September 14, 2014

Rotkohl, or German Red Cabbage

Germans have three names for one vegetable: Rotkraut, Blaukraut, and Rotkohl all mean red cabbage, and just to make matters even more confusing, all also mean the prepared dish of finely sliced red cabbage, simmered in a tangy vinegar-enhanced sauce. Around our little section of the Rhine, the term is almost always Rotkohl to mean the simmered side-dish.

Cabbage is very popular in Germany. Here it is fermented into sauerkraut, marinated in salads, and simmered into rotkohl as one of the most ubiquitous side dish of autumnal and winter menus. The portions are also enormous, which makes sure you get your daily dose of fibre. It is commonly served alongside Sauerbraten (pot roast), Spießbraten (roast pork), Rouladen (beef wrapped around pickles), roast goose (especially at Christmas time), or roast duck. In fact, it may be the go-to side dish for anything with the word "roast" (or equivalent) in the title.

I've published a recipe for red cabbage with apples before, a leaner, lighter version that is juicy, but doesn't exactly have the kind of gravy that you get here in Germany. You may remember seeing it show up next to leg of rabbit on my Hasenpfeffer post, or alongside Danish-ish meatballs.

There are a lot of variations - some with a combination of red wine and vegetable stock, some with water, some with duck or pork stock, and varying amounts of fat from the lean to the spectacularly rich. Some versions have tiny pork cubes in them, which seems like overkill but in Germany, any addition of pork is considered "just enough". This version is fairly close to the ones available in restaurants here, although the gravy is often thickened even further using flour* instead of cornstarch. It makes a big batch, but it also freezes very well.

Klassischer Rotkohl (Classic Red Cabbage)

Serves 4-6

750 grams fresh red cabbage
2 medium onions
2 tablespoons butter (or lard, or duck fat, or oil)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
dash of white pepper
3 tablespoons red currant jelly
2 bay leaves
3 juniper berries
3 clove buds
500 ml vegetable stock
1 large cooking apple (eg. Boskop)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Clean the cabbage, removing the stalk and tough outer leaves. Cut the cabbage into quarters and slice each quarter into fine strips. Peel the onions and finely dice.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter, sauté onions until translucent, add the cabbage and sauté 5 minutes more. Season with salt, pepper and red currant jelly, and stir through.

Add the Juniper berries, bay leaves and vegetable stock, and continue to cook on medium-low heat (covered), for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel, core and dice the apple. Add the apple to the pan and cook for a further 20 minutes.

Combine the red wine vinegar with the cornstarch, stirring until smooth, and then stir it into the cabbage mixture and bring to a boil. Once thickened, stir in the other tablespoon of butter. Taste and adjust as needed for salt, pepper, and vinegar, and serve.

*If you decide to thicken with flour instead, you will want to add it with the vegetable stock, to allow the flour sufficient time to cook out its raw taste. Simply combine two tablespoons of flour with enough of the (cold or room temperature) vegetable stock before adding it to the dish. In this case, add the red wine vinegar on its own, at the end.

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