German cabbage rolls are traditional comfort food. In the Northern parts of Germany, they are often called Kohlrouladen. But in the Southern accent, it’s really uncommon to use the word ‘Kohl’ for cabbage. For me, cabbage will always be called ‘Kraut’ thus the Southern name of this dish “Krautwickel”.
It’s very simple to prepare cabbage rolls. You don’t even need to use toothpicks or kitchen twine for my recipe. If you blanch the cabbage properly before wrapping and then squeeze it together tightly around the filling it will hold its shape just fine.
The filling is made of minced meat that I mix with mushrooms and a soaked bread roll. It’s always important to add a few filler ingredients to meat stuffings so they will be tender and juicy instead of dry and tough.
I like to add a few drops of Maggi seasoning sauce to my filling. However, it’s up to you if you like to use it or not. This is more of an old school recipe so that I think a little Maggi is appropriate. In contemporary German cuisine, the Maggi seasoning sauce has lost a lot of its former popularity but I think it still adds a nice depth of flavor to a lot of dishes.
How to braise your cabbage rolls
You should sear the cabbage rolls before braising because a light sear will give you a better flavor. The sauce is also going to profit from the fond at the bottom of the pan after searing. I like to braise my cabbage rolls in the oven. That way they cook very evenly and form a nice crust on top.
Once the cabbage rolls come out of the oven, the only thing left to do is to cook the sauce. You could serve them directly in the braising liquid. However, I like to thicken it with a roux to make it thicker. Just make sure to let the sauce simmer for at least 10 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. You can keep the cabbage rolls hot in the oven. The residual heat will be enough to keep them warm.
These cabbage rolls are usually served with some potatoes or noodles on the side. They can easily be reheated in the sauce in case you have any leftovers.
For the cabbage rolls:
- 1 head white cabbage
- 1 tablespoon clarified butter
- 4.5 ounces (125 g) button mushrooms, finely chopped
- 12.5 ounces (350 g) minced meat (50 % pork / 50 % beef)
- 1 white bread roll, cut into small cubes
- 1/4 cup finely chopped curly parsley
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- a few drops of Maggi seasoning sauce, to taste
- black pepper, to taste
- salt, to taste
For braising the cabbage rolls:
- 2 tablespoons clarified butter
- 1 cup beef broth
For the sauce:
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- braising liquid (+ extra beef broth if you want to make more gravy)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- red wine vinegar, to taste
- salt, to taste
Prepare the cabbage rolls:
- Preheat your oven to 430 °F (220 °C).
- Heat a large pot of salted water until boiling. Remove the stalk from the cabbage and blanch the whole head for about 1 minute. Pull away the outer layer of leaves. Once it gets too tough to separate them without breaking, return the cabbage into the boiling water for another minute. This recipe makes about 7 cabbage rolls so that you will need 14 cabbage leaves for wrapping.
- Heat the clarified butter in a nonstick saute pan over medium-high heat and add the chopped mushrooms. Saute them until all the moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to brown. Set them aside.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the minced meat, bread roll cubes, mushrooms, parsley, mustard, milk, and sugar. Mix well and season to taste with a few drops of Maggi, black pepper, and salt.
- Take about 3-4 tablespoons of your filling and wrap inside a cabbage leaf. Take a second leaf to wrap around the first one. Squeeze the cabbage roll tightly by wrapping it inside a kitchen towel so that it will hold together by itself. Place the cabbage roll seam-side down on your counter and proceed to assemble cabbage rolls until all the filling is used up.
Braise your cabbage rolls:
- In a large saute pan, heat the clarified butter over medium heat. Add the cabbage rolls, seam side down, into your hot pan. Sear for 3-4 minutes on the seam side. Add the beef broth and place the pan on the middle rack of your preheated oven. Leave the cabbage rolls to braise for about 45 minutes or until cooked through and lightly browned on top. Reserve the braising liquid for the gravy. Turn off the oven and place the cabbage rolls back inside to keep them warm while you prepare the gravy.
Prepare the gravy:
- Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and whisk continuously. Cook the butter-flour-mixture (‘roux’) until it turns brown but is not burnt for about 5-10 minutes. Add the braising liquid from your cabbage rolls bit by bit while stirring constantly to prevent your sauce from turning lumpy. If you want more gravy, simply add some extra beef broth (you might also want to add more butter and flour to thicken the gravy then). Let the gravy simmer on the lowest possible heat for at least 10-15 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Once finished, season the gravy with soy sauce, vinegar, and salt to taste.
- Serve the cabbage rolls together with the gravy. They go great with potatoes on the side.
Interestingly, mother and grandmother (both Donauschwaben) and my dad’s family (from Ostpreussen) all braised the rolls In the oven on a bed of half sauerkraut and half shredded cabbage (the cabbage to soften the sauerkraut’s acidity). To serve, we mixed boiled potatoes into that flavourful kraut.
In recent years, we always used the trick of freezing the whole head of cabbage. When it thawed, the leaves peel off without tearing, and you can skip the blanching step.
And yes, of course it is “Kraut” ….. Kohlrouladen – pah!
Yes. There are so many ways to prepare cabbage rolls. I think your method is perfect for using up the inner core of the cabbage.
Freezing the cabbage is a very neat trick. I’ve never frozen cabbage before because it lasts so long in the fridge without going bad. I maybe have to try that the next time. Thanks for the hint!
My grandma is from Ostpreußen too although she never cooked cabbage rolls that much. What she likes a lot are potato pancakes with apple sauce, boiled meat balls (Königsberger Klopse), boiled beef tongue, and goose with red cabbage.
Is meat and mushrooms filling traditional in German stuffed cabbage? In Ukraine it’s meat and rice.
Meat and soaked bread rolls is the most common filling. Rice is also sometimes used, as well as mushrooms. I try to vary the recipes on this blog a little to show different approaches. My recipe for stuffed peppers includes a rice filling that would also be suitable for cabbage rolls.