Spicy Cabbage and Chicken Stir-Fry Recipe

I’ve recently read a collection of stories by Lara Vapnyar called Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love. The six stories in this pretty volume talk about Russian immigrants to the United States, and use the revealing lens of food to show how they adapt to their new lives. Stories about migrants never fail to move me, and perhaps also because I was very fond of my Russian coworkers when I lived in California, I thought these particularly poignant.

The opening story is called A Bunch of Broccoli on the Third Shelf, and without disclosing too much about the plot — I detest spoilers and those who perpetrate them — it is about Nina, who buys vegetables every Saturday morning from the Korean and Russian stores in Brooklyn but, for a number of reasons, never gets around to cooking them.

And it is of Nina that I thought when I realized that the head of cabbage I’d bought at the greenmarket some time before wasn’t going to cook itself. Buying it had sounded like a virtuous idea at the time — cruciferous vegetables are so good for you — but every time I pulled the vegetable drawer open, my hand always seemed to land on some other, more immediately appealing option.

I am lucky that this particular variety, called chou blanc in French, seems to have been designed to withstand the reluctance of the cook, and keeps very well: the outer leaves may lose some of their luster, but if you peel those off, the cabbage looks as good as new underneath.

Still, I was hoping to find a non-dull way to use it, and I remembered the recipe my friend Molly posted not long ago, in which shredded cabbage is seared in the wok and seasoned with a combination of chili sauce and soy sauce. I don’t have a wok nor the sambal ulek that she recommends, but I do have a skillet and some sriracha, and I thought they would do nicely.

Having roasted a chicken in my brand new oven the night before — to excellent but messy results — I also had scraps of meat left over. These joined the cabbage in the skillet for a most satisfying lunch, with a sprinkle of toasted sesame because it seemed a natural fit and I find it hard to resist such a cute little sesame mill.

As I mentioned above, my cabbage was a chou blanc, i.e. a smooth and tight head of cabbage that’s light green on the outside and off-white on the inside. You could, however, use the cabbage of your choice in this recipe, so long as it’s the crisp kind that would work in coleslaw. Molly also suggests adding a bit of sliced fennel, but it’s a little early for that around here.

Speaking of Molly, surely you know that her first book is released today in the US? A Homemade Life is a memoir with recipes that I had the chance to preview a few months ago, and I am confident you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Have you tried this? Share your pics on Instagram!

Please tag your pictures with #cnzrecipes. I'll share my favorites!

Spicy Cabbage and Chicken Stir-Fry Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Serves 2.

Spicy Cabbage and Chicken Stir-Fry Recipe


  • One small head of cabbage, about 500 grams or 18 ounces, with smooth, crisp and tightly wrapped leaves
  • 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil, or other oil with a relatively high smoking point (olive oil won't do)
  • Sriracha, or other chili sauce, to taste
  • Soy sauce, to taste
  • Leftover meat from a roast chicken (if you don't have that on hand, get a raw chicken breast and grill or sear it separately, or substitute diced firm tofu, or top each bowl with a poached or fried egg)
  • Sesame seeds, toasted


  1. Cut the cabbage in quarters, carve out and discard the stem part, and slice finely. (I just use the slicer blade in my ancient food processor.) Pull the chicken meat apart into bite-size pieces.
  2. Heat a large skillet over high heat.
  3. When the skillet is very hot, add the oil, and let it heat up for a few seconds. Add the cabbage and stir to coat. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly, until softened and slightly colored.
  4. Add a few squirts of chili sauce, stir, and cook for a few more minutes, until the cabbage is golden-brown in places.
  5. Add a few dashes of soy sauce and the chicken, and stir well.
  6. Cook a minute more, stirring regularly, until the chicken is warm and the soy sauce starts to caramelize at the bottom of the skillet. Add a drop of water to deglaze and remove from the heat.
  7. Taste, add a little more hot sauce and/or soy sauce as needed, and serve hot, with a sprinkle of sesame seeds from the sesame mill.


