Cabbage, sliced and cooked, can be one of
two things: delicious crisp, with a mild pleasant flavor - or overcooked
and horrible! Cabbage and other brassicas contain the chemical hydrogen
sulphide, which is activated during cooking at about the point the
vegetable starts to soften. It eventually disappears, but during the
in-between time, cabbage acquires its characteristic rank smell and
flavor. So either, cook cabbage briefly, or cook it long and slow,
preferably with other ingredients so that flavors can mingle.
History : Cabbage has a long and varied
history. However, because there are many varieties of cabbage under the
general heading of "brassica", it is difficult to be sure whether the
variety the Greeks and Romans enjoyed is the same as today's round
cabbage, or something more akin to kale or even Chinese cabbage. The
round cabbages we know today were an important food during the Dark
Ages, and by the Middle Ages they were in abundance, as you will see if
you study the paintings of that period. These commonly show kitchen
tables or baskets at market positively groaning with fruit and
vegetables, and cabbages in all their shapes and sizes were often
featured. Medieval recipes suggest cooking cabbages with leeks, onions
and herbs. In the days when all except the very wealthy cooked
everything in one pot, it is fair to assume that cabbages were cooked
long and slow until fairly recently.
Savoy Cabbage : This is a variety of
green cabbage with crimped or curly leaves. It has a mild flavor and is
particularly tender, thus needing less cooking than other varieties.
Spring Greens : These have fresh
loose heads with a pale yellow-green heart. They are available in spring
and are delicious simply sliced, steamed and served with butter.
Green Cabbage : The early green, or
spring, cabbages are dark green, loose leafed and have a slightly
pointed head. They have little or no heart as they are picked before
this has had time to develop. Nevertheless, they are a very good cabbage
and all but the very outside leaves should be tender. As the season
progresses, larger, firmer and more pale green cabbages are available.
These are a little tougher than the spring cabbages and need longer
Red Cabbage : A beautifully colored
cabbage with smooth firm leaves. The color fades during cooking unless a
little vinegar is added to the water. Red cabbage can be pickled or
stewed with spices and flavorings.
White Cabbage : Sometimes called
Dutch cabbages, white cabbages have smooth firm pale green leaves. They
are available throughout the winter. They are good cooked or raw. To
cook, slice them thinly, then boil or steam and serve with butter. To
serve raw, slice thinly and use in a coleslaw.
Buying and Storing : Cabbages should
be fresh looking and unblemished. When buying, avoid any with wilted
leaves or those than look or feel puffy. Savoys and spring greens will
keep in a cool place for several days; firmer cabbages will keep happily
for a much longer period.
Preparing : Remove the outer leaves,
if necessary, and then cut into quarters. Remove the stalk and then
slice or shred according to your recipe or to taste.
Cooking : For green or white
cabbages, place the shredded leaves in a pan with a knob of butter and a
couple of tablespoons of water to prevent burning. Cover and cook over a
medium heat until the leaves are tender, occasionally shaking the pan or
stirring. Red cabbage is cooked quite differently and is commonly
sauteed in oil or butter and then braised in low oven for up to 1 1/2
hours with apples, currants, onions, vinegar, wine, sugar and spices.