Red Cabbage – Rotkohl-Style

My grandmother on my mother’s side was German, and my great grandmother was really German, Bavarian royalty somewhere in the lineage. I think that may explain why we served the sweet and sour red cabbage dish known as Rotkohl with our Thanksgiving turkey. I have taken up the tradition and modified it a bit over time.


The Winter Farmers Market in Milwaukee provided an opportunity to pick-up a couple key ingredients. The red cabbage and onions came from Pinehold Farms and the bacon and a beautiful smoked pork shank were products of Lotfotl Farms (the name stands for Live off the Fat of the Land).

Smoked pork shank

Here is our current version:

Red Cabbage – Rotkohl Style

1 smoked pork shank (See alternative below)
½ cup bacon lard (from ½ lb of bacon, reserved for other use)
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
2 cups bacon “broth”
2 cups water
½ cup dry Rosé wine

2 cloves garlic
12 black peppercorns
1 tsp. coriander seed
4 cloves
2 bay leaves

1 head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 large apple, cored and grated
2 tbs. cider vinegar (or craft beer vinegar)
2 tsp. brown sugar

2 tbs. corn starch
1/4 cup cider vinegar (or craft beer vinegar)
1/4 cup brown sugar, or to taste

We are using bacon lard and bacon “broth” generated by using our oven roasted bacon technique detailed here. Our bacon was used for BLTs the night before.

[Alternative approach: If you cannot or choose not to obtain a smoked pork shank, a half pound of bacon can be diced, and rendered in the pan at the time the shank is added in the recipe below. Omit lard and add 2 cups chicken broth for bacon “broth”.]

Carefully removed the rind of the smoked pork shank in the largest pieces possible, and discard pieces smaller than 2 inches in size. Carve meat off the shank and dice. In a large stock pot over medium high heat, place the bacon lard, shank bone, skin pieces, shank meat. Allow to brown for 2 minutes, but do not burn. Add onions and sprinkle with salt. Reduce heat to medium and caramelize and soften onions, about 10 minutes. Add a dash of water if they begin to burn before softening. When caramelized, add bacon “broth”, water, and wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer for 1 hour.

While pot comes to a boil, prepare spice packet by placing next 5 ingredients into a pouch made from cheese cloth and tied closed (or use my preferred method, unbleached tea bags). Place spice packet into broth just for the last 30 minutes of simmering and then remove. Remove the bone and large skin pieces and cut off any loose meat from the bone and return diced meat to the pot. Taste broth for flavor, and add salt if needed. It should be as salty as a homemade chicken broth.

Return pot to a low boil and add grated apple, cabbage, vinegar and sugar. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes, until softened but retaining some crispness. You will have to determine the level of texture you prefer, but this should not be overly soft at this stage. Remove from heat and place into a large, non-reactive container for storage overnight.

The next day, drain cabbage, retaining 1 cup of liquid. Mix corn starch with liquid.Bring vinegar and sugar to a low boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add liquid to vinegar mixture and bring to a boil to thicken. Add cabbage and heat through. Adjust flavors with vinegar, sugar, or salt as needed. The resultant dish should have a meaty, smoky flavor with a sweet/sour finish. Serve with rich beef dishes, alongside game meats, or as my family does, alongside the Thanksgiving turkey.



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