Sure, it’s the barbecue that draws folks to your summertime gathering, but it’s the side dishes that can make the meal.
Admittedly, no one has ever been invited to a backyard coleslaw party, but the commonly creamy cabbage-based concoction is a must for any pig-pickin’.
Whether the cabbage is chopped or shredded, the mixture based in mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, vinegar or is marinated, sprinkled with salt, pepper and sugar and topped, perhaps, with a combination of carrots, broccoli, green peppers or red onions, there’s a slaw that’s perfect for any palate.
Prefer to spice it up a bit? There are coleslaw recipes that include jalapeños. Just be sure to keep a cold beverage nearby.
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LEXINGTON RED SLAW
In Davidson County, red slaw is favored. Outside of Lexington, Thomasville, Salisbury and Statesville, though, the dish is a tough sell compared to white slaw.
Known locally as barbecue slaw, red slaw is ketchup and vinegar-based with some sugar tossed in. It can taste a bit sour or somewhat sweet depending on the amount of ingredients preferred.
“It’s all over the map,” says Mike Swing, who owns Lexington Style Trimmings restaurant and operates a slaw distributorship.
If anyone knows about slaw it’s the 53-year-old Swing, who’s been in the business for “probably 35 years.” Each weekend, his staff chops between 4½ and 5 tons of cabbage to make the side dish for his restaurant and to deliver to clients.
“Most people, if you can get them to try red slaw, they like it,” Swing says. “They’ve just never seen it and you can’t even get them to put it in their mouth.
“The taste of it here in Lexington with the barbecue places we have in town is all over the map. Some are fairly sour. Mine is fairly sweet. It just depends on how much ketchup and sugar you put in and it goes all over the place.”
The basic red slaw recipe is quite simple. Ketchup, vinegar and sugar.
Don’t like mayonnaise in your coleslaw? And the thought of ketchup poured in with strips of crunchy cabbage is a bit much for your stomach to digest? What about a marinated slaw that contains neither mayonnaise nor ketchup?
“Our marinated slaw is certainly going to be different than most other coleslaws that you would expect,” says Charlie Bourque, who manages Moe’s Original BBQ in Asheville. “It’s not creamy (and) a lot of people are expecting creamy, mayonnaise-based slaw. It’s absolutely delicious.”
Moe’s Original BBQ operates 52 restaurants across the country, including six in North Carolina. Other North Carolina locations are in Matthews, Durham, Hendersonville, Wilmington and Woodfin; South Carolina locations are in Greenville and Pawleys Island; and Georgia locations are in Atlanta, Peachtree Corners and Rome.
Moe’s marinates its coleslaw in apple cider vinegar and sugar between 24 and 48 hours. The slaw consists of cabbage, green bell peppers and red onions.
“What you’re left with is a very delicious, sweet type of slaw,” Bourque says. “It’s absolutely delicious.”
As with the ketchup-based red slaw, customers sometimes need a bit of urging to give it a taste.
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“Certainly, when (customers) first ask if the slaw is mayonnaise-based and we say no, there’s a little bit of a wince in the face, kind of like a puzzlement,” Bourque says. “I always offer a free sample, and more often than not it’s sold.”
The key to the slaw’s taste is the marinade. Bourque says the marinade is brought to a boil and then chilled. Once chilled, the cabbage, green bell peppers and red onions are added. A day or two later, it’s ready to be served as a side dish or atop a barbecue sandwich.
“When I first came here four or five years I was unaware of what the term marinated slaw meant,” Bouque says. “ Ever since, I’m hip to it. I don’t think I’d ever have slaw another way.”
In parts of South Carolina, mustard is the base for coleslaw. Add some Dijon, yellow or dry mustard for a tangy taste treat. It’s important to shred or thinly slice the cabbage in this recipe from myrecipes.com.
• 1/2 head thinly sliced cabbage (about 1 lb.)
• 1 cup grated carrot
• 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
• 2 teaspoons dry mustard
• 1 teaspoon celery seeds
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place cabbage and carrot in a bowl. Whisk together vinegar, sugar, vegetable oil, Dijon mustard, dry mustard, celery seeds, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper in a saucepan until sugar dissolves; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Pour over cabbage mixture; toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Of course, no coleslaw story would be complete without mentioning mayonnaise. It’s the most common ingredient used in North Carolina slaw. Mix the cabbage with mayonnaise, sugar and vinegar, add in other items of choice such as carrots and bell peppers, and let it chill for a day or two.
“It’s not rocket science,” says Swing, the Lexington coleslaw distributor. “The problem people have when they try to make coleslaw is they’re not going to know what it tastes like until a day or two later.
“If you try to get it to taste like mine, it’s not going to taste anything like that the day it’s made. As it ferments, then you can figure out what you got.”
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This recipe, from FoodNetwork.com, should take about 20 minutes and yield 12 servings.
• 6 cups shredded cabbage
• 1 cup shredded carrot
• 1 cup mayonnaise
• 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon celery seed
• 1/4 cup sugar
• Salt and pepper
In a large bowl, combine cabbage and carrots. In a smaller bowl, make dressing by combining mayonnaise, vinegar, celery seed, sugar, salt and pepper. Toss dressing into cabbage mixture and let chill. Serve in a family-style bowl.
As for that jalapeño coleslaw mentioned earlier, here’s a recipe to spice up your barbecue plate from SeriousEats.com.
For the Dressing:
• 1/3 cup sour cream
• 1/3 cup buttermilk
• 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
• 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 3 tablespoons lime juice plus ½ teaspoon lime zest from 3 large limes
• 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
• 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Slaw:
• 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
• 1 large jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 1/3 cup kosher salt
For the Dressing: Whisk together sour cream, buttermilk, vinegar, mayonnaise, sugar, lime juice and zest, cilantro, garlic, cumin, and black pepper in a small bowl.
For the Slaw: Combine cabbage, carrot, and jalapeño in a large bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and salt and toss to combine. Let stand 5 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.
With so many options for making the side dish, there’s certainly a recipe for those who say they don’t like coleslaw. The key, according to those in the coleslaw business, is to let it chill for a day or two after mixing and be willing to try different amounts of vinegar and sugar to suit your taste.
Remember, it’s coleslaw, not cold slaw.
And if it were called hot slaw, it would be sauerkraut, but that’s a story, perhaps, for another time.