German Red Cabbage, known as Rotkohl, is a common German side dish. There’s a good chance if you go to a German restaurant this will be one of the side dishes you get with your meal, along with a potato dish (maybe Kartoffelsalat "potato salad" or Schupfnudeln "potato noodles").

Rotkohl is a German staple and a nutritious side, with a great sweet and sour from the apples, cabbage, vinegar and spices.

This is a dish that dates back centuries, likely developed between the 16th and 17th centuries. This recipe is a great way of getting more cabbage into your diet, which is high in vitamin C and K, fibre and antioxidants.

It’s a popular side dish and is often served during festive occasions and holidays.

What is Rotkohl?

Rotkohl literally means "Red cabbage" in German. It’s a braised cabbage dish, consisting of red cabbage, apples, onion, vinegar, sugar, spices and a little fat. It has a sweet and sour taste, and the cabbage is cut into strands which is cooked until tender, but retaining a slight bite – it shouldn’t be mushy or soft.

Rotkohl Ingredients

  • Fat is used to start the sauté process with the apple and onion. You can use oil, butter or goose or duck fat, or a mixture.
  • Apples contribute some sweetness to the dish.
  • Onion gives savoury notes.
  • Red Cabbage is the hero of this dish.
  • Braising liquid – you can use stock or apple juice depending if you would like a sweeter or savoury result. You can also just use water and let the natural flavours sing.
  • Red currant jam complements the flavours of Rotkohl nicely due to its tartness and sweetness, which pairs well with the slightly sour and sweet taste of the dish. Substitute with something that is sweet and sour, like cranberry sauce or blackberry jam if you need to.
  • Vinegarcider or red wine brings a tartness to the dish.
  • Spices contribute to the dishes flavour, and I use cloves, juniper berries and bay leaves.
  • Seasonings of salt, pepper and sugar.

How to make Rotkohl

  1. Start by adding the oil or fat to a sauce pan and heat over medium high until shimmering.
  2. Add the onion and apple and sautee.
  3. When the onion and apples are just starting to brown, add the cabbage, jam, spices and seasonings, stock and vinegar.
  4. Bring to the boil and reduce to a gentle simmer with the lid on. It will take about 40 minutes to cook, you want the cabbage to be soft but with a little bite. It shouldn’t be mushy or soft.
  5. During cooking, check it every 5 minutes or so and give it a stir. If more liquid is needed, add a little water.

When is Rotkohl cooked?

You want a texture on the cabbage which has a little chew to it, but isn’t firm. You also don’t want the cabbage to be soft or mushy – that’s overcooked. There should only be a little liquid left, it’s not meant to be a soup. If the cabbage is starting to get done and there’s a lot of liquid left, remove the lid and allow the liquid to evaporate.

Can you freeze Rotkohl?

Rotkohl freezes well. Allow the cooked Rotkohl to cool to room temperature before portioning into meal sizes serves in freezer bags or airtight containers. Place in the freezer where it will last well for at least 3 months. To reheat, you can microwave or heat in a pan over a medium low heat.

The cabbage will become a little softer when reheated but the flavours will remain.

I can’t find Redcurrant Jam… what can I use?

I can relate, I had this problem as well. I ended up finding some at my local market – Salamanca. Redcurrant is the traditional jam used, as it adds a fruity and slightly acidic note to the Rotkohl.

Some alternatives which should be easier to source include:

  • Cranberry sauce
  • Ligonberry jam
  • Blackcurrant jam
  • Blackberry jam

What to do with leftovers?

You can freeze leftovers (instructions above) or it will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days assuming you used fresh ingredients when making it.

What to serve with Rotkohl?

You could try Rotkohl with these German mains:

  • German style sausages
  • Pork knuckle "Schweinshaxe"
  • "Sauerbrauten", sour German roast beef
  • "Rouladen", rolled beef with onion and pickles

German Braised Cabbage "Rotkohl"

5 from 1 votes
Prep Cook Total
5 mins 45 mins 50 mins
Serves 8
Rotkohl is a braised German cabbage side dish. Made with apples, onions, jam and spices, it's a perfect side dish for a roast dinner, or to serve as a side for German food.
  • 2 tbsp of butter or oil, duck fat, goose fat, etc, see note 1
  • 2 apples, peeled and cored, cut into large dice use whichever variety you prefer, see note 2
  • 1 medium onion, cut into large dice
  • 800g red cabbage, sliced thick outer leaves and stem removed, see note 3
  • 1 cup of stock, cider or apple juice see note 4
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar preferably use cider vinegar, or sub with red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp red currant jam can be hard to find, see note 5
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 1 large bay leaf or 2 small
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
Steps
  1. Add the fat of your choice to a large pot or Dutch oven with a lid and heat over medium high heat.
  2. Add the onion and apple. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown.
  3. Add the cabbage, stock/cider/apple juice, vinegar, jam, cloves, juniper berries, bay leave, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
  4. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium low – you want a slow simmer - and place a lid on your pot or Dutch oven.
  5. Cook for about 40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. The dish is done when the cabbage has a very slight bite to it – but it should not be firm, mushy or soft. When you stir, add a little water (1/4 cup at a time) if it’s drying out too much; make sure the cabbage is not catching the bottom of the pan.
  6. Adjust seasoning – salt, pepper and sugar – and serve warm.
Notes
  1. Fat - Goose fat is traditional for festive occasions but is hard to find. Duck fat tastes very similar – but is slightly less gamey and a little sweeter. Use whichever combination of fats you like – I like using half duck fat and half butter.
  2. Apple - for the apple, use whichever variety you prefer. I like to use a tart apple like granny smith. Try to use a variety that will hold its shape during cooking.
  3. Cabbage - you'll need approx. half a large head. Remove the thick outer leaves and the stem so you're left with around 800g of cabbage. Use a white cabbage if you prefer, but wombok/nappa is not suitable.
  4. Braising liquid - you can use stock, cider or apple juice, or let the natural flavours sing by using water. Stock will add a savoury base to the flavour of the dish, juice and cider will make it sweeter. Use whichever takes your fancy!
  5. Jam - Red currant jam can be hard to find, so use a sweet and sour substitute such as cranberry sauce, blackcurrant or blackberry jam.
  6. This recipe makes a large amount of cabbage. It is easily halved or doubled.

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