Pondering Cole Slaw

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell
cole slaw with Rhode Island Saugy hot dogs

Get ready for cole slaw season with this — a nice balance of mayo, sugar, and vinegar.

While enjoying a hearty lunch of Rhode Island Saugys piled with slaw, R.B. and I got to thinking about all the slaw we’ve encountered during our Cheater BBQ research days. Across all regions of barbecue, there was one glaring similarity. Nobody cared much about the slaw. The poor slaw got treated like a throw-away condiment, a dull afterthought plopped out of a giant foodservice tub with little thought to its bigger purpose.

Yes, slaw has a very big purpose. It provides the yang to the yin. Fatty pork, ribs and brisket need vinegary slaw to cut the richness. Or, consider how crunchy fried catfish begs for a tangy creamy version. It just makes sense. In fact, slaw makes sense as an accompaniment to all kinds of grilled meats and on all kinds of sandwiches like our slaw dogs in the picture. Thinking back on twenty plus years of potlucks, I’ve come to realize that slaw, as plain Jane as it may seem, is one of my favorite tote-alongs. No wonder. First of all, it’s an easy salad to make ahead that won’t go limp like lettuce.

Those pre-shredded bags of cabbage at the supermarket make slaw the ultimate dump, stir and go recipe. Secondly, “blank canvas” shredded cabbage takes to many flavors. All I have to do is doll-up a basic slaw according to one theme or another like my new favorite Pico Slaw, an excellent choice for smoky beef brisket stuffed in tortillas.

Or take a hint from J. Alexander’s, a small upscale chain that makes a dynamite Maytag blue cheese slaw with green and red cabbages. It’s not just vinegar, mayo and sugar anymore! How about these easy additions—don’t forget red cabbage for a change.

Fancy fall slaw—Add crumbled blue cheese, chopped apples and toasted walnuts.

Italian slaw—Use finely shredded cabbage dressed with a simple vinaigrette and plenty of dried oregano on a meaty Italian sub.

Indian style—Add a big spoonful of jarred spicy Indian coriander green chutney and serve with grilled tandoori chicken.

Tartar slaw—Stir in sweet pickles and capers to serve with fried fish. Sweet and Sour slaw–Add small chunks of fresh pineapple, grated fresh ginger, and chopped green onions.

Good Starting Point Cole Slaw

(Use equal amounts of mayo, vinegar, and sugar and go from there…I usually like a little more vinegar…)

¼ cup vinegar

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup mayonnaise

16 ounces finely shredded cabbage or packaged slaw mix, about 8 cups

Salt, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Chill before serving. Variations: Sprinkle in seasoned salt blends, celery seed or a spoonful of yellow mustard. Add other vegetables cut into small pieces or shredded like radishes, fennel, carrots and bell pepper. (See above)

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