grew up with people who knew how to properly cook cabbage. I liked their cabbage. I've met a lot of people who just don't get cabbage cookery in any form. I don't like any form of their cabbage. Properly-cooked cabbage should be buttery and melt-in-your mouth tender. Properly-braised cabbage should be buttery, tender, and, taste like cabbage, enhanced simply, by the natural sugars in onions and carrots. In my opinion, braised cabbage is not enhanced by the flavor of bacon or smoked pork. Simmer down. I'm a cabbage purist. I enjoy my braised cabbage served as a side to all sorts of pork products -- I just don't appreciate it tasting more like pork than the pork itself. Period.
There are many types of cabbage: green, red, Napa (also known as Chinese cabbage), Savoy, Bok Choy and Choy Sum. For making basic, Eastern-European braised cabbage, the common, compact green cabbage is simply perfect. It's the one I grew up eating, and, it's the one I use the most to this day. It makes the best braised cabbage in the world!
That said, 'The World's Best Braised Cabbage Recipe' did not come from my grandmothers and wishing won't make it so. By the time I got around to wanting to learn how to make it, they weren't there to show me. My recipe is adapted from Molly Stevens' book, All About Braising. I've combined my grandmothers' ingredients list with Molly's method. The biggest difference: my grandmother butter-braised (& used more carrots). Molly uses EVOO.
A bit about green cabbage: The most common of all cabbages, sometimes affectionately referred to as "the king of cabbages", has wide, pale green leaves with an almost rubbery texture when raw. My mom taught me how to choose cabbage. The instructions went like this:
"Choose young, tender, medium-sized, pretty green heads that are firm, have no splits or tears, and, feel heavy for their size."
A bit about coring cabbage: The hard, tough, core is what holds the cabbage leaves to the head. When making braised cabbage, I like to remove a shallow portion of it before cutting the cabbage into wedges. When making stuffed cabbage rolls, I remove a deeper portion of it, so the leaves separate easily. Using a sharp paring knife, cut around the core to a depth of about one inch.
1 large yellow onion, about 8 ounces, 1/2"-3/4" chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced at a 30 degree angle into 1/4"-thick pieces, 8 ounces
6 tablespoons salted butter
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock (grandma used water)
no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole
~ Step 1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
~ Step 2. Prep and place cabbage, onion and carrots, in that order, in a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.
~ Step 4. Season with sea salt and peppercorn blend. I use 40 grinds salt and 60 grinds pepper which equates roughly to 3/4 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
Note: Because oven temperatures vary, and, because cabbage varies in density from head to head, I recommend checking the veggies after 1 1/2 hours. If they are fork tender and to your liking, stop there.
Portion and serve steaming hot with smoked ham, roasted pork or poached chicken breast.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; paring knife; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 1-cup measuring container; aluminum foil
Cook's Note: My grandmothers made braised cabbage often, but my mother did not. Whenever she bought cabbage, we knew what she was making for dinner -- and we didn't need to be called to the dinner table twice. My recipe for ~ My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki) ~ can be found in Categories 3, 12, 17, 19 or 22. Trust me when I tell you, this very well might be 'The World's Best Stuffed Cabbage Recipe'!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie Preschutt/Copyright 2015)