Adapted from Molly's recipe.


This post was first published in March 2009 and updated in July 2016.

  • They’re not going to cook themselves… story of my life.

    Since signing up as foster parents, our algorithm for grocery shopping has not translated into nice, square meals. We buy things we never get around to cooking, and we’re always short that one certain something we need to make dinner.

    Thanks for another great piece!

  • Next time you find yourself with that head of cabbage glaring at you every time you open the vegetable drawer you can try this recipe. It works with green or purple cabbage, although I prefer purple cabbage.


  • Le chou, sous toutes ses formes, je suis devenue accro depuis mon installation à Munich!

  • Dear Clotilde,

    I was moved by your favourable comments on your former russian co-workers, since most jokes I hear when I introduce myself (I am from russia) are about lots of vodka with seledka (herring), mafia and such. Although I understand these are mere jokes, at times it is very upsetting nonetheless.

    As to the green cabbage in all forms (from cooked to pickled to braised), this is indeed one of the staples at the russian table!

  • I belong to a CSA farm in Denver and throughout the winter share distribution I’ve been inundated with various types of cabbage – this looks like a great recipe to try so thanks for sharing it!

  • Zoe

    i love these everyday recipes that are quick, healthy, use market produce and won’t bust the bank – something most people are thinking about these days… also made your banana choc oat slice (although I rolled mine into balls). went down very well in my household, it was rare to see my hubby entering a room without one in his hand for the two days they lasted.

  • I make myself lunches like this all of the time, it is so delicious, nutritious and slightly addictive. I love the addition of the leftover chicken.

  • My virtuous vegetable buying was cauliflower, but I have vowed not to buy it without a really good reason.

    I like a few pieces raw, but don’t like it cooked and don’t like it as a soup either, and the heads are so big that I just never finish it.

  • Cabbage got a bad rep due to depression era food.

    Good thing we are in a recession! Cabbage chic.

    I have been pondering recession food…

  • Thanks, Clotilde, for this recipe. I know the feeling of having that one veggie that is slowly going bad in the crisper. Talk to the arugula in my fridge that desperately needs to be cooked. :)

  • Oh I love that cabbage recipe of Molly’s! Your version sounds lovely as well.

  • i adapted molly’s great recipe a few weeks ago too, adding ground lamb to mine. this looks lovely too.

  • i have been addicted to molly’s recipe, too–the other day i was trying to get rid of some cabbage and instead of sambal oelek, I used some homemade harissa leftover from another recipe. the caraway in the harissa mixed with the cabbage was completely addictive. all it needed was a poached egg on top and i was floating on cloud nine.

  • Amy von

    Clotilde, this came at the perfect time as I had 2 heads of cabbage from our CSA sitting forlornly in the fridge, and another one on it’s way this week! I cooked up a batch of this today and it was fantastic with a fried egg on top. Thank you for an easy and delicious way to put it to use.

    It truly is addictive, as I’m already thinking about making some for lunch tomorrow. . .

  • I’m in the midst of making this now, waiting for the husband to put the small person to bed and then will start the cabbage part. i’m throwing in greenbeans and a yellow pepper.

    here’s also to hoping molly has a lovely book signing tonight a few miles from here.

  • This sounds like such a delicious, healthy meal. I’d love to make some and have plenty of leftovers for lunch the following day!

  • I like the sound of this a lot. My standard go to for using up leftover roast chicken is a risotto but this sounds like it could be a perfect alternative.

  • This sounds like a great dish! I don’t usually cook with cabbage but I’m intrigued by the combination!

  • Clotilde, is it possible to use Sesame oil? This sounds like such a Chinese-y dish that I wondered.

    We have two woks and I love them truly, madly deeply!

    Not sure I would use chilli sauce tho’. I like travelling to Mars, but not that much.

  • Mackenzie

    I work in a bookstore and you will be glad to know that I have had at least two customers over the last week purchase copies of “A Homemade Life.”

