A favourite winter vegetable served hot with roasted game birds but equally good as a colourful and gratifying addition to any hot meal. It is usually long cooked with bacon and spices, commonly also with apple. Braised red cabbage is a traditional accompaniment to Christmas dinner.
Red cabbage can also be served raw as a type of coleslaw or found simply pickled in vinegar with few additions.
The season for fresh UK grown cabbage is from November and into the New Year but imported cabbages might be found more widely throughout the year.
Pickled/cooked red cabbage is commonly found on supermarket shelves throughout the year.
Choose the best
Choose a firm, fresh red cabbage with no signs of insect damage and that feels heavy for its size.
Vinegar and spices are all you basically need to add to canned or bottled products, so look elsewhere if you find a product with too many other ingredients or what seems too high an acidic or vinegar content. Generally, canned red cabbage, especially from Poland, is good enough to serve and call your own, but see below.
Red cabbage stores very well refrigerated. Once cut, protect the surface with cling film.
Refer to instructions for commercial products, which should have a very long life.
Red cabbage is traditionally cooked long and slow, to soften it and to allow the thick leaves and white stems to absorb the included bacon or other fats and spices. Although counter-intuitive, vinegar is a vital ingredient to keep the cabbage colour: a good tip for the busy cook is to use ready-mixed pickling spices to flavour your dish rather than buying a wide variety.
Otherwise, do your own thing with some bought pickled red cabbage. Rinse it free of the pickling liquid then add one of a better quality, but not too much – cider vinegar is very good. Add small or large chunks of smoked or green bacon, grate in a cooking apple and some orange zest, add whole unpeeled garlic cloves, a cinnamon stick, some allspice berries, a few dried bay leaves and a sprinkle of mixed pickling spices. Let it mull for an hour or two at a low temperature. It's even better if allowed to cool overnight before being reheated.