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I can't say that I grew up eating coleslaw, nor was it love at first sight. My earliest experience with it was when the lady behind the bullet-proof glass at the KFC on 125th street (this was back when there was bulletproof glass everywhere in Harlem) mixed up my order and gave me a cup of their slaw instead of the mashed potatoes and gravy. She didn't seem like the kind of cashier who enjoyed confrontation, so I bucked up and dug into that mayo-doused cup.

Needless to say, I stayed away from the stuff for years following that experience.

But just like my wife and I, we've learned to love each other over the years. These days, a big bowl of slaw is a summertime staple for me, and it always begins the same way: shredding cabbage.

Once you understand the fairly simple anatomy of a cabbage, shredding it is an easy task—all it requires is a sharp knife, and a willingness to perform a whole lot of repetitive motion. Just keep thinking "coleslaw coleslaw coleslaw," and you'll be through it in no time.

Shopping and Storage

At the supermarket, spherical-head cabbage comes in three main varieties.

  • Green cabbage is the cheapest and most common. It has large smooth leaves, a fairly compact head, and distinct aromas of sulfur that can turn rather pungent when cooked. This is a fine choice for slaw.
  • Red cabbage has the same smoothness and general shape as green leaf cabbage with a slightly crunchier texture and a more assertive peppery flavor. Some people like red cabbage slaw—I personally find it too crunchy, and reserve it mostly for pickling. When working with red cabbage, make sure to use stainless cookware in order to prevent the cabbage from discoloring to a disturbing dirty blue color.
  • Savoy cabbage is the most delicate in flavor of the three. It has thinner, wrinkled leaves, and a very tight and compact head. For this reason, even a small head of savoy cabbage will expand to a large volume once the leaves are slivered and separated. Its delicate, non-sulfurous flavor makes this one my favorite choice for slaw.

Whatever type of cabbage you choose, remember to always shop for cabbage by weight, not by the size of the head. Compactness can vary significantly, especially between types, so while an 8-inch head of green cabbage may yield 8 cups of shredded leaves, an 8-inch head of savoy may yield 10 cups or more.

Store cabbage in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks in a plastic bag. To prevent spoilage, wash the cabbage just before use, not before storage, and make sure to peel off and discard the outer layer of leaves before cutting.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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