I love bacon and cabbage so much. I had never tried it until I started seriously considering doing the course at Ballymaloe and went down to drop in on a class and have lunch. It was on the menu that day and as soon as I took the first bite I was like DEAR GOD WHERE HAS THIS BEEN ALL MY LIFE.
When I tell people one of my favourite dishes is bacon and cabbage they think it sounds so gross. Really salty meat with overcooked lifeless veg is how it’s usually made. But any dish that’s not made with love and care is not gonna taste good.
Bacon and Cabbage really means a lot to me. I made this for a special in work recently. I had originally planned on doing a molé, inspired by the amazing stews I had in Mexico. But when I thought about ordering in those obscure ingredients when I had gorgeous McNally’s cabbage and parsley grown mere miles from my kitchen I was like hang on, who am I? Did Darina Allen teach me anything??? Mexican food is great and all, but so is Irish food. Let’s not forget that.
This is a modernised version of the dish. Here are some pics of original recipes from Theodora Fitzgibbon’s Irish Traditional Food. Mine is quite different but I just love what she has to say about it.
I used two kinds of cabbage. First I chargrilled a head of white cabbage on the grill and got it nice and black before slicing it finely. I love the taste of burn. Then I sautéed it with cavolo nero in butter and apple cider vinegar for a nice rich, tangy flavour.
Also, I didn’t even technically use bacon. I used ham hocks instead for something a little bit meatier.
The parsley sauce is key. It’s that little something extra that just gives it that fuck yeah factor. Don’t skip it.
2 ham hocks
1 large Spanish onion
1 bottle dry cider
1 tbsp mustard
4 cloves garlic
salt – 2% of the weight of the ham
2 tbsp olive oil, for frying
1 head white cabbage, cut into eighths
500g cavolo nero, stripped off the stalks and roughly chopped
Apple Cider Vinegar to taste
Butter for frying
Parsley Sauce :
ham stock – strained from cooking
400ml full fat milk
50g parsley, finely chopped
Mashed potatoes to serve ( I won’t provide a recipe here)
Start with the meat. Rub the salt and pepper all over the ham. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven and quickly fry off the hocks. You just want to seal the meat and quickly caramelise the outside, don’t worry about cooking it all the way through. Add the other ingredients and enough water so that the meat is submerged by 2 inches. Cook over a medium – low heat for about 3 hours. Don’t let the liquid come to the boil or it will toughen the meat.
When the meat has cooked remove the ham hocks from the liquid and set aside to cool for a few minutes before shredding the meat off the bone. Strain the cooking liquid. Leave two thirds of it to pour over the shredded ham to keep it juicy. Use the rest to make your parsley sauce.
Make a roux. Melt the butter in a medium sized sauce pan, then add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes. Slowly add the reserved ham stock bit by bit, followed by the milk, whisking all the time to remove lumps. The ham stock can be very salty, so be sure to taste during this process. You can replace some of it with water if you need to. Add the chopped parsley right before serving to keep its bright green colour.
Cabbage time. Brush the wedges of white cabbage with olive oil and chargrill in a cast iron pan over a high heat until black. You can skip this step if you want but I really think it’s worth it. Finely slice the blackened white cabbage, then fry off in butter with the cavolo nero. Season with apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper.
To serve, put a bed of mashed potatoes in a big bowl, top with cabbage and plenty of its buttery cooking juices, ham, parsley sauce and garnish with more parsley.