Rødkål is a sweet and sour braised red cabbage. A side dish that is a necessity for many Norwegians when it comes to the Christmas Eve meal. Tradition dictates its presence and it is most often paired with ribbe (pork ribs with a layer of crispy fat) and potatoes.
Cabbage has been an integral part of the Norwegian livelihood for centuries, as well as Scandinavia and the rest of the world. As cabbage can be stored throughout the winter, it makes an appropriate ingredient during the colder months. It is also extremely healthy and in some cultures, a sign of luck and prosperity.
The history of rødkål becoming a part of the Norwegian Christmas table is a little unclear. It is quite possible that it was borrowed from the Danish tradition.
Sweet and sour red cabbage is the youngest dish on the Danish Christmas table and was first noted in a cookbook from 1902 by Fru Constanins Husholdnings. Before then, during the 1800s, it was usual to serve only a sour cabbage (minus the sugar and fruits) with vinegar, cumin, and salt. The introduction of sour, red cabbage as a Christmas dish in the 1800s is said to have been a result of a period of high nationalism in Denmark. Green cabbage was replaced with red cabbage and placed alongside white potatoes on the plate. This was an intentional way to represent the national colors of red and white. (Source)
Following the availability of sugar, rødkål evolved from a sour dish to a sweet and sour dish. Red cabbage tends to be slightly more bitter than green cabbage, therefore, the addition of sugar and/or apples is quite necessary to balance the taste.
Today, recipes for rødkål contain a variety of ingredients from apples, raisins, prunes, and fruit juices to brown sugar, red wine, pork fat and spices. It is one of those dishes where you must continue to taste and adjust to your liking. It is also one of those dishes that is so simple, you can quickly prepare it and get on with other things while it simmers away on the stove. Pair it with a variety of meats, including wild game, and potatoes and root vegetables. There is a reason this tradition has stayed around for so long.
Rødkål (Sweet and Sour Braised Red Cabbage)
- 1 head of red cabbage (1 kg)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (100 ml) blackcurrant juice concentrate (solbærsaft)*
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (100 ml) apple juice
- ½ dl (3 tablespoons) apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut the cabbage in half, removing the core. Chop both of the halves of the cabbage finely. You can also chop the cabbage, bit by bit, in a food processor.
Place the butter in a large pot and melt over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage and stir. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a small boil. Lower the heat and place a lid on the pot.
Allow the cabbage to slowly simmer for 2-3 hours with the lid on, stirring once and awhile. Check the flavor toward the end of the cooking process and feel free to add more vinegar or more honey or juice to your liking.
When the cabbage has softened, take off the lid and turn the heat up bringing the cabbage to a boil again. Stir frequently and, after a couple of minutes, all of the juices should evaporate and form a slight glaze on the cabbage. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
Rødkål tends to deepen in flavor the longer it sits and is even better the next day. You can refrigerate for a couple of days.
*If you don’t have access to blackcurrant cordial, use red wine instead and add a little more honey.