It’s not necessarily in the same league as penicillin, cheese, or beer, but the keepers of the “discovered by accident” annals are happy to report that charred cabbage hearts are a notable recent addition. The Christopher Columbus in this culinary scenario: Eli Kulp, the distracted chef at Philadelphia's Fork.
Those who’ve eaten at Fork would probably expect some sort of “wild strain of yeast” tale about a new form of kimchi. Kulp is a noted fermenting enthusiast, going so far as to create parsley kimchi. He’s even created a hush-hush version of alcoholic crème fraîche by leaving it out in his next-door bakery.
But, in this case, Kulp’s not-so-mea cabbage culpa involves an unused oven, a busy service, and an even busier mind. One day about a year ago, he left a few heads of cabbage in an oven at 325°F. Intending to simply roast them for an hour or so, he instead forgot about the heads until after service—about seven hours later. “I got sidetracked and pulled in different directions, you know how it is. I totally forgot about them.” When he pulled out the heads, they were charred until black and ashy.
Most people would have tossed the cabbage without another thought, but ever-curious Kulp decided to carve into one and taste the hearts. He was amazed to find the cabbage hearts caramelized but not burnt, and holding an amazing, concentrated cabbage flavor. “I was really impressed with it,” he says. “Things were happening in there, reactions. They just steamed in their own juices.”
And while there’s a bit of waste—each over-roasted cabbage yields only about 25 percent of its weight; the rest is “offensively bitter” charred scrap, Kulp says, and is not even fit for family meal or stocks—it’s also an essential part of Kulp’s well-received Guinea Hen dish. To err may be human, but to err and create cabbage like this, divine.
Over-roasted Cabbage Technique:
1. Pre-heat a convection oven to 300°F. Put whole green cabbage on a sheet pan in the oven.
2. Cook until completely tender and almost burnt on the outside, about 6 hours.
3. Cool and remove outer leaves, then cut inner portion into wedges with the core intact.
4. Brush with oil and grill to order, then season.