|Cabbage and Ham with Rice (and Potatoes)
An Irish or a New Orleans Dish?
All Photos by Adrian McGrath
By Adrian McGrath
Here it is Mardi Gras night, and I need to eat something fast before
Ash Wednesday comes and Lent begins. Naturally, being in New Orleans I need a real New Orleans dish. But, St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner (on March 17), so I should really begin my countdown by eating a real Irish dish too.
What to do? Quite a dilemma I'm in now.
No problem. The answer is Cabbage and Ham. Oddly enough this one dish is great for both occasions.
|Main ingredients for Cabbage and Ham
Photo by A. McGrath
New Orleans food comes historically from Creole Cuisine which is basically a mixture of French and Spanish food plus local south Louisiana ingredients. World famous dishes like Jambalaya, Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee, and dishes from people of other cultures who immigrated to New Orleans like the Sicilians with dishes like Muffulettas, Crawfish Pasta, Stuffed Artichokes, and fried Eggplant Parmesan. Other New Orleans dishes were influenced by Native American Choctaws, African Americans, Germans, and many others over the years.
Yet there is also a very popular dish in New Orleans called, depending on who you talk to, Smothered Cabbage or Cabbage and Ham. No one really knows the origin of this dish. But could it be Irish?
|Red Potatoes for our dish
Unlike most of the South in the USA, New Orleans historically had a very large Irish immigrant population starting in the mid 1800s. It was, again unlike the rest of the South, mainly Catholic as well. It is quite possible the Irish brought with them one of their favorite dishes which was Cabbage and Irish Bacon (which is not readily available in the USA, but resembles Canadian Bacon). But an easy substitute for Irish Bacon is ham. And, of course, ham could be found in Ireland too. (In the 1850s about 20% of the population of New Orleans was Irish.)
|White Rice for the dish
with parsley and green
The Irish journalist Lafcadio Hearn lived in New Orleans in the late 1800s and actually wrote the very first English language (as opposed to the French) New Orleans Creole cookbook in 1885. He gave a recipe for Stewed Cabbage in his work called La Cuisine Creole. (See more about Lafcadio Hearn.) He made it with butter and a cream sauce. He did not add ham, but it would have been easy enough to simply add chopped ham to the cabbage.
Irish cookbooks and Bord Bia, the Irish food board, give various recipes for cabbage dishes with some type of pork product, usually Irish bacon. So, we could imagine how the Irish love of cabbage worked its way into New Orleans cuisine.
Not many other New Orleans dishes have cabbage as a main ingredient, except for Cabbage Rolls which has stewed cabbage leaves as a wrap for ground meat and rice in a "red sauce" (tomato sauce). We could easily speculate that New Orleans Cabbage and Ham has Irish origins.
Whatever the case, here is how I made my version of this popular Irish/New Orleans dish. Perhaps you can make it at home and decide for yourself if it seems like an Irish dish, a New Orleans dish, or both.
|Cooking in a copper pot
I used both white rice -- the New Orleans way -- and a cooked potato -- the Irish way; and you can take your pick of which way you like it.
Being in Louisiana, I finished the dish off with a garnish of freshly sliced and uncooked green onions and parsley.
|Cabbage and Ham, a fine meal
from New Orleans and Ireland
You will need a green cabbage, a ham steak, parsley, green onions, Creole spices, butter, and rice and potatoes. And a pinch of brown sugar to balance the salty ham.
Cut and core the cabbage and place it in a pot with a little water. Cook it down on low for about 30 minutes. Drain and add butter and sliced pre-cooked ham and seasoning and cook on low. Cook the rice and the potato separately.
Cook until done and serve with warm New Orleans French Bread
or Irish Soda Bread and butter. Be sure to garnish the dish with fresh, uncooked, sliced green onions and parsley; this is an old Cajun touch.
Cabbage and Ham makes a very nice and filling dish for Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day, or any day -- no matter what your background is or where you live.
Sources and Further Reading:
La Cuisine Creole by Lafcadio Hearn; Irish Cooking by Ruth Bauder Kershner,Weathervane Books, 1979; A youtube video How to Cook Cabbage Southern Style; Bord Bia's discussion of cabbage, here