You've Been Eating Coleslaw Wrong This Whole Time

Too often, coleslaw gets a bad rap. After all, it's often a mixture of cabbage, mayonnaise, and sugar — it can be gross, and who wants to eat it; or pretend to like it (via Lifehacker)?

Then again, coleslaw doesn't have to be that way. Slaw can be dressed up and repurposed in ways we never could have imagined. The neutrality of cabbage (it's not exactly packed with flavor) allows for so many variations. Consider slaws made with mustards, or studded with bits of apple, or spiced up with jalapeños. Alice Waters, chef and founder of Chez Panisse, mixes a coleslaw with lime juice, cilantro leaves, and red onion (via New York Times). And if Alice Waters is eating it, then who are we to cast coleslaw aside?

So, to bring your coleslaw from sodden to sensational, we give you a few crucial pointers: make the slaw yourself, make it well, and pair it with the right foods.

Make coleslaw yourself, and make it well

When you choose to make your own coleslaw — turning a blind eye from the plastic containers of slimy, sweetened, unidentifiable cream and cabbage — you open yourself up to a world of possibilities. Not a mayonnaise person? Toss carrots, onion, and cabbage with vinegar, sugar, and dry mustard for a Carolina-style slaw (via The Spruce Eats). Craving a sweet slaw without the drawbacks of refined sugar? Chop pears and cabbages with onions and chives for an Asian-style slaw (via Bon Appétit). When you ditch the grocery store aisle of refrigerated, pre-made dishes, you wield the power to customize, experiment, and surprise yourself with your quickly developing slaw skills.

If you're looking to stick with the classic, mayo-based coleslaw, there are some fool-proof ways to avoid watery sogginess. It's best to make coleslaw the same day you serve it, no more than an hour or two in advance. But, if you're making it sooner and wish to preserve that crunchiness of the raw cabbage, salting the chopped cabbage will zap some of the water from the vegetable, preserving its texture (via The Kitchn). Also, store the dressing and veggies separately until serving time.

Creating contrast and balance with your coleslaw

Coleslaw appears in more places than you might realize. In Northern Mexican border states like Baja California and Sonora, fish tacos are topped with heaps of a version of coleslaw (via Sunset Magazine). It's been dolloped onto hotdogs in North Carolina (via CBS). And of course, it serves as a hearty complement to the holy grail of fried foods: the spicy fried chicken sandwich.

There's a theme here. Fried fish, chicken, and hot dogs are meaty, heavy dishes with a lot of umami— that's the lovely, savory flavor that sits in your mouth after eating a juicy burger, or a grilled portobello mushroom. Coleslaw works so well with these dishes because its light, creamy sensation creates a sense of contrast. Contrast is exciting! You wouldn't toss coleslaw onto, say, an egg salad sandwich (please don't), because the light, creamy flavor profile is already there. But a pulled pork sandwich or a rack of messy ribs? That's where your coleslaw will truly shine.