Saturday, 14 December 2013

Daring Cooks December 2013: Fish, Rice and Fennel Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

December's Daring Cooks’ Challenge had us on a roll! Olga from challenged us to make stuffed cabbage rolls using her Ukrainian heritage to inspire us. Filled with meat, fish or vegetables, flexibility and creativity were the name of the game to get us rolling!

This looks horribly complicated and although it's time consuming it's not all that complicated and I really enjoyed making them. I was so tired that I almost didn't, but the taste totally makes up for the effort involved. I made loads and froze the leftovers and I am so looking forward to eating them again. I went for fish as I had most of the ingredients already and I love fennel.

Fish, Rice and Fennel Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Servings: 8-10

1 savoy cabbage (or regular green cabbage)
7-8 fillet of tilapia (or fish fillet of your choice)
2 cups (500 ml) (14 oz) (400 gm) dry rice
1 yellow onion, medium size
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (1 oz) (30 gm) butter
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (4 gm) black pepper
3 tablespoons (45 ml) (1½ oz) (40 gm) ghee (or butter, or olive oil)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) (1 oz) (25 gm) flour
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
1 cup (250 ml) (1 oz) (25 gm) chopped cilantro (coriander) or parsley
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine or stock
3 tablespoons (45 ml) of your favorite fish seasoning such as Old Bay (or just salt and pepper)
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream (>35% fat)
4 cups (1 litre) vegetable stock (or chicken or fish stock)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) salt
3 bay leaves


Pre-cook rice:
- In a large pot, bring about 4 quarts (4 litres) of water to a boil.
- Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes.
- Drain rice using a colander, set aside.

Pre-cook cabbage and prepare cabbage leaves:
-  Using a large chef’s knife, remove core of the cabbage. Please be careful doing this, there is no need to cut out too much (see pictures below).
- To determine how much water exactly you will need to cook the whole cabbage: in a large pot, place your cabbage and pour enough cold water to cover the whole cabbage entirely. Remove cabbage from the water now place the pot with the water in it on the stove top.
- Bring water to a boil. Stick grill fork firmly into the cored center part of the cabbage and carefully place your cabbage into the boiling water, cored-side up. Be cautious, do not make a splash of hot water.
- Let cabbage cook for about 5 minutes. During the entire process of cooking the cabbage and separating leaves keep heat on its lowest setting so as to have the water barely boiling or near the boiling point.
- I like to separate the leaves without taking the cabbage out of the simmering water. It works better for me it eliminates splashes of hot water which can happen when moving the whole cabbage back and forth between pot and plate. So, I keep my cabbage in the pot at all times and use a long-handled grilling fork, sticking it into the core of the cabbage and using a regular fork or tongs to separate and remove the leaves, one by one, then transferring them onto a large plate. To separate the leaves right in the pot, pick a leaf at its thickest end and lift cabbage with your grill fork just a little bit, so as to release the bottom part of the leaf. While the whole process seems intimidating, it’s actually easy and even fun to do. Just be careful and keep the water barely simmering (or just below boiling point).
- Another way of separating leaves is taking the whole cabbage out of water (use a grill fork here too, sticking it firmly into the center, core part, of the cabbage). Then separate the leaves off the cabbage. When you reach the inner tough layer of leaves, return the cabbage back to the simmering water. After 5 minutes or so take it out and continue to separate leaves. And so on. It’s not my favorite way to get cabbage leaves because it involves moving the cabbage back and forth since this can create splashes of hot water. So be extra cautious if you choose this method.
- When you reach the layers where leaves are too small and too bumpy, stop the process of separating leaves and save the remaining cabbage to use elsewhere (soups, stews or salads).
- When leaves are cool enough to handle, cut off the tough ribs on each leaf. Now, the leaves are ready for filling.

Making Stuffing:

- In a skillet, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook fennel until soft, about 5-10 minutes. At the end of cooking, add 2 tablespoons of butter, stir.
- Prepare fish fillets. Cut fillets into 1.5”x 4” (4cm x 10cm) pieces. If using tilapia, cut fillet lengthways into two pieces. Then cut each piece into two pieces – one large and another one half as small. When assembling, you will be using two small pieces in some rolls; and some rolls will have a single (bigger) piece of fish. Season fish pieces with a seasoning of your choice or just salt and pepper.

Rolling Cabbage Leaves:

- Place about one tablespoon of rice/fennel mix on a cabbage leave, closer to the tough edge. Place fish piece on a top of rice and roll leaves, tucking sides inside (refer to my pictures please).
- Place rolls, seam side down, into an oven proof dish (if cooking them in an oven) or into a large pot (if cooking them on a stove top). Sometimes I place a couple of torn leaves on the bottom of the pot to prevent rolls sticking, especially if I cook my cabbage rolls on the stove top.
- Continue to roll cabbage leaves until you have run out of leaves or stuffing.
- Tightly pack the rolls into a pot. Usually when I finish stuffing the leaves, I’ve got two layers of cabbage rolls, some bigger than others. I like to have them in different sizes, I consider it a bonus feature – after all, sometimes you want to have one and a half rolls, right? If you wish to have all your rolls the same size – just cut larger leaves in half before stuffing them.

Making sauce and finishing cooking cabbage rolls in an oven or on a stove top:


- Finely chop onion.
- In a large pan or skillet, using ghee (or butter, or olive oil), cook onion until soft, about 2 minutes.
- Add flour, turn heat down and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.
- Season sauce with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, some black pepper and bay leaves.
- Add wine (or stock). Cook stirring for 1 minute. At this point it’s better to switch from your spatula to a whisk.
- Add heavy cream, stir. Then, in batches, stir in all the vegetable stock. Do not let sauce boil, but keep it near the boiling point.

- Pour sauce on top of the cabbage rolls. Add water, if needed, to cover rolls almost completely. If cooking in an oven, tightly cover baking dish with foil and cook in a pre-heated moderately hot, 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5, oven for 1½ hours. If you cook the rolls on the stove top, cover pot with a lid and simmer for 1½ hours on its lowest heat setting.

- Serve with a dollop of sour cream mixed with an equal amount of heavy cream.

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