Make coleslaw that makes people go back for seconds!
It’s the 4th of July here in the United States. 🇺🇸🎆 That means coleslaw is going to be at your backyard gathering today. (By the way, can we acknowledge how awesome it is that we can have a backyard gathering this year?!)
I think we’ve all been to that party where a juicy burger was served right along a soggy, white heap of cabbage. Not very appetizing, right? So don’t be that person that serves soggy, white coleslaw! That’s why I went to the library and cracked open some books. 📚 (And by the library, I mean my house, and by books, I mean websites.) After some research and a few attempts myself, I’ve got some tips to help you nail your coleslaw today.
So you walk into the supermarket, and you see a lot of round balls of leaves. So what type of cabbage do you pick for coleslaw? Let’s talk about the differences:
Here’s how I decide what cabbage to use for coleslaw. I consider how far in advance I’m making the slaw and how crunchy I want it to be. You can’t go wrong with 2 parts green to 1 part red. Green is a solid choice and red brings extra texture and bright color. Those two also hold up well over time and get less soggy. However, I love using Savoy cabbage! But it won’t maintain its structural integrity for long. So it’s not a good one if you’re making the slaw far in advance. And if you want something unique, go for Napa cabbage! It’s delicious.
Are you interested in being even chef-ier? Swap the cabbage for Brussels sprouts. Really? Yep. Brussels sprouts are part of the same family. And they’re quite tasty as a slaw. Here’s a quick video on how to shave Brussels sprouts for slaw.
There are two important things to remember when preparing cabbage for slaw: (1) You have to cut it properly, and (2) You have to salt it.
(1) Cutting cabbage properly: Thick and hardy greens like cabbage need to be tenderized. And you can do that by using your knife. 🔪 When you cut the cabbage, you break its cell walls. And fewer intact cell walls mean less chewing. So you need to thinly shave the cabbage. The bigger the pieces, the tougher it is.
And this is also important. When cabbage is thinly sliced, all those broken cell walls mean the cabbage is better at absorbing the dressing. You don’t want your cabbage floating in dressing come dinner time.
(2) Salting the cabbage: Salting the cabbage ahead of time draws out any water making room for it to absorb your dressing. This also makes sure your dressing doesn’t get watered down as it sits.
So how do you do it? For every 2 cups of sliced cabbage, mix it with about a teaspoon of salt. Kenji Lopez- Alt also found it was beneficial to add a teaspoon of sugar too. Both salt and sugar promote osmosis, which draws out any water from the cabbage. And the sugar can balance out some of the bitterness in the cabbage.
Let the salted cabbage sit for at least 15 minutes. Once the time has passed, rinse the cabbage with water and lay it out over a towel to dry. You can also use a salad spinner. Now your cabbage is ready to be dressed.👗
The most common addition you find in coleslaw are carrots and shaved red onion. Which are delicious. But I think we can elevate it, right?
What you incorporate into your cabbage can turn it from backyard-worthy to restaurant-worthy.
While some add-ins like carrots, onions, and peppers will hold up fine if salted in advance, I typically like to wait to add them until after the cabbage has been salted and dried. Most of the time I’m adding extra ingredients for textural reasons. So I don’t want them to get soggy. And some add-ins like fresh herbs will lose their flavor over time. So they shouldn’t be added until the last minute.
Both the add-ins and the dressing give you the most room for creativity when making slaw. 🧑🎨
The dressing for coleslaw is actually quite similar to a dressing for a salad. It’s just a combination of fat and acid. Here in the US, the fat is typically mayo and the acid is a simple white vinegar. You can’t go wrong with a ratio of 3 parts fat to 1 part acid. It’s a good starting point.
But just like your add-ins, I think you can do better than just using mayo and vinegar!
The world is your oyster! 🦪
But here’s what you have to do. Once you add your dressing, please for the love of fond, taste your slaw before serving it! Creating your own adventurous dressing doesn’t mean you have to nail the proportions the first time. Just keep tasting the slaw and adding more acid, salt, fat, or whatever it might need until, as my favorite cooking teacher Samin Nosrat says, “your palate zings with pleasure”!
Where I learned this: this great creamy coleslaw breakdown from Kenji Lopez-Alt, Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, and The Science of Good Cooking by Cook’s Illustrated.