The Virtues of Routine and Braised Cabbage

October  8, 2013

Sunday Dinners comes to us from our own chef/photojournalist/farmer/father figure Tom Hirschfeld, featuring his stunning photography and Indiana farmhouse family meals.

Today: Tom tells us why we should make braised cabbage part of our routine.

Braised Cabbage on Food52

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I like repetition. It guides me from one task to another. Like how in the morning I'll make my wife's coffee exactly the same way and take it to her while she is getting ready for work before making my own. Then I'll pack the kids' school lunches, followed by preparing breakfast, and every Tuesday, I go to the grocery store immediately after the kids get on the school bus.

Braised Cabbage on Food52

I follow a routine when I go to the grocery, too. The automatic doors swoosh open like the welcoming arms of an old friend as I enter, and I wonder who the first person I'll see will be. A stranger? A familiar face? What will they look like and will they be smiling? Which fruits and vegetables are right up front this week and who made the covers of the gossip rags at the checkout line? All pressing questions, I know.

Braised Cabbage on Food52

But the other day I broke routine, for an observation. As usual, the endcap to the vegetable aisle was full of cabbage -- red cabbage, green cabbage, some Napa and even Savoy. What occurred to me was that this endcap is always full, always a mountain in fact, of cabbage. It wasn't just replenished either -- they don't restock until 9:30. I am nosy too, and often leer into peoples' carts just to see what they are eating and, I can assure you, I don't often see cabbage tucked into carts, other than those few days cabbage gets its due during the corned beef holidays. So why is this end cap continually dedicated to an Everest of cabbage? Are cabbage eaters late night shoppers? Is it for looks much in the same way as a mannequin in a window at Saks? Who, besides me, buys cabbage?

More: 7 ways to bring out cabbage's best side.

Braised Cabbage on Food52

Yes, I eat cabbage and I am proud of it. So much so that I could write a poem, Mon Petite Chou, and it would be an ode to the poorest of poor man's food. That is what it is though isn't it: poor man's food? Maybe this is why it is shunned, that to buy it means you are nearly destitute, for why else would you eat it? I used to feel this way, and never really encountered cabbage other than as a creamy coleslaw side to an all-you-can-eat catfish dinner -- and even then I usually stayed closer to the hush puppies and fries.

That is, until Paula Wolfert's book The Cooking of Southwest France introduced me to the possibilities. And there are many when it comes to cabbage -- braised, steamed, creamed, and stir-fried. Cabbage, now, has become a part of my routine.

Braised Cabbage on Food52  Braised Cabbage on Food52

Tips for Choosing, Storing, and Preparing Cabbage

Pick a hefty cabbage.
I grow a lot of cabbage and I am always amazed at how solid cabbages can be, like a bowling ball. So when I do buy them at the store I look for very solid cabbages that feel heavy.   

Look for purple leaves
Typically, the grocer cuts off the outer leaves and trims the stems. As the cabbage ages, they trim them up so to keep them looking pretty. You know you have a fresh cabbage when the leafy outer purple green leaves are still there.

Keep it cool
Cabbages can last a long time in the fridge. Make sure the outside leaves are free of moisture and wrap the cabbage in plastic wrap, then store the cabbage in the crisper. I like cabbage because it stores well, so I use up all the perishable veggies early in the week saving the sturdy ones, cabbage, for the end of the week.

Braised Cabbage on Food52

Braised Cabbage

Serves 6

3 ounces pancetta, small dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, small dice
1/3 cup celery, small dice
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/2 cup carrots, peeled, small dice
6 to 8 cups Savoy cabbage, julienned
2 bay leaves
Scrape or two fresh nutmeg
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Tom Hirschfeld

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jesus Benitez
    Jesus Benitez
  • Nuala
  • Droplet
  • Amanda Hesser
    Amanda Hesser
  • lastnightsdinner
Father, husband, writer, photojournalist and not always in that order.


Jesus B. May 21, 2017
Where.can i buy white cabbage. .
Nuala October 11, 2013
If one were to make this with sausages as in the photos, when should they be added during the process? Looks delicious!
Nuala October 11, 2013
Oops! realized you already answered elsewhere : ) Thanks!
Droplet October 8, 2013
That is one handsome cabbage bunch- from the fringe of the first to the Tudor attire of the last :)
Amanda H. October 8, 2013
Pretty cabbage photos, Tom!
lastnightsdinner October 8, 2013
See, I love cabbage, as much for its flavor and versatility as for the fact that it's cheap. We do a simple braised cabbage (sometimes with apples or fennel, other times straight up) at least weekly, pretty much all fall and winter long. I also have a favorite pasta dish, inspired by one I had years ago when Andrew Carmellini was still at A Voce, that has ribbons of super-tender cabbage with a little bacon and a lot of black pepper and pecorino. It's so simple and so good.
amysarah October 8, 2013
Great looking choucroute! But, I didn't know cabbage was so under used - makes frequent appearances in my kitchen. (In fact, I recently posted a sweet and sour cabbage soup recipe here.) Another tasty and economical meal is cabbage sauteed in butter with onion, then add some chicken stock or water, cover until tender, add lots of chopped fresh dill, s&p and stir in sour cream. Fold in broad cooked egg noodles and heat the whole shebang together a bit so it melds. (A little Hungarian sweet paprika is good in there too.) Not a recipe, more a memory of my grandmothers' cooking.
thirschfeld October 8, 2013
That sounds great! I make lots of sauces for noodles with cabbage.
boulangere October 8, 2013
You had me at cabbage. I'm a late convert, Tom, but love it perhaps all the more for that very reason. Thank you; I always enjoy your posts. I wrote a couple of odes to it as well: