This German Red Cabbage aka Rotkohl recipe turns regular run-of-the-mill cabbage into a tender, falvorful, comforting dish with the perfect balance of tang, sweet, and salty. It’s the perfect accompaniment for braised meats or roasts, but so good you’ll want to eat it with a spoon straight out of the pot.
If you’ve ever been to Germany, you’ve definitely tried or at least seen this bright red cabbage somewhere along your travels. Rotkohl is a favorite served on a cozy Sunday family dinner alongside beef rouladen.
I learned how to make this rotkohl from my good friend, Sharon, who also taught me to make beef rouladen. She has been perfecting the recipe for decades! While the ingredient list is quite simple, the technique for making this beautiful dish is what makes it so special. I was lucky enough to learn how to make the perfect German red cabbage straight from the source.
- Red cabbage – While you can use green cabbage if you have to, red cabbage is what’s traditionally used and has a deeper flavor.
- Vinegar – Use plain white vinegar.
- Bacon – Thick cut, thin cut, applewood smoked, maple; anything you like!
- Brown sugar – You can use white sugar with 1 teaspoon molasses as a substitute.
- Flour – If you need the recipe to be gluten free, use cornstarch instead.
- Salt and pepper – Add a little bit at the beginning, then season to taste once the cabbage is done.
- Onion – I used a white onion. Yellow or red will work. If you don’t want pieced of onion, you can shred it with a cheese grater.
- Apples – Use any type of apple you have handy. I used Gala apples.
How to make German Red Cabbage (Rotkohl)
- Prep the cabbage and bacon: Add the shredded cabbage, salt, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup vinegar, to a large dutch oven or pot. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the bacon and reserve 2 tsp of the the bacon fat. Drain all the liquid from the cabbage, if needed.
- Make the sauce: Add the brown sugar and flour to a frying pan with the bacon fat. Whisk well to combine, then add 1 cup water and 1/2 cup vinegar. Season with salt, pepper, then stir in the onion. Simmer for 5 minutes until the onion softens.
- Cook the cabbage: Add the prepared sauce to the large pot with the cabbage along with the apples and bacon. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook for 3-5 hours, stirring every once in a while, adding a splash of water if needed so the cabbage doesn’t dry out.
Can I add anything else?
While I think this recipe is perfect exactly how it is, you can switch it up and use some different flavors when you make it to suit your own preferences. It may not be traditional, but hey! It’s your cabbage.
- Dried fruit, like raisins or cranberries
- Different types of vinegar – Apple cider, red or white wine vinegars for example.
- Caraway seeds
How to slice the cabbage
Before slicing your cabbage, cut the head in half and remove the core by cutting diagonally on each side of the core. Use your hands to pull it out and remove.
I used a mandoline on the 1/4″ setting to slice my cabbage. I love using a mandoline because you can slice it up very fast, and every piece is even in width. However, this tool is dangerous and can cut your hand. Get yourself a steel mesh glove if you plan on using a mandoline.
You can also slice the cabbage by hand with a large and sharp chef’s knife. Cut it carefully to ensure the pieces are as even, about 1/4 thick, as possible.
How to serve
We made this cabbage with this delicious, ultra tender Beef Rouladen to create a traditional German experience. It was amazing! If you’re taking the tine to braise this cabbage all day, I highly recommend throwing on the Rouladen as well.
Looking for some more ideas? This cabbage will go with practically everything!
- Beef Rouladen
- Beef Tenderloin
- Braised Lamb Shanks
- Duck Confit with Pickled Raisins
- Slow Cooker Short Ribs
- Chicken Madeira
- Meatballs with Mushroom Sauce
- Slow Cooker Corned Beef
Store leftover rotkohl in an airtight container in the fridge up to 5 days. You can reheat them in the microwave, or on the stovetop over medium heat. Leftovers taste good cold as well! No one will judge if you grab a few bites straight from the fridge.
German red cabbage also freezes really well! It’ll last 3 months. Let it cool down full before popping it in the freezer. Thaw either in the microwave or let it thaw fully in the fridge for a day before reheating on the stove.
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German Red Cabbage
- 1 large red cabbage shredded, about 8-10 cups
- 8 slices bacon diced
- ½ cup brown sugar packed
- 4 tsp all-purpose flour all purpose
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 2 tsp salt or to taste
- ¼ tsp pepper or to taste
- 1 medium onion diced
- 2 apples diced small, I used Gala
- Add all the cabbage to a large stock pot or dutch oven with the salt, 1 cup of water, and 1/2 cup vinegar. Bring everything to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, fry the bacon. Reserve 2 tsp of the bacon fat and discard the rest. Drain any liquid off the cabbage after it's done simmering, if needed.
- In the frying pan with your reserved bacon fat over medium heat, stir in the brown sugar and flour. Add the remaining cup of water and 1/2 cup vinegar. Stir in the salt, pepper, and onion, then simmer for 5 minutes, until the onion softens.
- Pour the prepared sauce into the pot with the cabbage. Add the bacon and apples, then stir to combine. Bring everything up to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer.
- Simmer for 3-5 hours, checking frequently and stirring. Keep a mixture of 3/4 cup water and 1/4 white vinegar on hand. Add a splash of this mixture if your cabbage starts to dry out.
- Store leftover rotkohl in an airtight container in the fridge up to 5 days. You can reheat them in the microwave, or on the stovetop over medium heat. Leftovers taste good cold as well! No one will judge if you grab a few bites straight from the fridge.
- German red cabbage also freezes really well! It’ll last 3 months. Let it cool down full before popping it in the freezer. Thaw either in the microwave or let it thaw fully in the fridge for a day before reheating on the stove.