  • I can’t wait to try this! I just love cabbage (it was a staple in our home when I was a kid), but just don’t have many recipes for. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

  • alessia

    Who knows if after making me change my mind about broccoli you’ll succeed in a more difficult achievement with cabbage! Something tells me it’ll be easy for you…

  • This looks really good, and reminds me of a Japanese pancake a make with lot of shredded Savoy cabbage mixed right into the batter. You top the pancake with see-through sliced pork, flip and drizzle with a Japanese fruity sauce. Even my daughter, who wouldn’t consider eating cabbage loves it!

  • You know, broccoli was an almost unheard of vegetable during Russia’s Soviet era. I’d be surprised if it’s popular now. I didn’t see it in the grocery stories when I was in Russia last summer.

    Cabbage is a different story. Everyone cooks cabbage! I could see my mom updating a braised cabbage recipe (traditional Russian food) with soy sauce.

  • Neil

    Clotilde, you might want to try the “Braised Cabbage” from the late Edna Smith’s cookbook “The Gift of Southern Cooking” written with Scott Peacock. The result is cabbage that has taken on a slightly sweet overtone.

  • Living in Southeast Asia, I stir-fry food all the time so would like to share with you the fact that you can, indeed, use olive oil for frying. I use nothing but flavourless Pomace olive oil for all my cooking, Asian and Western, and it works just fine. Obviously, you’d never use the extra virgin olive oil for cooking.

  • Clotilde
    Loved this post. Yes Cabbage is a great vegetable and has it’s own protective wrapping in it’s outer leaves…it’s amazing how long it lasts.
    I too had some cabbage in the fridge, and had pushed it to one side. Inspired by you, I pulled it out and made a wonderful dish, accompanied by butternut squash. Have just done a blog about it…it was very successful. Thanks and Cheers

  • Bellamia

    This may be the most delicious recipe I’ve ever made. I increased the amount of srirachi (I like spicy food) and it gives the dish a really authentic “chinese take-out” aroma and flavor, without the dreaded MSG. I did substitute a few drops of toasted sesame oil for the seeds and it was delicous. I’m going to have a supply of this on hand at all times! Also, I’ve been serving it over brown rice with some dried apricots cooked in it. Next time I’m going to use whole wheat spaghetti for a lo mein variation.

  • Pia

    Sriracha! What a great sauce, so flavorful. It is the secret ingredient of many of my recipes.

  • Darren

    I cooked this tonight with the remains of a cabbage that I bought last week. Like you and others have said its a durable vegetable, it was just a matter of peeling off some leaves. It was a nice quick dinner to make after work.

  • Bob

    Do try adding a little caraway seed to any cabbage dish – I also add caraway to scalloped potatoes – a real yummy addition.

  • Jacqueline

    This was lovely, just right for a quick supper after a (very) long day at work. Got me to finally drag the wok out of the cupboard too!

  • sharon

    Cabbages are also very beautiful in the garden. Fresh from the garden in a salad or cole slaw they are very tender and oh so virtuous.

  • fionnuala

    Hi Clotilde,

    This looks great! Any idea where to buy grapeseed oil in Paris? I’ve been looking and haven’t been able to find it – not in the health food stores at least.

    thanks! fionnuala

    p.s. Rose Bakery is my favourite place to eat too!

  • Fionnuala – In French, grapeseed oil is called huile de pépins de raisins. You should be able to find it in organic stores (the Emile Noel brand makes one) and in supermarkets (though it probably won’t be organic then).

  • Clotilde, this might seriously be on my list of meals I make over and over again. I, too, had leftover roasted Zuni chicken and half a head of cabbage. I pretty much devoured an entire skillet of this stir fry in one sitting…by myself. At least it’s healthy!

  • Sounds incredible! I’d love some of this right now, since lunch is eluding me.

  • Claire

    Thank you so much for this recipe. It’s delicious. I’m new to your blog, but I’m sure I’ll be back often!

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.