From M., 14 October 2011, coleslaw – dressing it up?

Q: As the ideal spring weather begins here, a not so young man’s thoughts turn to …… coleslaw. I was thinking of snazzing up my coleslaw with home made mayonnaise (using sesame oil as well as olive oil). I was also thinking of adding shredded fennel and grated (raw) celeraic to the basic celery, carrot, cabbage mix. I was also wondering if some fresh chopped parsley and chives might work too?

A: Thanks for your question. I’m glad it’s cooled off, and you’re probably glad it’s warming up. Summer, where you are [Australia for our other readers] is the perfect time for refreshing raw vegetables, shredded and dressed in a tangy sauce.

Here in the States, there are as many recipes for coleslaw as there are lovers of the dish. Beyond the basics of cabbage and something tangy, there’s a lot of room for debate: are carrots acceptable? Apples or pineapple? What about the tang – should that be down to mayonnaise, or a mixture of mayonnaise and sour cream? Some like buttermilk to cut the greasiness of mayo – I’m firmly in that camp. Others like a simple vinegar-based sauce, which can be nicely tart and far less heavy than the other versions. Seasonings are another source of contention. Some enjoy the green herbiness of celery seed; others prefer a little dry mustard, others like the freshness of herbs. When so many people lay claim to the “only” authentic version of a dish, you know there’s no such thing.

So here’s the thing. If you like shredded fennel in your slaw, go for it. If you like raw celery (for whatever unfathomable reason), knock yourself out. Celeriac is a great vegetable for eating raw, cut into matchsticks – and in fact, mixed with a mayonnaise and vinegar dressing, spiked with mustard, it’s a classic French dish, céleri rémoulade. If you want to flavor your homemade mayonnaise with sesame oil, you should, with the caveat that sesame oil is very strong and it should make up not more than 1/6 of the total oil in the mayonnaise, and the additional caveat that sesame oil lends that characteristic “Asian” taste to a dish and you should take that into consideration when choosing your other vegetables. You might try it, for example, in this tangy pickle slaw with kimchi.

For me, less is more. So I’m giving you two recipes – one for céleri rémoulade and another for a classic American coleslaw, at least the way I like it. If you want to fancy them up, go ahead, but maybe you’ll like them just as they are.

Céleri rémoulade

This is a French classic, popular especially in the south, and in fact the last time I ate it was in Arles. The celeriac should be grated to about the thickness of matchsticks – a Cuisinart or Robotcoupe should get you there if you don’t have the knuckles for a box grater – and the mayonnaise, homemade or not, should be thinned out a little with lemon juice or white wine vinegar, and punched up with Dijon mustard.

I wouldn’t take too many liberties with this dish – it’s just right as it is. You can swap lemon juice for vinegar, and vary the amount of mustard to your liking, but don’t do anything stupid like using a sesame oil-based mayonnaise, adding smoked paprika, or anything else like that.

one medium celeriac/celery root, about 12 oz/350g
1 c mayonnaise, plus a little extra
2 tbsp lemon juice (about 1/2 juicy lemon), or white wine vinegar, plus additional to taste
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt to taste

Squeeze the juice from half a lemon into a bowl of cold water.

Peel the celeriac. Don’t use a peeler! Cut off the really knobby end, past the crooks where it’s really hairy, and set it on its flat surface. Using a chef’s knife, cut away the peel as close as you can, working from top to bottom, as you would an orange or grapefruit. Place the peeled celeriac in the lemon water while you work.

Combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice or vinegar, and mustard. Add a little salt and taste. Adjust the flavor by adding more mayonnaise, acid, or mustard.

Shred the celeriac on the medium holes (not the fine holes) of a box grater or using the medium grating blade of a food processor. Toss the celeriac in the rémoulade. Taste again for seasoning and serve cold. After a couple of days in the refrigerator, it will become fairly limp and may discolor so try to eat it all as soon as you can.

Coleslaw, the American classic

Like I said, there are as many “authentic” versions of coleslaw as there are coleslaw partisans. For me, the important considerations are: avoiding wateriness; achieving a good tang; seasoning well. Keeping qualities – how long it lasts – is also important, since coleslaw usually is made in much larger quantities than anyone can eat in a sitting. I once dated a guy in Minnesota who apparently lived on nearly nothing but coleslaw, but he was an aberration.

If you use a food processor to shred the vegetables, you can have coleslaw in just over half an hour, counting about 30 minutes of sitting time.

1/2 head green cabbage, stem removed
2 medium carrots, peeled
2/3 c mayonnaise, plus a little extra
1/3 c buttermilk
2 tbsp white wine vinegar, plus additional to taste
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1 tbsp dry mustard

Shred the cabbage on the medium holes (not the fine holes) of a box grater or using the medium grating blade of a food processor. Toss with 2 tsp kosher salt and place in a colander over a bowl for about half an hour.

While you wait, combine the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, celery seed, about 1 tsp sugar, and about half the buttermilk. Taste for acidity and sweetness, and note the consistency. If it’s too thin, add a little more mayonnaise. If it’s too thick – like Greek yoghurt – add more buttermilk.

Shred the carrots on the medium holes (not the fine holes) of a box grater or using the medium grating blade of a food processor.

Squeeze the cabbage, in handfuls, until it doesn’t give up any more liquid. Add the cabbage to the carrots and toss to combine. Then spoon half the dressing and mix until well-coated. If the slaw needs more, add more.

Variant: If you like, substitute 1/2 c canned pineapple, diced fine, for the carrots, and add about 2 tbsp grated onion. Why canned pineapple? Canning – or other heat treating – inactivates the enzymes in pineapple that denature proteins. Unless you want your mayonnaise to turn to water, don’t use the fresh pineapple.

If you don’t want mayonnaise – too heavy, or eggy, or just not right for the dish – substitute the following dressing: 1/2 c cider vinegar, 1/2 tsp celery seed, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt, and 1/2 c vegetable oil. Whisk the vinegar, celery seed, salt, and mustard together; then dribble in the oil slowly and whisk until an emulsion forms. You may need more than the 1/2 c oil to get a good emulsion, but don’t add much more; the vinaigrette should be more tart than a conventional salad dressing.

2 thoughts on “Shredded.

  1. Pingback: Shredded. « The Upstart Kitchen

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