Red cabbage prepared according to this recipe is one of my favorite side dishes, especially for a meal served in colder weather. Whether it’s with beef stew, roast poultry, or even pork tenderloin, the tangy sweetness of the braised cabbage offers a delicious contrast to the richness of a heavy meal.
Use a generously-sized cast iron French or Dutch oven, to keep the heat nice and even during the braising. Prep time is not especially long, but be prepared to babysit it for a few hours as it cooks – it’s best made the day before, will develop flavor in the refrigerator overnight, and reheats extremely well whether in the microwave or on the stovetop. I’d love to credit the obscure cookbook the recipe was drawn from, but it’s closely guarded by my mother; she offers a few notes after the basic instructions that, I think, make a big difference in terms overall taste and color.
1 3-pound head red cabbage
2 tablespoons butter
2 slices bacon, diced
1 tablespoon Demerara sugar, or regular dark brown type
1 large sour Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 onion, minced
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt to taste
1 and 1/2 cups water, or as needed
Beurre Manié or 1 small potato, grated
1/4 cup red currant jelly (optional)
Trim cabbage and shred, discarding core and heavy ribs. Heat butter and fry the bacon it until it is rendered but not brown. Add sugar and sauté over low heat, stirring frequently until sugar turns golden brown. Add apple and onion, sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cabbage and toss with apple and onion. Pour in vinegar and braise in COVERED pot for 10 minutes, or until cabbage is bright purple, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Sprinkle with a little salt and add water to barely cover. Simmer covered for about 2 hours or until cabbage is tender. Add water as needed. Thicken sauce with beurre manié or by adding grated potato and simmering for 10 minutes more. Stir in jelly and heat until dissolved. Note: this cabbage is best when reheated, so prepare it a day in advance. Serves 6 to 8.
My mother’s comments: Instead of adding only water to the cabbage, I use half the water and substitute any dark red grape colored fruit juice. Dark grape juice works, or one of those anti-oxidant rich blends that contain pomegranate, açai, and other berry extracts, such as blueberry and blackberry juices. Needless to say, this eliminates the need to add red currant jelly. But you can always adjust the sweetness to your taste.