Monday, December 19, 2005

Making Cabbage Rolls

In our family, cabbage rolls are a treat reserved for Christmas and Easter. They are a bit of a big deal to make, but they're well worth it. Like so much good peasant cooking, they use pork fat liberally for the signature flavour. I don't have this recipe written down, but I watched mother anchovy make them until I could do it on my own. Here goes:

First, the filling:
You will need equal amounts of ground pork, beef and veal. If you try to do it with just beef, they just won't have the depth you're looking for. You will also need a slab of salt pork (ask your local butcher if you can find one), and a big heavy pan.
Chop up a liberal amount of salt pork into little cubes, half the size of sugar cubes.
Start rendering the salt pork in the pan on medium-low heat. Do this until you have reduced the chunks to half their size. Then take the chunks of salt pork out and put them aside, leaving the rendered fat in the pan. At this point, people half a mile away will know you are cooking cabbage rolls.
Chop up some onions (I can't be precise on how much - I do it by feel and intuition and love), and toss them into the pan. Saute until they become transparent. Toss in the meat and mix it around until it is browned. Grind in some black pepper. Pour contents of the pan into a big bowl.

Meanwhile, you need an equal amount of rice. My mom always used a brand called Dainty, because she said it was a little stickier than other brands. I like that tradition, but in a pinch, I use ordinary long-grain rice. Normally you would use two parts water for one part rice when you cook it.....for this recipe cut back on the water a little. Add salt. Bring the rice to a boil, shut of the heat, cover it, and leave it alone. It will be perfect in about 45 minutes. When the rice is ready, add it to the meat and mix it all together.

Next, the cabbage:
I never get the right number of cabbages - always too many. That's the law. Use the leftover cabbages for kapusta (sourkraut)....then if you want to get fancy, you can fill your pirogi with kapusta, but that's another story.
You have to core the cabbages and actually take out a tapered core. In other words, you have to go from a bigger diameter on the outside, bigger than the core, down to nothing. Then take a cabbage and dunk it into boiling water, with the core-hole in the pot first. After a brief period, the outer leaves will soften, and you can remove them....then the next layer as soon as it is soft and so on. The cabbage has to be cooked soft enough so that you can bend it around without breaking it. Next you have to carefully slice off the veins of the cabbage leaves.

Rolling the cabbage rolls.
First, understand that the outer leaves will not work too well for making cabbage rolls....but we won't waste them. Use them to line a big roasting pan - basically cover the entire interior surface of the roaster with cabbage. Later, this will carmelize and be amazing. OK....now take a leaf and put it down on your work surface with the base toward you. Load it up with filling. I can't describe how much you need...you'll figure that out soon enough. Roll the base up over the filling, then fold in both sides. Finally, complete the rolling, all the while tucking sides in as you roll. Place the completed cabbage roll in the roaster on the big leaves of cabbage. Now, make up all your rolls, and place them all in the roaster. Remember the salt pork chunks you put aside? Spread them around the cabbage rolls. Add some tomato juice, perhaps half a big can, maybe more. The idea is that you don't want them to float in liquid, but you don't want them to dry out either.

Add the special super-secret ingredient......don't tell anyone I told you about this......
Are you ready?..... Cover the cabbage rolls with strips of pork back ribs.

Preheat your over to about 350.
I had a discussion with my sister today about covering vs not covering the roaster. She says you never cover. I always cover for the the first half hour. In my memory, mom always covered them, but maybe I'm wrong. Either way, they'll be fine. Roast for three quarters of an hour, then take them out and make sure they are not drying out. Some of the outer leaves lining the pan may be darkening by this point, and that's OK. Put them back into the over for another half hour. At this point, you can test one, and offer one to your partner too. The two of you can decide it they are ready or not.

We always make cabbage rolls a day or two before we plan on serving them. It is a law of science that they are better reheated than just cooked. I don't know why it is, but I guarantee it. My sister agrees. When the time comes to get them ready for your guests, add a little more tomato juice to the roaster, and gently reheat at about 300 degrees until the house is filled with the heavenly smell. Serve cabbage rolls with pieces of the back ribs, as well as chunks of top quality kielbossa, a heaping helping of kapusta, and a bunch of pierogi (and listen here, don't let me catch you deep frying pierogi.....boil then gently sautee please, or if you like, just boil) Pour your guests cold beer or a robust red wine. Preferably have polkas playing on the old turntable - The Dynatones, from Buffalo, for instance, or maybe some Walt Solek or Li'l Wally from Chicago. If you really love your guests, give each of them a carmelized cabbage leaf from the pan...at this point these leaves are cabbage candy. My sister says they are the best part.

Feel the love.

4 comments:

zydeco fish said...

Suddenly, I am hungry and it's only 10:00 am.

Kim said...

Growing up my Mother always made cabbage rolls and as a kid I hated them! Now, no one makes them, my family refuses to try them and I absolutely love them! If I'm lucky, I manage to have one once every five years! I envy you!

Jim - PRS said...

Excellent. We, with Polish ancestors, call them "gwumpkies" or, properly as I am told, golabki.

It's also an Easter and Christmas treat here at the House by the Parkway.

Coolgirl222 said...

this is the way to make cabbage roles and my family love's it thank you so much.