How to cook cabbage

Read our tips and ideas for cooking with all varieties of cabbage. It can be served raw in salads or cooked in stir-fries, soups, stews and more.

Bowl of cabbage with chestnuts

Cabbage appears in a wealth of different varieties, and is in fact part of a bigger family known as brassicas that extends to cauliflower and kale. Easily available varieties are red, Savoy, spring and white.

  • Red cabbage has firm, tightly packed and shiny purple leaves
  • White cabbage has a similar texture to red cabbage but has very pale leaves and a sweeter flavour
  • The leaves of the Savoy cabbage are crinkled and wavy and get lighter towards the middle
  • Spring cabbage has softer leaves and form more of a point instead of a round shape

All are extremely versatile; they can be served raw in salads like coleslaws but can also be quick-cooked, such as in stir-fries or simply steamed and even slow-cooked (braised) or used in soups and stews.


How to prepare cabbage

Cutting up cabbage with knife

There are two ways to prepare cabbage, depending on how many you want it to serve, and how you want to cook it.

  1. To serve a small number of people, or for recipes when you need to keep the leaves whole, it’s a good idea to peel the leaves off individually, taking what you need then putting the rest of the cabbage back in the fridge, wrapped up. You can then use these leaves whole or shred them as needed. Depending on how old the cabbage is, you may not want to use the outer leaves, particularly if they are bruised, blemished or damaged. If they’re no good for stock they can be composted. The central vein in each leaf is tough, particularly on the outer leaves so you may wish to cut this away too, especially if you want to cook the cabbage quickly as this part is very dense and will take a long time.
  2. To serve a bigger crowd, halve or quarter the cabbage, lay it cut-side down on a board and chop or shred the leaves. For firmer cabbages, such as the red or white ones, you may wish to cut out the tough part of the stem or core first.

Steaming

Best for: spring green cabbage, Savoy cabbage

Put your prepared, shredded cabbage in a steamer and steam for around 5 mins or until tender.


Boiled or blanched

Best for: all types

Put the cabbage leaves or shredded cabbage in a large pan and cover halfway with water. Bring to the boil and cook for 3-5 mins or until tender. To blanch (so they can be sautéed or fried later), cover with water and boil for 3 mins. Transfer the leaves to cold water to refresh.


Frying

Best for: all types

Shred the leaves from half a head of cabbage, removing any tough leaf stems. Heat 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a wok, then add the cabbage and 2 sliced garlic cloves. Stir-fry until the cabbage starts to wilt then add 75ml vegetable stock. Cover and cook for 3 mins until just tender.

Red cabbage and kale being stir-fried in saucepan


Braising

Best for: red cabbage, white cabbage

Finely slice 1 large onion and put it and 50g butter, or 50ml olive oil in a heavy-based, flameproof casserole dish. Fry the onion over a medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 mins. Cut the core from a 750g cabbage and finely slice the leaves. Add this to the casserole dish and toss everything together, cooking over a low heat while you peel and slice 1 apple. Crush 1 tsp juniper and 1 tsp caraway seeds together, then add these and the apple slices to the pan. Season and pour in 500ml cider, red wine or water. Stir well and bring to a simmer, cover the dish and cook for 20 mins.


Other ideas

Whole cabbage leaves can be used filled, rolled and baked. Shredded cabbage can be pickled or fermeted to make sauerkraut or kimchi.

Basic cabbage stir-fry recipe

Serves 6

  • 1 cabbage
  • 4 tbsp fat (you could use butter, olive oil or goose fat)
  • 4 shallots, chopped
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  1. Quarter the cabbage, remove the core and shred the leaves.
  2. Blanch in a pan of boiling salted water for 3 mins, then hold under a cold tap to cool. Drain well.
  3. Heat the fat in a pan and sauté the shallots, rosemary sprig and garlic cloves for 5 mins, until golden.
  4. Discard the garlic and rosemary, toss in the cabbage, stir-frying until reheated. Season and serve.

Our top cabbage recipes

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This thrifty pasta dish of Savoy greens and crispy 'pangrattato' breadcrumbs is delicious in its simplicity.

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Colourful bowls of white cabbage and sweet potatoes

For a quick version of sauerkraut, try cabbage simmered in white wine, with onion and herbs. The acidity of this side dish pairs beautifully with the unctuousness of roast pork.

Spring cabbage with mustard seeds 

White bowl filled with spring green cabbage with a spoon

Give your greens a fresh new look by tossing them with mustard, ginger, onion and garlic.

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