There is something about good things stuffed into other good things that comforts me. Chou farci, French stuffed cabbage is high on that list.
Nearly all my favorite comfort foods, foods I crave when I am tired, emotionally, mentally or physically, involve some sort of culinary parcel of love. Tortellini, tamales, pierogis, pasties. And, yes, chou farci, these cabbage rolls.
Stuffed cabbage is normally thought of as an Eastern European/Slavic thing, and it is that. But the French also stuff cabbages, as I am sure so too do the Germans, Italians and probably everyone else who eats cabbages. It just seems like the thing to do with those big outer leaves.
Chou farci is a French stuffed cabbage recipe, very loosely based on one from Paula Wolfert’s fantastic book The Cooking of Southwest France. The cabbages are stuffed with ground duck, bread, herbs and good things, wrapped in the cabbage leaves, then simmered in a quirky tomato sauce.
The tomato sauce is rather odd. It starts normally, with some fat, onions, carrots and garlic, white wine and obviously tomatoes. But it has a peeled apple pureed into it at the end, which seems wrong but actually adds a light sweetness to the zippy tomatoes. Whoever came up with the idea was on to something.
Of course if you don’t happen to have ground duck lying around, chou farci works with any ground meat. If you are a vegetarian, use chopped mushrooms instead, and skip the bacon. The rolls are full of flavor, tender, and, most importantly, comforting in cold winter or tough times.
Once made, these will keep in the fridge for a few days quite well.
If you liked this recipe, please leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating and a comment below; I’d love to hear how everything went. If you’re on Instagram, share a picture and tag me at huntgathercook.
French Stuffed Cabbage
- 1 large or 2 regular heads of cabbage
- 1/3 pound bacon, salt pork or ham, cut into dice
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups white wine or vermouth
- 8 plum tomatoes fresh or canned, coarsely chopped
- 6 tablespoons chopped parsley, divided
- 1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 green apple like a Granny Smith, peeled, cored and chopped
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 cups stale bread cubes for stuffing
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 1/2 pounds ground meat
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 shallot or 1/2 onion, minced
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, or 2 teaspoons dried
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil. Boil the cabbages -- probably one at a time -- for 5 minutes. Run them under cool water until you can handle them, then gently remove as many large leaves as you can; these are what you will use as wrappers. Set the leaves on a towel while you make the sauce and filling.
- Cook the bacon dice until they are crispy, then set aside. Add the chopped onion and carrot to the pan and cook on medium heat until the onion turns clear, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 90 seconds. Add the white wine, tomatoes, chopped apple and 2 tablespoons of parsley, along with the thyme and salt to taste. Simmer gently while you make the filling and stuff the cabbages.
- While the sauce is simmering, soak the dried bread in the milk for 15 minutes, then squeeze out the bread to remove excess milk. Mix everything else together, along with 2 more tablespoons of parsley, until it holds together like meatloaf.
- Lay out a cabbage leaf with the stalk facing you and place some filling inside; amounts will differ, as the leaves are different sizes. Fold the stalk end over the filling and then fold in the sides, then give the leaf one more roll to secure; this is like folding a burrito or a package. Repeat until you have used all the filling.
- Pour the sauce into a blender and puree. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Arrange the stuffed cabbages seam side down into a wide, shallow pan with a lid, then pour over the sauce. Jiggle the pan to coat everything. Sprinkle the reserved bacon over it all, cover and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve with the remaining parsley sprinkled over the top.
Amy Rubright says
Someone who had a garden told me the cabbage can be frozen then while thawing it gets soft. While this is true it’s very watery it need to lay on some toweling to dry off but I still like the old fashioned way of boiling the heads of cabbage first
Made these cabbage rolls with a blend of ground beef and seasoned pork sausage. Delicious meal!
Amy Rubright says
I’m from the USA. and I’m dating a man from France. I’d love to make these for him but the way I was taught by my mother. She used the cabbage of course. Ground beef and rice for the stuffing with some onion and garlic powder and parsley. We use tomato sauce to cover it and I always sprinkle a little sugar on top and the tough outer leaves I place on the bottom of my pot so the rolls don’t scorch while baking. I also put some leaves on top of the rolls as not to have them burn at all while baking. That’s the way we make them here in northern PA in the US
Martha Durrett says
Will duck breast by dry or chewy I have a lot of boneless skinless duck?
Hank Shaw says
Martha: It should work. Add it in raw.
Donna Lee Sheehan says
I, too, used ground venison and it was delicious.
Made this with ground venison.. very, very delicious!
Kevin Pidone says
I forgot to mention the legs and wings of the geese were also deboned (otherwise grinding would have been difficult and splintery). It turned out great!! The bacon worked out just fine although I think I would prefer pancetta in the sauce. Will definitely make this again.
Hank this looks awesome! I am not a duck hunter and I don’t have any ground venison. Think regular beef would be alright? Thanks!
Hank Shaw says
Steve: Of course. Any ground meat works.
Kevin Pidone says
Mine is simmering as I write made from a deboned year old drake Wigeon (I found this one way in the back of the freezer…damn) and the legs and wings of four Cackling Canada Geese from a few weeks ago!! The sauce is spot on the same color as your photo. I used standard thick cut, Hickory-smoked bacon, but I bet pancetta would be better. Thanks for the recipe!!
oooh yes!!! thanks for this!! just what i wanted! these kinds of stuffed foods are the best in winter! so too, are things like Shepherds pie…savory pies and stuffed things. yup. thanks!!
Looks awesome, Hank. It just so happens I’ve got some wigeon breasts in the freezer I need to do something with. And here we have it.
This looks so good. I just sent it to the chef of the family 😉
ducks in a blanket
so where/how do you get the golden coloring?
been eating stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce since I was a kid and have never seen it look like that.
Hank Shaw says
Mike: The coloring of the sauce? It’s in the ingredients, which are made lighter when you blend them.