You will love this sweet-sour German red cabbage. Braised for a long time it is the classic pairing for your Sunday roast.
Germans certainly love their cabbage and you will find plenty on any restaurant’s menu.
I am very excited to share with you my family’s braised red cabbage recipe. In German, we simply call it “Rotkohl” which literally means red cabbage. It is one of those traditional recipes that are the perfect side dish to mains such as your Sunday roast, Rouladen, roast goose, or your favorite meat. German comfort food at its best!
Unfortunately, many Germans these days buy red cabbage already made and in a jar. In my humble opinion, the taste cannot compete at all. Especially since this classic German side dish is really easy to make!
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Why you’ll love this German red cabbage recipe
There is a reason that this authentic German red cabbage is so popular!
It combines the sweetness of the cabbage and apples with the lightly sour flavor of vinegar into one delicious dish. While you can enjoy this simple side dish all year round, I find it particularly good during the fall and winter months.
Also, this recipe is very flexible depending on what ingredients you have on hand or how you would like to season it.
Here are the main ingredients for the braised cabbage:
- Red cabbage: obviously this is the star here and you need a full head of cabbage
- Onions: they always give some body to the recipe
- Apples: tart apples work best but I would say use any apple you have or can find
- Red wine vinegar: I prefer using balsamic vinegar to give this humble red cabbage its sweet-sour flavor
- Goose fat: while not strictly necessary, I find that it gives this dish its characteristic flavor and sheen (scroll down for alternatives)
- Spices: bay leaf, cloves, sugar, and salt
- Red currant jelly: this is a very traditional ingredient but completely optional as it is a little bit hard to come by here in the United States
Useful tools and equipment
Given that people have been making this traditional recipe for generations, you will not need much. However, here’s what I like to use:
- Large pot: I like using my large Dutch oven but any big pot will work
- Sharp knife: there will be some cutting so I always love using my old-fashioned carbon steel paring knife but these everyday knives will do or
- Mandoline: a mandoline will make shredding your cabbage go very fast
How to make this dish
- Peel and cut the onion into small dice.
- In a large pot over medium heat, melt the goose fat. Add the onions and cook while stirring until translucent.
- In the meantime, take off the outer leaves of the raw cabbage and discard them. Cut the head of cabbage into quarters and cut out the core at an angle. Cut the cabbage into very fine strips. You can also use a mandoline for that.
- Gradually add the cabbage to the onions and saute for a few minutes.
- Peel and cut the apple into small pieces. Add them to the cabbage.
- Add the remaining ingredients: the cloves, the bay leaf, some water, and the vinegar.
- Turn the heat to low, cover the pot with a lid, and simmer the cabbage for a long time. Be sure to occasionally check the cabbage so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. I often braise my cabbage for up to 2 hours.
- The cabbage is done when it is soft and everything has a uniform color. You can now taste the braised cabbage and season it with more sugar, salt, and/or vinegar. You can also add some ground black pepper.
- Serve now but I find that it tastes even better the next day.
Substitutions and variations
Here are some ideas for variations and substitutions for this recipe:
- Goose fat: unless you roast a goose and keep the fat, this can be hard to come by. Alternatively, you can use tallow, lard, or any other cooking oil
- Vinegar: I really like using balsamic vinegar, especially if I can’t find red currant jelly. However, you can use any red wine vinegar, white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar.
- Apples: tart apples work best here such as a green apple like Granny Smith or Braeburn or Pink Lady. You can even use apple juice; just decrease the amount of water then.
- Sugar: I usually only add a little bit of sugar so it doesn’t matter so much what kind of sugar you use. You can always use white or brown sugar or even maple syrup.
- Red wine: many Germans like to add some red wine to this cabbage recipe
- Spices: I like using whole cloves but you can use ground cloves. Some people like to add juniper berries which is a great way to add extra flavor. Feel free to omit the bay leaves if you don’t have them or don’t like them.
How to serve
Here are some of my favorite ways to serve this delicious German red cabbage:
- with any roast of your liking such as pork roast, roast goose, or braised meat such as Rouladen
- the traditional pairing is potato dumplings but you can serve any cooked potato, “Spätzle” (tiny German dumplings), pasta, or rice with it
Make ahead of time?
I always like to make a big batch of this Rotkohl recipe and then have some leftovers. Braised red cabbage keeps surprisingly well (if you don’t eat it all before) and I always find it gets better the longer it sits.
You can keep them in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to 5 days. Alternatively, you can freeze your braised red cabbage. Again, store it in an airtight container and keep it in the freezer for up to 6 months.
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Let me know if you have any questions or comments!
Classic German Braised Red Cabbage
- 1 head red cabbage (about 2 pounds)
- 1 medium onion
- 1 large tart apple
- 1 ½ TBSP goose fat
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 whole cloves
- 2 TBSP vinegar (balsamic or red wine)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ cup water
- Peel and dice the onion
- Over medium heat, melt the goose fat in a large pot.
- Add the onions and saute them until translucent.
- In the meantime, remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and discard. Cut the cabbage into quarters and cut out the core at an angle. Cut the cabbage into fine strips.
- Gradually add the cabbage to the onions.
- Peel and cut the apple into small pieces.
- Add the apple, bay leaf, cloves, vinegar, sugar, salt, and water to the cabbage.
- Stir well. Cover the pot with a lid and turn the heat to low. Simmer the cabbage until soft, up to 2 hours. Check occasionally so that the bottom doesn't burn.
- Season to taste with more salt, sugar, and/or vinegar.
- if you can’t find goose fat, you can use lard, tallow, or any other cooking oil
- instead of red wine vinegar, you can use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- I prefer using tart apples for this dish but you can even use apple juice (decrease the amount of water a bit then)