Boiled cabbage enjoys a culinary history in cultures ranging from Irish to Middle Eastern. In addition to its distinct flavor and versatile pairing potential, the glucosinolates contained in cabbage serve as powerful detoxifers and anti-cancer agents. The key to pairing this classic side dish with a meat entree or companion lies in complementing its mild flavor, which has a sweet base with a slightly bitter edge.
Red Meat Entrees
Few meats go as well with boiled cabbage as the time-tested corned beef. This flavor combination excels because the cool cabbage contrasts with the intense, salty flavor of the meat. While boiled cabbage accents nearly any type of beef, duck also serves as a lesser-used, but equally effective, pairing. The savory, rich flavor of duck works well with the moderately sweet taste of cabbage. For intensely flavored red meats, boil savoy cabbage, which lends a mellow flavor to the dish.
White Meat Entrees
Pairing cabbage with chicken makes for a light, soothing dish, but may lack intensity -- spice the meal up with another, more flavorful side to alleviate that issue. For an effective sweet and savory contrast, serve boiled cabbage with a pork entree. Boiled cabbage with butter goes particularly well with pork. When serving white meat entrees, try red boiled or napa cabbage -- also known as Chinese cabbage -- to add a peppery flavor to the meal.
More Meat Suggestions
While roasted or grilled pork make for traditional, tried-and-true cabbage pairings, cured pork intensifies the flavor of boiled cabbage, making for a nice contrast between subtle and salty. Bits of smoked bacon or pancetta, for instance, add a flavorful pop to boiled cabbage. Pan fry the bacon to add a contrasting crisp texture to this soft side dish.
Meat isn't the end of the story when it comes to complementing boiled cabbage. Australian Good Taste magazine recommends accenting cabbage with blue cheese, caraway seeds, coriander, feta cheese, garlic, mustard, olive oil, Parmesan or walnuts. Add meat stock to your boiled cabbage for additional flavor, or season it with apple cider vinegar, red wine, cayenne, cumin or juniper for a little extra kick. The classic cabbage and onions combo, used for both boiled and sauteed cabbage, is a Middle Eastern tradition that satisfyingly pits the spiciness of onions against the coolness of cabbage.
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