Complete Christmas dinner menu
How to cook red cabbage
By Liz Ransome-Croker
Article 2 of 7
Read our advice and tips from well-known chefs on cooking red cabbage for your Christmas dinner.
Ruby red cabbage can be a flavoursome addition to your Christmas Day meal and adds a touch of vibrant purple to your dinner plate. Done right, your guests will forget it’s a healthy vegetable and simply enjoy its rich taste.
In this article
- Red cabbage: top cooking tips
- Braised red cabbage recipe
- Pickled red cabbage recipe
- Boiled red cabbage recipe
- Why you need to add vinegar when cooking red cabbage
- More red cabbage recipes
- How long will cabbage keep in the fridge or freezer?
Red cabbage is in season from November to December, making it ideal as a winter staple. When buying, look for ones that have bright and crisp or firm leaves, and that feel solid and a little heavy.
Avoid any that have the outer leaves taken off, as this tends to only be done when a red cabbage is starting to go past its best. You can cook red cabbage in a number of ways, but the most common for your Christmas dinner is to braise it.
To prepare red cabbage, first remove any discoloured leaves, then cut it into quarters – down the length of it, not around it. Cutting it this way will make it easier to remove the stalk. You can then shred into smallish pieces by hand or using a food processor.
If you’re looking to take the back-breaking work out of prepping it for Christmas dinner, then use our reviews to find the best food processor for you.
Braising red cabbage essentially involves cooking it with other flavours, such as apple, onions, sugar and/or spices, for at least an hour. Scroll down the page for details of Delia Smith’s traditional red cabbage recipe and Jamie Oliver's twist with bacon.
We’ve also seen recipes that suggest adding cranberry sauce, star anise, juniper berries, prunes, cinnamon sticks and even chillies, soy and ginger for a Chinese take on the dish. But it, in part, depends what meat or vegetarian option you're going to have it with.
A few recipes say that you only need to cook the cabbage for around 40 minutes. The longer you cook it for though, the more the flavours will marry with it and the softer it will be.
Pickling cabbage involves combining it with salt, and often a mix of other flavours – such as onions or chilli – and leaving it to infuse for a few hours or overnight.
The mix is then simmered for around 10 to 15 minutes, usually with the addition of vinegar and other spices and/or sugar.
Once done, the cabbage needs to be rinsed and dried with kitchen towel before being stored in sealed jars.
This is not the type of red cabbage you want to be serving with your Christmas dinner, but is a great accompaniment if you've cooked a gammon joint.
Boiling cabbage involves cutting it into four or six chunks – again, cutting down the cabbage rather than across – and boiling it in water for around five to 10 minutes.
However you cook red cabbage, using a little vinegar will help to preserve the colour of it and stop it turning blue – not as tempting when served for Christmas dinner.
For braising, you can use a variety of different vinegar types – wine, balsamic, cider – it depends on what else you’re adding to it. For Jamie's recipe, which includes bacon, he’s suggested using balsamic, while Delia’s traditional recipe uses wine vinegar.
Delia’s recipe for braising red cabbage with apples, onions and spices is one she says she’s used for a number of years. It can be made a couple of days before Christmas and then gently reheated on the day.
If you’re after a traditional red cabbage recipe, Delia's combines all the lovely smells of Christmas, such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
Our car’s editor, Lisa Barber, cooks it every year: ‘I love this recipe - I cook it on Christmas Eve and our house instantly smells of Christmas. It reheats really well, so it’s one less job to do on the big day. I like it cold, too, so we have it again on Boxing Day with the leftovers. The kids love it.’
Keep in mind that you'll need to cook this in the oven (150C/300F/gas mark 2) for around two to two-and-a-half hours, stirring once or twice during the time, so if you’re leaving it until Christmas Day, make sure you leave enough time. See Delia's red cabbage recipe
Keep in mind that if you’re cooking for long periods of time, you’ll want an oven that stays at a constant temperature. We’ve found ovens that can overheat by as much as 30C. A Best Buy built-in oven on the other hand will stay very close to the set temperature.
Delia says this red cabbage is paired best with pork, goose or venison on Christmas day, or with bangers and mash if you have any leftover a few days after.
Jamie’s recipe is a little less traditional and includes bacon and fennel seeds to the apples and onions. In Jamie’s own words, the combination of these flavours means this dish is an ‘absolute winner’.
If you're cooking lots on your hob, you might want to consider a Best Buy hob – they’re easy to control and adjust, a world away from some hobs that we've found a pain to keep to the right temperature.
If it’s uncooked, red cabbage should last in a cool, dark place for around seven to 10 days. Once braised, it should last a few days in the fridge – so cooking it on Christmas Eve and still enjoying it on Boxing Day should be fine.
If it’s been pickled, it can last for up to three months, as long as you keep it in a cool, dark place, with the lid sealed. Once you open it, it will last around two weeks in the fridge.
You can also freeze cooked red cabbage, and it will last for around three months. However, with all of these, you will need to consider what it has been cooked with.
For example, if you’re using Jamie’s recipe and adding meat, you'll need to refer to the instructions on the meat packaging to check how long it will be usable for once cooked.
The fridge freezer you choose could make all the difference to how well your food is preserved. The quicker it’s cooled, the more nutrients will be retained and the longer it will last. But we’ve found fridge freezers that take a long time to properly chill your food and won't remain at a consistent temperature.