I adore cabbage in all its myriad forms, but love most especially that solid bowling ball, layers, thick as leather, turning their backs on the elements and clinging onto each other for dear life — the green cabbage.
That statement in itself is quite a wonder for deep within I bear many cabbage-drawn scars. Dear Old Sainted Mother (DOSM) Swashbuachaill thankfully never really strayed into Bacon and Cabbage territory (overly complex for her culinary abilities) any time she got lost and accidentally wound up in the kitchen. No, boarding school is where the real damage was inflicted.
Shortly after breakfast, the canteen staff would set about preparing lunch. Indeed, you could be stacking your dirty plates on the trays for washup and already greyish lumps of matter, possibly animal, possibly not, would be bubbling in pots or struggling desperately to escape enormous metal trays destined for the furnace.
Any day cabbage was on the menu, it was usually cooked first to get it out of the way and then put on a grim and relentless cycle of ‘warming’. By 11am, the long, marbled corridors that ran the length of the school, just outside the refectory, would be reeking of noxious sulphurous fumes.
Providing you take some basic precautionary measures, it’s rare enough these days you’ll encounter overcooked cabbage but if ever I do, the merest whiff triggers flashbacks to those cold institutional corridors in grey winter, the sickening feeling of approaching double maths, nary an equation so much as ruffled in my long overdue maths homework. If misery is ever found to have an odour, then overboiled cabbage will most definitely constitute the base notes.
Which all goes to prove, what a hugely accommodating heart The Swashbuachaill has – actually, once I came to realise it was a case of nurture over nature, that the villain was not the poor misbegotten cabbage but rather those charged with its delivery to the table, I gave it a second chance.
The second chance began with coleslaw, one half of my diet during my (exceedingly lean) teenage years; the other half, the toasted cheese on which the aforementioned ‘slaw was liberally slathered. Naturally, the coleslaw came in a small plastic tubs, the offspring of infinitely larger plastic tubs, first spawned, most likely, by disgruntled labourers in concrete lockups on anonymous industrial estates.
But, the crunch of the raw sweet cabbage, the slight vinegary tang of cheap mayonnaise binding it to sweet grated carrot, a cooling counterpoint to molten plastic cheddar as orange as an Oompah Loompah, the febrile crunch of toasted white sliced pan, all triggered the first stirrings of The Swashbuachaill’s tastebuds.
Save the occasional Yoplait yoghurt (hazelnut flavour with crunchy bits, purportedly nuts), that pretty much constituted The Swashbuachaill’s entire teenage diet, much to the despair of DOSM Swashbuachaill who implored her beloved firstborn to eat more. (These days, when I stand on the scales, I often wonder if DOSM Swashbuachaill wishes she might have stayed her hand a little with the imploring? I certainly do.)
To slice a long story into shreds and douse it liberally in a simple vinaigrette, The Swashbuachaill left home, discovered real food and, indeed, learned to treat it with kindness in the kitchen. These days, I abhor, for the most part, mayo anywhere near my cabbage but still love coleslaw, inventing a brand new dressing each time I eat it. Even slicing it for cooking, I’ll invariably munch my way through a fistful of good old raw sweet crunching cabáiste.
The other day, I came across a tweet from Aoife @Icanhascook, wondering what she would do with her cabbage. I was already planning the fate of my third cabbage that week. This one, I decided, was to be no bit part player but the star of the whole production, top billing, name in lights and its very own trailer on the back left ring.
A Class of Cabbage and Bacon (and in that order!)
1 cabbage (if it feels surprisingly heavy for its size, that’s good – nice and fresh)
1 oz butter
1 Tsp olive oil
Tsp yellow mustard seeds (unground, they add a nice nutty flavour)
½ tsp Masala Gosht (cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, black peppercorns, dried chillis – all ground. I like to make all my own spices up as I need them but Green Saffron Spices do nice mixes.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning.
1 lemon quarter
1. Quarter the cabbage, remove the (still-beating?) heart
2. Slice the cabbage into shreds.
3. Either plunge into a pot of boiling well-salted water for 1-2 mins or, as I do here, steam in covered pot for 3-4 minutes, to achieve not raw but still crisp, crunchy cabbage.
4. Bring a large heavy based pan to medium heat, coat bottom with oil, then add chorizo, fry til crisping up around the edges. Remove from pan with slotted spoon, put to one side.
5. Pour off most of the oil from the chorizo but don’t clean the pan (that’s some nice remnants a paprika flavoured pork fat, you got yourself right there!)
6. Turn heat up full, add butter to the pan.
7. As soon as butter starts foaming, add mustard seeds, stir, should start popping almost immediately. Add spice mix, stir in, immediately add cabbage.
8. Fry cabbage for two minutes, stirring well, agitating pan and tossing regularly.
9. Return cooked chorizo slices to the cabbage in the pan, cook for a further 30 seconds.
10. Serve on warm plates with a good squeeze of lemon juice over each serving.
11. Dine and dine well. Afterwards, place at least two lighting, scented candles (Jo Malone or something of that nature, none of your cheap tat!) before your cabbage shrine. What do you mean you don’t have a cabbage shrine? Damn your heathen eyes!