Jim Hillibish: Coleslaw, everyone does it different

Jim Hillibish

Summer time, and the livin’ is — coleslaw.

Northeastern Ohio remains the hotbed of summer slaw. That’s confirmed by sales of Marzetti’s bottled slaw dressing. We’re the tops in the market. I find four distinct coleslaws in our deli cases: cream, vinegar, fresh and a fermented kraut type.

Coleslaw recipes in cookbooks often are labeled “cole slaw.” We, of course, find no separation of the cole from the slaw and call it coleslaw.

How many types are there? Many. It appears that every family has their own, often on recipe cards yellow with the fingerprints of at least three generations.

At the extreme end is Don and Charlie’s Arizona coleslaw. It has pineapple and mini marshmallows. I’m not a fan.

Tracking the history is impossible, except I suspect there are two influences. West Virginia is another huge market for slaw. We have a lot of those transplants around here in Ohio. And coleslaw is shredded cabbage, and cabbage is middle European. The name is a combo of German and Dutch, “koolsla.”

In the South, they call it red slaw and sub ketchup for the mayo. Cheeslaw in New York switches grated cheese for the cabbage. In California, you’ll likely find apple, pineapple or avocado chunks, or all of them.

A good coleslaw is critical to a picnic, but don’t worry because it’s almost impossible to make bad coleslaw. My vote for the best is Kentucky Fried Chicken. They add shredded carrots, minced onion and, is that buttermilk?

We don’t know for sure, as there are thousands of recipes out there labeled as KFC slaw clones. Its employees look terrified if you ask for the recipe. Bet they had to sign a secrecy promise.

Some great pretenders add tarragon and use Miracle Whip. The KFC recipe published in “Top Secret Recipes” by Todd Wilbur is one of the most stolen, I mean copied. He does the tarragon thing. I doubt industrial slaw is that fancy.

I think this one is closer to the real thing:

Close to KFC Slaw

1 head cabbage, shredded

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup carrots, peeled and shredded

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup milk

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

3 tablespoons dry minced onions

Shred cabbage thinly and toss with carrots, sugar, salt and pepper. Add milk and refrigerate 15 minutes. Slice cabbage paper thin, and toss lightly with sugar and shredded carrots. Combine mayonnaise, buttermilk, celery seed and minced onion. Add to cabbage and mix well. Refrigerate covered for at least three hours before serving.

Notes: Some cooks add a few drops of Tabasco sauce. A buttermilk substitute is 1 teaspoon of white vinegar in the 1/2 cup of milk. A sprinkling of paprika on top is a nice finish. Serves 6.