This jewel-coloured braised red cabbage is a sweet and savoury, stylish side dish. Perfect for the Christmas table. Accessorise your holiday turkey with a vibrantly purple cabbage that is tantalisingly aromatic with a sultry hint of smoky bacon.
Prefer something with a bit more crunch? This winter salad with red cabbage, kale and pomegranate will use up any leftover raw red cabbage and goes great with cold turkey cuts.
Braised red cabbage
Braised means cooked long and slow in liquid until the main ingredient is soft and tender. In this case, red cabbage steeped in chicken stock, spiked with Alpine flavours.
Cabbage is native to the cold climate of Europe and there is an abundance of warming braised cabbage recipes to choose from. Most of these wintry recipes contain ‘mulled’ spices, which I have to confess, I am not keen on.
While raw red cabbage is peppery and crunchy, cooked red cabbage is more mellow and almost sweet. I’ve enhanced the natural flavour of the vegetable by braising with fresh-tasting and foresty juniper berries, allspice berries, and a salty slick of bacon lardons for depth.
For a meat-free braised cabbage recipe, just swap chicken for vegetable stock and leave out the lardons.
My recipe whispers of my Eastern European roots and is flavoured with parsley stalks, juniper and allspice berries, and bacon lardons. It is at once reminiscent of snow-covered pine woods, the botanical notes of iced gin, and just a touch of log fire smoke.
I find it also partners well with sharp fruits like orange zest, preserved lemon and Bramley apple. Even cider. Flavours that slash nicely through the rich feast of a Christmas dinner.
For more of a bold and meaty hit, besides pancetta, kielbasa, chorizo or even a spicy nduja would make solid flavour bases.
So, there’s wide scope for flavour experimentation beyond the classic cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and star anise associated with Christmas. What’s speaking to you?
Recipe tips and notes
- Bear in mind that the cabbage will be braising for almost an hour, so don’t slice it too thinly when preparing.
- To kick off the flavour base, I use bacon lardons. They are smoky and salty and stand up to the pungent and piney juniper berries. What’s more, they disintegrate deliciously into the cabbage.
- Most recipes include cloves, which I secretly dislike. I find the heady mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove too cloying. I bet you do too! Try my version of fresh juniper and allspice, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the switch up.
- Parsley root is a common ingredient in Eastern European cooking, but hard to source abroad. Parsley is everywhere though and the stems actually carry loads of flavour, so they have earned their spot here. They’ll cook down nicely, so no need to worry about picking the stalks out.
- Almost every recipe will encourage you to add sugar. It’s not my vibe so I leave it out. But it’s a choice that’s left up to you.
- Fresh bay leaves however, are a must. Don’t settle for dried. In the UK, bay trees or bushes grow in almost every garden, I’m sure a neighbour wouldn’t mind donating one or two leaves. If not, most supermarkets carry them this time of the year.
- Finally, stir the cabbage every 15 minutes so it doesn’t burn. Which, surprisingly, can happen rather quickly!
However, I enjoy this economical and low-calorie accompaniment so much, I can find room for it with almost anything. Hot or cold.
Popular in Germany, braised red cabbage is often served with rich red meats like roast duck or smoked sausage. The acidity and bite mean it cuts through sweet-flavoured and fatty meat like pork chops and sausages. Don’t forget the mash!
And yes, I said cold! Cold braised red cabbage is a deli-lover’s dream come true. It goes with all cured meats, cheeses and pâtés.
Storage and leftovers
Keep those leftovers! Store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days and bring them out for the traditional Boxing Day buffet.
Cold braised red cabbage will go with hard cheeses, pâté and cold ham or turkey. Or warm it up gently on the stovetop and stuff it into a hot turkey sandwich with sausage meat stuffing and a drizzle of gravy.
Other cabbage recipes to try:
- Festive Red Cabbage Slaw
- Braised Savoy Cabbage with Bacon and Mushrooms
- Restorative Beef and Cabbage Soup (Shchi)
- Lazy Cabbage Rolls
Braised Red Cabbage
- 75g / ⅓ cup cubbed bacon lardons or pancetta
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 tbsp parsley stems finely chopped (optional)
- 2 lbs sliced red cabbage
- 250ml / 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 6 allspice berries
- 4 juniper berries
- 2 bay leaves fresh is better
- Salt to taste
- ½ tsp sugar optional
- In a deep cast iron pan or a cast iron pot cook the bacon lardons over medium heat until all fat rendered, add 1 tbsp of butter and chopped onion, cook over low heat for 10 minutes until soft and starting to colour, add the parsley stems if using and cook for 3 minutes longer.
- Add the sliced cabbage with the stock and vinegar, top with the spices, bay leaves and a pinch of salt, stir to combine and cover with a lid, cook over low heat for 45 min to 1 hour checking on it once in a while and stirring to prevent burning.
- Taste and add more salt and a pinch of sugar if desired.