This past weekend, Glenn and I watched the movie Haute Cuisine. The movie is based on real characters and lives. Haute Cuisine recounts Hortense Laborie’s experiences as personal chef for the president of France. It is quite heavy in the “food department” of life and is quite delicious [drooling] to watch! It’s an interesting story. The first meal Hortense prepares for the president is stuffed whole cabbage, “chou farci”. The version shown is stuffed with layers of salmon. Quite intriguing. Through discussions between Glenn and I it was decided we could incorporate our Stuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe into this “whole cabbage” method. Well…it was decided “I” would make a stuffed whole cabbage 🙂
I began by researching methods of preparation for this unusual [for us] dish. The internet had much to offer and I used a combination of a few different recipes [preparation methods], plus my own stuffed cabbage recipe to reach my final product. Many of the recipes I found were simply a head of cabbage with the center removed and then filled with some type of mixture. I really wanted to make a layered version…one where the individual cabbage leaves are removed from the head, layered with the filling and a “head” of cabbage is reconstructed with the help of cheesecloth. The end product was beautiful!
Once assemble, this stuffed cabbage is cooked in a fairly moderate oven [350°F] and braised in a tomato sauce for a couple of hours. The tomato sauce I used is a simple sauce. I’ve used it for many years in making my cabbage rolls. The meat’s juices cooking into the sauce heighten it’s flavors. Also, I used a mix of beef and pork, feel free to use your own blend. I’m not going to lie – there is a little work involved in the preparation of this recipe. But I promise you – it’s worth it!
1 head savoy cabbage
1 Tablespoon butter, plus more if needed
1/2 cup onion, small dice
1/2 cup carrot, small dice
4 mushrooms, caps only, diced
2 slices bacon, cut in 1/2 inch strips
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
2 slices bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 pound ground pork
2 pounds ground beef
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups tomato sauce
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
3 fresh sprigs of thyme
2 fresh sage leaves
1 bay leaf
Prepare the cabbage:
•Heat a large, deep stockpot of water to boiling. the pot needs to be large enough to hold the entire head of cabbage.
•Remove the outer 2 or 3 leaves of the cabbage and discard.
•With a sharp knife, cut around the core of the cabbage. Try to get the knife down into the cabbage 2 inches or so. You are not removing the core, just making it easier to remove the leaves.
•Fill a large bowl with cold water and about 2 cups of ice; set aside.
•When the stockpot of water is boiling, immerse the entire head of cabbage. After about 2 minutes the leaves will begin to separate from the head. As they do, remove them [gently, trying not to tear] from the pot and transfer to the bowl of ice water.
•Keep repeating this process until you have about 15-20 cabbage leaves removed. It may be necessary to “re-score” the cabbage around the core to complete the process.
•From the remaining core of cabbage, chop approximately 1 1/2 cups of the cabbage. Set aside to use in the filling.
•When all the leaves are completely cooled in the ice water, transfer them to a paper towel lined tray to dry. Set aside until ready for assembly.
Prepare the filling:
•Tear the slices of bread [crust removed] into tiny pieces and place in a small bowl. Pour the 1/4 cup of milk over the bread crumbs and stir to incorporate well. Set the bowl aside allowing the bread to completely absorb the milk.
•Heat 1 Tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted add the diced onion, carrots and mushrooms. Cook until they begin to soften, less than 5 minutes.
•Add the chopped bacon. Cook another 5 minutes or so, until it is almost cooked but not crisp.
•Add the 1 1/2 cups of chopped cabbage to the skillet. Cook 2-3 minutes more until the cabbage is soft.
•Stir in the thyme leaves and minced garlic, cooking approximately 1 minute more until fragrant. Salt and pepper as desired. Remove skillet from heat, allowing mixture to cool to room temperature. Note: the bacon should not be crispy, it will cook down in final baking of dish.
Prepare the sauce:
•Combine the 4 cups tomato sauce, distilled vinegar and brown sugar in a medium size bowl. Whisk well until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
Back to the filling:
•While the vegetable mixture is cooling, prepare the meat portion. In a large bowl, mix the beaten eggs, ground pork, ground beef and milk soaked bread crumbs [I prefer to use my hands but a large spoon will do the job also]. Mix well until thoroughly blended.
•Add the smoked paprika, grated nutmeg and 1/2 cup of the sauce. Salt and pepper as desired. Mix well.
•Add the cooled vegetable mixture and mix well. You should have the vegetable mixture evenly distributed throughout the meat.
•Important: make a small patty of your meat/vegetable mixture and cook in a small skillet until done. Taste and adjust seasonings in raw mixture as needed.
Assemble the stuffed cabbage:
•Line a medium size bowl with cheesecloth. I used a 2 quart Pyrex bowl. Allow the cheesecloth to “overhang” the bowl by about 6 inches or so around the edges.
•Starting with the largest cabbage leaves [those from the outside of the cabbage head], line the bowl [over the cheesecloth]. Overlap the cabbage to completely cover the inside of the bowl, allowing leaves to overhang edge of bowl. The leaves on the bottom of the bowl will be the “top” of the final product, so make sure they overlap well.
•Spoon in about 1 1/2 cups of the filling. Cover the bottom of the bowl to about 1/2″ thickness. Don’t go all the way to the edge of the bowl [you want a slight gap between bowl and filling] – this will help create the “dome” shape of the final product. Press down level.
•Create another layer of the cabbage leaves, once again overlapping. Again, create a meat layer about 1/2 inch thick, extending it slightly closer to bowl edge.
•Keep repeating the cabbage leaf and meat layering until you run out of filling. I had four layers for mine.
•Gently turn cabbage leaf overhang towards the inside of the bowl. Gather the cheesecloth and pull tight over the top of the bowl. Tie off the cheesecloth with kitchen string. Set aside, in the bowl, while the cooking preparations are done.
•Heat oven to 350°F.
•Using the scraps of cheesecloth, make a bouquet garni [bundle of herbs] of the fresh thyme, sage and bay leaf. Tie off with kitchen string.
•In a large dutch oven, deep enough to contain the whole cabbage with the lid on, pour the tomato sauce mixture. Place the assemble chou farci in the pot, knotted end of cheesecloth down. Place the bouquet of herbs in the pot also.
•Cover the pot and place in preheated oven. Braise for 2 – 2 1/2 hours, basting with the tomato sauce every 30 minutes or so. An internal temperature of at least 165°F is what you’re looking for.
It’s done…now what?
•Remove from oven and allow to stand in covered pot for 15 minutes.
•After resting period, remove the stuffed cabbage from the pot using two large spatula; transfer to a large rimmed platter or shallow bowl, turning the cabbage so the tied end of the cheesecloth is facing up.
•Cut away the cheesecloth, draping it to the sides of the cabbage. Place a large platter on top of cabbage.
•Carefully, but quickly, flip both dishes over so the “top” of the cabbage is now facing up. Remove remaining cheesecloth and discard. Place the pot, with the tomato sauce, on the stove over low heat to keep warm.
•Slice stuffed cabbage into wedges, served with tomato sauce on the side. This recipe will serve 8 hearty portions.