When getting into barbecue, I had to take a long time enemy face on—coleslaw. I knew coleslaw only as that tough, bland salad doled out in medicine cups at Greek dinners, dressed with mayo as if that would make such an undesirable side more palatable. When I became a barbecue fiend, I was confronted with slaw in larger portions, and guiltily left it remaining on my plate after finishing all the glorious smoked meats that sat next to it. It took some time, but I couldn't rightfully keep being so wasteful, so started to cautiously indulge in coleslaw, and while mostly I remained unimpressed, I came across a few that surprised me with how delicious they were. Over my many years of cooking, I made it a point to whip up some coleslaw now and again in an attempt to make it match, or better, those that I found worthy of being served with barbecue, and I'm happy to say I've finally found slaw nirvana in this unassuming mustard coleslaw.
There were so many steps to me finding my coleslaw happy place, with one of the first being cabbage selection. When starting out, I relied heavily on red cabbage, but found that it was tougher than white and ultimately I began leaving red out altogether, or using it only very sparingly mainly for color.
Another step to achieving the right balance between tender and crunchy cabbage was getting dice just right. Somewhere along the way I ditched my knife for the job and began relying on my mandoline to not only shred the cabbage more finely, but also make very quick work of it.
Once I have the cabbage shredded, I run my knife through it to break up the long strands into more bite-sized pieces.
As for other add-ins, I mainly stick with carrot, which I grate using the medium holes on a box graters. Depending on the recipe, I may sometimes add in grated onions or peppers, but I try not to go to crazy with the extras to allow the crunchy cabbage and dressing work their simple magic together.
The biggest improvement to my coleslaw came with The Food Lab's experiment on the best method to get the proper crunch and tenderness from the cabbage via moisture extraction. The results showed tossing the cabbage and carrot mixture with 2:1 mixture of sugar and salt* and letting it sit for five minutes drew the right amount of water out of the veggies to make them perfectly crisp-tender. Prior to this, I tried all types of tricks from microwaving the cabbage to mildly salting and letting it drain for hours, but none worked as well as this quicker method.
*I found the original amounts of 1 cup sugar to a 1/2 cup kosher salt left the slaw mix too salty, so scaled it back to 2/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup salt with great results.
Of course the downside that this method is I'm left with an overly salty and sweet slaw mixture. So to fix that, I transfer the slaw to the bowl of my salad spinner, wash it throughly to remove the excess seasoning, then take the mixture for a spin to dry it out. Sometimes I repeat if the first go round didn't remove enough salt. The end result is a slaw mix that's incredibly well seasoned and tender, yet with a really nice crunch to it.
The slaw dressing that first turned me from slaw hater to lover was a simple mixture of apple cider vinegar, sugar, and celery seeds. I'm still quite fond of that dressing, but for the money, I've yet to find a slaw dressing as delicious as this mustard one I tinkered with over time. It's a simple mix of equal parts mayo, yellow mustard, cider vinegar, and sugar with some hot sauce an celery seeds thrown in.
Once the dressing and slaw mix are done, it's just a matter of bringing the two together to make one incredible coleslaw. I usually add the dressing in slowly and taste as I go along to ensure it doesn't become over dressed. Since cabbage and carrot sizes vary, I don't always need every drip of the dressing to make the perfect slaw.
If only those diners of my youth served this slaw, I would have never hated the stuff. The vegetables have none of the toughness and blandness I was used to. The dressing is a far cry from watered down mayo with its complex flavor that's sweet, tangy, creamy, and spicy all at the same time. Whenever I make this slaw, I need to no barbecue to help get it down—I sit with a fork and eat it as a snack at all times of the day. Of course, if I pile this slaw on heap of hot, freshly pulled pork shoulder on a bun, I'm truly in barbecue heaven.
- Yield 10-12 servings
- Prep 20 Minutes
- Inactive 5 Minutes
- Total 25 Minutes
- For the Dressing
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup yellow mustard
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce, preferably Texas Pete
- 1 teaspoon celery seeds
- For the Slaw Mix
- 1 large head green cabbage (about 3 1/2 pounds), finely shredded on a mandoline or by hand
- 1 large carrot, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- For the Dressing: Whisk together mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, sugar, hot sauce, and celery seeds in small bowl.
- For the Slaw: Combine cabbage and carrot in a large bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and salt and toss to combine. Let stand five minutes, then transfer to a large colander and rinse thoroughly under cold running water.
- Transfer vegetables to a salad spinner and spin dry. Alternatively, transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet lined with a triple layer of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and blot mixture dry with more towels. Return to large bowl.
- Pour dressing over vegetables and toss to coat. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, and/or sugar.
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