There is no need to convince anyone that people in the South are really, really opinionated about their food. For instance, a home cook will tell you there are just two ways to make a skillet of hot cornbread: her way and the wrong way, and the difference in the two ways usually involves a spoonful or two of sugar. A “discussion” on the proper way to season and smoke a pork butt (dry rub or basting, injections, lump charcoal or all wood) can become even more lively and heated than a political rally. Strangely enough, a question over how to make a simple bowl of fresh coleslaw can also elicit similar reactions. Whether you like your coleslaw with a creamy (mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk) or a vinegar (apple cider vinegar, white or red wine) base, the secret to making the best crispy coleslaw is to take it slow and give it time.
Purple cabbage looks pretty when first tossed into the coleslaw, but the color will bleed out into the slaw as it marinates in the dressing. Stick to plain green cabbage and use a mandolin or food processor to shred uniform pieces. Toss the shredded cabbage with salt and let it rest for about 30 minutes. The salt causes any excess moisture to leech out, ensuring the coleslaw stays nice and crisp. Next, give the slaw a quick rinse, shaking off as much water as possible (or blot water off with a paper towel).
Recipes vary as to whether you make your entire dressing and then stir it into the cabbage, or you add the dressing ingredients to the cabbage, one at a time. Regardless of the method, this next step is what separates good coleslaw from great coleslaw: you let it marinate for a few days before serving. The flavors will develop and, as you give it a stir and taste test from day to day, you can add more seasonings to suit your preference. And if you still want a touch of color you are missing from not using red or purple cabbage, toss in sliced radishes or grated carrots right before serving (if you add these too early as the coleslaw marinates, they will get soggy).
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This method, allowing the coleslaw to marinate a few days, means that coleslaw is a great make ahead side dish for your next church potluck or family reunion. Scooped on top of a Sloppy Cola Joe Dog or served alongside fried catfish, coleslaw is an integral part of a summer meal.