Sunday, December 19, 2010

Stuffed cabbage, but not from grandma

My grandmother lived in an apartment across the street from my high school. It was a great pleasure for me to slip off campus now and then to meet her for lunch. I have a particularly strong memory of her calling one night to invite me to join her the next day for stuffed cabbage, one of my all-time favorite comfort foods.

I instantly said yes; not only because I adored her, but also I was astounded that this woman -- who rarely cooked anything that required more than a toaster oven or a single pot -- was willing to go to such effort to please me. The only recipe I knew she relied upon was one I still view as an ideal  party snack: equal parts dry-roasted peanuts, chocolate chips and golden raisins, served in a classic Stangl bowl that is now mine.

I never said a word when, after she served the already-plated dish, and I praised and devoured every last bite, I noticed the tell-tale Stouffer's box in her trash can.

I've always wanted to make stuffed cabbage myself, but I imaged it to be one of those highly complicated affairs best left to employees of Jewish delis, or perhaps Mrs. Stouffer. But now that I've seen how easy it is, I'm disappointed that I denied myself this pleasure for so long.

Chef Ricky Moore, a North Carolina native who honed his skills in kitchens around the world and once battled Michael Symon on Iron Chef,  last week lead the first in a promising series of classes at Bickett Market, a rustic little shop in Five Points that sells seasonal produce and a variety of artisan foodstuffs. It's a natural progression for owner Jason Stegall, a proponent of all things local and good.

Moore's recipe -- unfortunately, scaled for the group class and not the home cook -- was simple and flavorful. The cabbage bundles were braised in an almost translucent and tangy tomato au jus and served atop a creamy blob of smoked grits. I don't mind admitting that I had seconds.

The grits contained the fun culinary trick of the evening. Moore guaranteed success if cooked in a ratio of one part grits to four parts liquid -- in this case, one cup of Carolina Grits & Co. stone-ground grits to 2 cups water and 2 cups of 2% milk. I was surprised to see his assistant quickly dump the grits into the mix. The last time I tried that it turned into one great gluey grit.

Moore explained that, if added while the liquids are at a rolling boil, the grits will join the party and stay reasonably separate. It took a fair amount of stirring, and a little more water was added to ensure creamy results, but they came out as perfect as promised.

The fun twist of the recipe was the smoked part, which came from smoked, whole heads of garlic. Moore said he smoked them indoors in a jerry-rigged contraption made from a cast iron skillet and a lot of singed foil, but I suspect it would be easier (and more smoke-alarm friendly) to try his alternate method of smoking them outdoors on a grill. Either way, plan on 15-20 minutes on the heat, then another 15-20 minutes off heat but still snugly cocooned in foil. When squeezed, the smoked cloves oozed forth like browned butter, just as if they had been slow-roasted more traditionally in the oven.

There are a few kinks to be worked out in the Bickett Market cooking series -- a modest overhead video set-up, designed to slide from work station to cooktop -- was tempermental, making it difficult to observe technique for more than a few minutes at a time. But those attending were more amused by the fickle camera than annoyed, and Moore was gracious about demonstrating steps and making sure all questions were answered.

This debut class was informative and fun, the dish was delicious and I'm confident I can recreate it. Additionally, the foodies I dined with were great company, and the upcoming roster is full of tempting classes. To borrow a phrase, how bad is that?


  1. You had me at grits and smoked garlic. Sounds like a fun class! I'm going to go check out the website.

  2. It's a very low-key setting, even BYOB. I really enjoyed it.

  3. Love the Southern spin on stuffed cabbage!

  4. That sounds like a great party dish and the picture looks lovely! Nice work. :)

  5. Cabbage rolls are one of my favourite dishes from my childhood. And the ones I ate were always bought from the good Jewish deli! Thanks for the great story and post.

  6. Goodness, what a fabulous meal! I usually forget to slowly pour in the grits and have never had a problem, (must be lucky). And your grandmother is precious!

  7. Adding the smokiness sounds like a great idea. I suspect I'd get in trouble with my landlord if I tried it in my apartment, but I will have to remember that for the next time I have access to outdoor cooking space.