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Cooking Tips

Two Coleslaw Techniques to Win Over Slaw Skeptics

These tips prove just how good slaw can be.

Published June 23, 2021.

“I’m here for the sides” is my general approach to backyard picnics, barbecues, and cookouts. Whether I’m topping fish tacos or rounding out a pulled pork plate, a crisp, tangy slaw is a must for me. But too many slaws fall flat, presenting as neither crisp nor tangy.

This is why my husband is firmly anti-slaw. He paints a vivid picture of limp, bland cabbage salad languishing in a pooled mayonnaise swamp—enough to make anyone think twice about it. But I know slaw doesn’t have to be this way. With crisper texture and a brighter dressing, slaw can be so much better.

How to Achieve Crisper Cabbage

Soggy slaw is a result of liquid leaching out of the cabbage once it’s shredded and dressed. Like other vegetables, cabbage has a high moisture content, and once it comes into contact with salt from your slaw dressing, it releases that water. That’s because of osmosis: In order to reach salt equilibrium, water within the cabbage cells migrates out of the vegetable. The trick is to get rid of that liquid before it turns the slaw into mush.

To do this, shred your cabbage and place it in a colander in your sink, then toss it with salt. Let it sit for about an hour, or until the cabbage looks slightly softened and some of its moisture has been released. Rinse the cabbage to remove the excess salt and gently pat it dry with a paper towel. Dress it for coleslaw as you normally would.

How to ensure crisper cabbage: salt, let sit, rinse, and then dry.

This technique has double benefits: Not only does it keep your slaw from getting soggy, but softening the cabbage slightly before adding dressing makes it less fibrous and easier to chew.

Go Beyond Mayo

Few food aversions are as vehement as those to mayo. This is part of my husband’s anti-coleslaw stance, and it’s why he’ll eat shredded cabbage if it’s quick-pickled or prepared in a more citrusy, brighter dressing.

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Our coleslaw compromise: buttermilk dressing. It provides the creaminess that I like, but it stays light and tangy, which he prefers. Our recipe for buttermilk coleslaw dressing calls for 1/2 cup of buttermilk—buy a pint and you’ll have enough left over for buttermilk pancakes. It reduces the mayonnaise to just 2 tablespoons per pound of cabbage, rounding it out with sour cream for more zip. I sometimes add scallions and cilantro for a more herbaceous version of slaw that brightens up an umami-rich main dish.

Combining the pre-salted cabbage technique with the buttermilk dressing has yielded the summer miracle I barely thought possible: Coleslaw that my whole household scoops up.

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