Cabbage is wonderfully in season right now in the Northern Hemisphere so let me ramble on about that for a bit. Cabbages and other members of the brassica family contain defensive chemicals (enzymes and precursors) that combine in times of stress on the plant (cutting, cooking, being eaten etc.) to create bitter flavours and pungent aromas. This is the plant’s way of protecting itself. These defensive glucosinolates are at their minimum in the cold and wet, which is why cabbages (and other brassicae like brussel sprouts) are at their mildest and sweetest during winter. Glucosinolates are more concentrated towards the centre of the vegetables in the fast growing areas and are highly water soluble, so boiling cut brassicae allow these to leech out, leaving them sweeter still.
For the actual dish itself, it’s just quartered cabbage boiled in stock for about 10 minutes and then slathered in enough melted butter to kill a hors. It’s then seasoned and baked at 200C for about 25 minutes until it becomes blackened and awesome.
There’s also a variation I make for eating with roast pork where the only difference to what has been done above is to add a single star anise to the water as you boil the cabbage. This changes the character of the dish substantially. Anise is flavoured by a chemical compound called trans anethole. It’s a super-sweet natural chemical (13 times chemically sweeter than sugar – so sweet in fact that we hardly recognise it as so un its undiluted form – chew a star anise and you’ll see what I mean) that acts on the sulphide glucosinolates in the cabbage (also in onion) to create robust, sweet flavours. Adding the anise to the boiling cabbage may seem like not much at all, but it makes a huge difference to the final flavour.
Better eating through chemistry!