All Photos: Wendy Goodfriend
I’ve always loved the sweet and sour braised red cabbage you get in German restaurants, but I never considered making it at home until I met my British husband and started frequenting the UK more often (cabbage actually comes from Britain). There, in the deep, dark winter months, they serve it alongside braised sausages, slow-roasted meats, and pillowy piles of mash. Helllooo?! I came home one year and was determined to come up with my own version; one that had all the layers of flavor and nuances of the versions I’d tried across the pond.
This is my special holiday version. It feels warm and cozy and a bit spruced up. If you want to make a simpler version, just omit the chestnuts, swap out the pancetta for bacon, and leave off the fresh parsley garnish. It is great alongside turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, providing the perfect sweet-tart counterpoint, but you can also serve this up with sausages, roast chicken, seared lamb chops, or roast pork tenderloin. Sometimes I even just stand there at my fridge and eat it semi-respectfully from the bowl (as opposed to my toddler who merely shovels it into her mouth with her hands, declaring it “nummy” after each and every bite).
Recipe: Braised Red Cabbage
3–4 thin slices pancetta, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
About 8 oz cooked, peeled chestnuts, roughly chopped*
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 tart baking apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 small red cabbage, outer leaves and core removed, sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Pour a glug of olive oil into a large, heavy Dutch oven or an ovenproof saucepan and warm it over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring, until golden. Add the butter, chestnuts, sherry, and apples. Stir to combine then let sizzle for a few minutes. Add the cabbage, a few healthy glugs of balsamic (maybe 1/4 to 1/3 cup or so), and season with salt and pepper. Stir everything together so that the cabbage is evenly coated. Cover and bake, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is nice and tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add a little water or broth if the cabbage starts to dry out, you want it to remain nice and moist. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.
*A note on chestnuts: If you are determined to roast or boil your own fresh chestnuts and then peel them, good on you. After many years of attempting this, and now that I have a kid, I cannot be bothered. I love the vacuum-sealed precooked, pre-peeled versions, which I think are just as good…in fact, no, they are better because I don’t have to do anything!