Back in the days when “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was new — or at least recent, one of Carol’s favorite dishes was Chou Farci, stuffed whole cabbage.
Here’s what Julia had to say:
“To stuff a whole cabbage you first make a delicious [stuffing] mixture. You then pull off the cabbage leaves, boiling them until pliable, and re-form the cabbage into approximately its original shape with your delicious mixture spread between layers of leaves. Finally you braise, sauce, and serve it up, and it looks just like a beautiful, decorated, whole cabbage sitting on the serving platter.”
We did it — just that way — once. And what a presentation it was. But that method is fraught with peril. One thinks of a cabbage as orderly layers of leaves formed around a core. In reality, the layers have wrinkles that clench to one another, and are a bitch to separate without tearing. Second, putting the head back together and holding it together while braising is a culinary feat of some majestic proportion.
But I like the idea of meat stuffed cabbage with a nice tomato sauce to round out the flavors. So we simplified to a wedge version. Cut the cabbage into wedges, let the leaves be connected at the core, stuff your meat mixture between the leaves, braise and sauce, etcetera. Not as impressive a presentation, but easier by a factor of about 10, and tastes about the same… and nice looking in its own way.
Fast forward to 2010. Influenced by our Ukranian daughter-in-law, we purchased the brand-new Veselka Cookbook, Recipes and stories from the landmark restaurant in New York’s East Village by Tom Birchard with Natalie Danford. From that, we made their version of Meat-Stuffed Cabbage, I call them cabbage rolls.
“At least one day before you want to make the stuffed cabbage, core the head of cabbage, place it in a large freezer bag and freeze. When you are ready to stuff the cabbage… place the cabbage in a large bowl of warm water to defrost.”
This works beautifully; the leaves are pliable and separate easily. Too bad, that in my opinion, the cabbage loses all of its flavor in the process.
Otherwise, the Veselka cabbage rolls are steamed, not braised, and sauced separately during serving.
Armed with that experience and information, I set out yesterday to make my own cabbage rolls. I looked to the more recent Julia Child and the master-of-technique, Jacques Pepin for their inspiration.
Indeed, there is a recipe for stuffed cabbage in their book, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. The dish is called Jacques’s Stuffed Cabbage, but its much like Julia’s Chou Farci from Mastering the Art. Whole head, deconstructed, stuffed and reformed, but Jacques uses different stuffing and saucing ingredients, uses the frozen cabbage technique, and uses heavy duty aluminum foil to hold everything together once stuffed. Good for him. He also suggests as a “Cook’s perquisite,” using the odd leaf and leftover stuffing to make “Jacques’s Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.” THAT’S the way I wanted to go. Continue reading