Mon petit chou

My, my, has a week already gone by?

Things have been busy here.  There was packing, moving, cleaning, working, and farewell forties of rye. A bit of cooking too, thank goodness.

Last week I said we’d talk about cabbage and I think today is the day! It is a little dreary outside and rather cold in my new abode. Cabbage weather.

Two years ago I realized I had a passion for cabbage. It must have started when I discovered the power of the braise. I could create a tangle of braised red cabbage (heady with caraway, hiding pockets of sweet apple) that I would eat hot, warm or even cold. If I was patient, a rich braised green cabbage, so tender it simply fell apart, was mine for the eating. I had no idea vegetables could be like that. I was smitten.

Later, my friend Patrick and I were talking cabbage and he showed me his dog-eared James Barber cookbook. Those of you who grew up in Canada, say twenty years ago, will remember him as The Urban Peasant. He pottered about on his TV show and wrote about good food. You know, the stuff that isn’t complicated or expensive or even looks very good, for that matter, but tastes delicious.

The cookbook was filled with chapters like “The Forgotten Art of Generous Cooking” and “Immodest but Honest Eating”, each with rambling anecdotes that encouraged improvisation and admonished rules. One such chapter was called “Cabbage – The Closet Vegetable”. It was a delight to read. Did you know that in France “the nicest thing you can call your best beloved is mon petit chou (my little cabbage)”? Smitten again.

Barber explained that the simplest cabbage dish he knew contained a mere three ingredients but was good enough to serve to company. I was intrigued. When he mentioned he also “enjoyed a slab of it cold after getting home at three in the morning” I was sold. I made it for myself, dividing the recipe by six (oh, lost art of generous cooking!), in my smallest pot and with the best sausage I could find. The cabbage and sausage slowly melded together to produce something much, much greater than the sum of its parts. It smelled wonderful and it was so easy. Three ingredients! I had it with a cold beer and later (and this is the best of it) a wedge cold, straight from the fridge. What more can you ask for? I know it ain't pretty but it's delicious.

Cabbage and Pork Sausage
From James Barber

This is an expression of cabbage at its finest. Rustic, simple peasant food of the tastiest order. Mr. Barber puts it best so what follows are his faithful instructions. Hear, hear! 

1 four-pound cabbage (it can be a firm green one, a crinkly-leafed savoy or even a Chinese cabage (choy sam))
1 ½ lbs of the very best pork sausage you can buy (the sausage must be real sausage from a butcher and most certainly not anything of the prebrowned, reheat-and-serve variety)
A lump of butter about as big as an egg
Salt and pepper

Slit the sausages, giving the skins to the cat, and crumble the meat. Slice the cabbage crosswise and drop it into boiling, salted water for exactly three minutes. Run it under cold water to stop the cooking process, drain it well and remove the hard centre core. Butter a pot and layer about one-third of the cabbage over the bottom. Salt lightly and pepper generously. Place about half of the crumbled sausage meat over the cabbage, cover it with another third of the cabbage, salt and pepper it again, add the rest of the sausage meat and finish with the remainder of the cabbage and a little more salt and pepper. Dot with butter, cover tightly and either bake at 350 F or simmer very gently on top of the stove for three hours. Chinese cabbage will take about two hours and savoy about two and a half.

Cut into wedges and serve, preferably on a cold winter’s night, with beer or cheap Hungarian red wine – cheap enough to stain your teeth.

Serves 4-6.


  1. I love James Barber. And this dish is indeed delicious. Thank you for posting it!

  2. Excellent recipie. Potluck dinner gold. People still talk about it five years later. Don't skimp on the pepper.

  3. You've made an error here. this is a recipe I've made yearly since he first published it and his recipe includes a layer (or 2) of potatoes. This is an important component and truly makes the recipe. Peel and slice in 1/3" rounds 2 big russetts that you layer along with the cabbage and sausage meat. Oh, and his pepper was white pepper, not black.

  4. I followed the recipe Barber gave in his "The Urban Peasant" cookbook, which gave no mention of potatoes nor specified the type of pepper to be used. I should like to try adding potatoes next time I make this though. It sounds like it would quite tasty!

  5. I've never made this with potatoes, and I have several of his cookbooks. Interesting! I shall try it tonight!

  6. I'm going with NO to the potatoes. Doesn't need it, perfect on it's own, the only variation I've done is to pour a few ounces of beer in there while it's cooking. Nice!