Let’s talk coleslaw. We all have a favorite. It may be in a recipe file or just in your memory. It might be the one that yo’ momma made or Aunt Bess always brought to the 4th of July picnic. Or maybe it was the slaw Mrs. Elmore brought to the church suppers. Perhaps it’s the slaw you had once at a Memphis roadhouse, that still lingers in your mind.
Whatever Happened to the Slaw Makers?
Today you seldom get a decent version of the old side dish. Restaurant slaw is often gloppy with mayo, too salty or too sweet, or even over-soupy. Like Goldilocks, it’s hard to find a porridge (slaw) that’s “just right.”
In despair, I turned to Chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and his Kitchen Lab. As always, he had a few pointers worth noting. Using real mayo is a given, he said. He also suggested a fine shred for the vegetables, rather than a chop. He uses a mandoline for the cabbage and a box scraper for the carrots, being careful to get a bit longer pieces by moving the carrot lengthwise down the shredder. Kenji goes with a 3-1 ratio of mayo to cider vinegar and a touch of Dijon mustard.
But it was his pre-treatment of the veggies that intrigued me most. He soaks the cabbage and carrots for 5 minutes (no more, no less) in a sugar-salt mixture and then rinses and dries the vegetables. He later adds back a bit of sugar in the sauce.
So, I Gave It a Try
Kenji noted that it took only 35 minutes to make his Creamy Coleslaw. Admittedly, arthritis and food photography slowed me down, but it took far longer than I expected. Nor was I prepared for the kitchen chaos that came with all that chopping. My counters were covered in utensils, a mandoline, box scraper, bowls, and cabbage shavings. Aghh! The place looked like the site of a frat house food fight.
Obviously, the way around this is to buy the prepackaged slaw mix. Just toss it with the easy-made dressing, which is what I’ll do next time. Though, I must say, I did like the freshness and consistent size of the home cut veggies.
The No-Mayo Version
Then there’s the Carolina-style slaw made with a sweet-tangy sauce highlighted with seasonings and cooked before being poured over the vegetables. This type of slaw works well atop pork barbecue. Use it as a side for grilled burgers and fish or at picnics, because there’s no mayo in it to worry about.