Stuffed Cabbage

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    6 to 8

Appears in

A Canon of Vegetables

A Canon of Vegetables

By Raymond Sokolov

Published 2007

  • About

As a favor to a gardener friend in Montecito, Calif., I agreed to give a speech at a dinner meeting of the national flower-show judges of the Garden Clubs of America, held under the glorious Tiffany skylight of the main dining room of that pinnacle of well-born New York femininity, The Colony Club. Since the only plants I know much about are grown for the table, and lecturing to flower ladies about edible blooms seemed a bit like giving a speech on infanticide to obstetricians, I was stumped about picking a subject.* To the rescue came Patti Hagan, then gardening columnist for my page at the Wall Street Journal and a horticultural activist. “Tell them about leaves used for wrapping food, ” she said.

So I told them about leaves used for wrapping food, about stuffed grape leaves and tamales (corn husk-wrapped and avocado leaf-wrapped) and a great many others, which the assembled judges purported to judge completely fascinating. First among these intrafoliate dishes was, of course, stuffed cabbage.

Like the wheel, this ingenious dodge for enclosing food in a protective, edible, nonpastry container was invented in many places by many cultures that had access to cheap cabbage and ovens. There are basically two ways to proceed: Stuff individual leaves or as below, leave the head intact, smear the farce on the leaves and then tie up the treated cabbage so that it looks as if nothing had happened to it.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium (-pound) green cabbage
  • 9 ounces ground beef, veal, or pork, about 1 cup
  • 2 ounces salt pork or fatback, diced, about ¼ cup
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 2 sheets of salt pork or fatback to wrap the cabbage
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 carrot, scraped and cut into rounds
  • 3 cups beef stock, approximately

Method

  1. Trim the stalk end of the cabbage so that the cabbage will sit level. Remove any tough or discolored outer leaves and discard. With a small sharp knife, cut out as much of the solid core of the cabbage without detaching any leaves. This permits the cooking liquid to reach the inside of the cabbage more efficiently, and keeps the cabbage from floating. Discard the core.
  2. Put the cabbage in a pot to blanch and cover it with cold water. Cover the pot and set it over high heat. It should take about 45 minutes for the water to boil. As soon as this happens, remove the cabbage gently and drain in a colander.
  3. While the cabbage blanches, process the ground meat, salt pork, salt, and parsley together. Use the steel blade and work in spurts until you have a homogeneous, smooth mixture. Add the wine and process until well mixed.
  4. When the cabbage has cooled enough so that you can hold it comfortably, squeeze it to press out water and then dry it with a clean dishtowel.
  5. Cut four pieces of string to a length of 30 inches each. Spread them out on a work surface in a starburst pattern so that their midpoints cross and their ends are equally spaced around an imaginary circle. Center one of the sheets of pork fat over the strings. Set the cabbage over the pork fat, core side down. Now, working carefully, to avoid breaking or detaching the leaves, fold them back one by one until the leaves are too small to turn back. Trim out what remains of the stalk.
  6. Now apply the stuffing. Keep dipping your hands in cold water as you work to facilitate handling the sticky forcemeat. First put a dab in the center of the cabbage. Stick back the trimmings from the stalk. Put another dab of stuffing on top of them. Now smear two or three of the innermost leaves and pull up to their original position, pull up a few more leaves, smear them, and continue in this manner until you have coated all the leaves except the outermost layer. Pull up these outer leaves and press the cabbage into its pristine shape.
  7. Place the second sheet of pork fat over the reconstituted cabbage. Now knot the strings tightly at the top of the cabbage, producing a melonlike package.
  8. Spread the sliced onion and carrot over the bottom of a pot just large enough to hold the cabbage. Set the cabbage over them, stalk side down. At this point, you can refrigerate the cabbage until you are ready to finish cooking it. It should keep well for 24 hours.
  9. Roughly 4 hours before you want to serve the cabbage, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the stock over the cabbage. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. When this happens, set a piece of greased wax paper over the cabbage, cover the pot, and put it in the oven. Leave it there, bubbling slowly for 3½ hours. After 15 minutes, check the liquid and adjust the oven temperature if necessary to prevent a vigorous boil. Add water as necessary to maintain the liquid level.
  10. To serve: Drain the cabbage in a colander. Cut and discard the strings and the pork fat. Keep warm while you reduce the strained cooking liquid to a cup or a touch less.
  11. Put the cabbage on a round plate or a large shallow soup bowl. Pour the reduced cooking liquid over it.

*Even the word “picking” had taken on a controversial flavor, so to speak.