Cabbage Brings Home the Bacon

My heart's desire - The Green Cabbage

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)

20-30 slices of chorizo, ideally uncured. (Got this one from the Olive Stall in Cork’s English Market)

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

Cooking Instructions

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!

10 thoughts on “Cabbage Brings Home the Bacon

  1. Hmm, seems we had very similar diets for a few years there – I dined on an awful lot of Yoplait hazelnut yoghurt and cheese toasties as a college student (the addition of crisps to my toast sandwiches was a later innovation). As for cabbage, fortunately I missed the whole eternally rewarmed boarding school version, though we still have a tricky relationship cabbage and I. Substantially-sized specimens often trigger the onset of the what-on-earth-will-I-do-with-all-of-that-cabbage syndrome, though I do find that pickling is a particularly effective remedy (as, of course, is your recipe above!)

    1. I can recall when they were first launched, a profoundly ‘foodie’ moment in Irish life – ‘bits’ in yoghurt???? (To think I once thought of that stuff as yoghurt!). The cabbage? I could honestly finish it raw while wondering how to cook it (which makes for much quilt-fluttering-in-the-‘wind’ and window-opening once I retire to the boudoir!) but the red cabbage is a different matter, the gauntlet having been thrown down by Aoife @icanhascook today. Have to see how we get on there. My crisp sandwich revelation moment came in London via a friend who was a very good vegan cook – white sourdough, tartex mushroom spread, bean sprouts, some class of vegan mayo and tayto crisps. That’s when I realised there was more to it than cheap white sliced pan, butter and the whole bag of taytos. I love your blog, by the way, Aoife, and shall be haunting you for tips!

  2. Hey Joe 🙂 Cousin Alan here 😉

    I have to agree with you on the whole cabbage + boarding school thing. Is it some sort of institutional rule, I wonder? I hated cabbage with a passion until a girlfriends mother introduced me to sauteed cabbage (shredded and tossed in hot butter for as little time as possible). Heavenly. I could (and have) eaten platefuls of it on its own. Even if it had the same … atmospheric effects you mentioned.

    Love the blog, very well written, keep it up (unlike me, heh). I’ll be following your RSS feed for more of the good stuff.

    Now, I have to go home. Popped into the office to clear up some emails, and I have a chocolate cake cooling on the rack at home.

    Mmmmm. Chocolate Cake. Arrghllgllgllbl

    PS I hate you for living near the English Market. Seriously. With a passion. /grump

    1. Thanks for all the comments, Alan, and talk to you soon via email. On the English Market front, it’s brilliant and a lovely place to visit but to be honest I do most of my shopping at the Farmers’ Markets. It does help that one of them, Mahon Point, was voted best in the country by Bridgestone and Good Food Ireland (need to check the last one) but everything I need on a weekly basis is available from them – fish, meat, cheese, even fresher veg and more local than the English Mkt plus a whole load of extras such as oils, spices, condiments and other odds and ends. I do go to one butcher in the English Mkt, O’Mahoneys, for those rather more unusual offcuts eg tongue, cheek, etc etc. Is there no farmer’s mkts near you?

  3. There are few things as smelly as overcooked cabbage!

    My current cabbage favorite is based on a slaw I was introduced to by my Salvadoran employees that was served as a counter/contrast to the deliciousness known as pupusas: ( It’s merely shredded cabbage, onions, fine julienne rutabaga (instead of carrots), lime juice (instead of vinegar) and salt and pepper. Very refreshing and easy on the diet as well…

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