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Chef John Jackson’s smoky sour cabbage rolls

Cabbage rolls made by John Jackson seen at his home in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013.

Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

At award-winning Charcut Roast House, Calgary's shrine to all things meaty, visitors can dine at a counter facing the kitchen. There, most eyes will settle on Connie DeSousa, the ballerina-turned-chef who charmed Top Chef Canada viewers with her grace and passion for sausage making. It won't be long, though, before they notice another big personality in the kitchen: John Jackson, the other half of the Charcut dream team, is a sweet, friendly force to be reckoned with.

A Regina native, Jackson taught himself to cook while his single mom worked multiple jobs to bring home groceries. By 10, little John was making cabbage rolls. By 14, he had a gig at Hotel Saskatchewan. Culinary school was next, then a job at Calgary's prestigious Owl's Nest, where Jackson was chef de cuisine and DeSousa was his young apprentice. Jackson went on to work in New York, Bora Bora and San Francisco, collecting awards before returning to Calgary to open Charcut with his fomer underling.

Today, the restaurant has succeeded beyond their hopes, but Jackson remains a down-to-earth guy who keeps the menu casual for visitors to his home. "I love to serve cabbage rolls on a cold winter day," he says. "I have a real emotional connection to the dish because of my childhood and my [German] heritage."

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Servings: 6

Ready time: 4 1/2 hours

Ingredients

1 large head cabbage

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 or 4 fresh dill stems

1/4 cup peeled horseradish cubes

2 pounds ground Berkshire pork shoulder

1 pound ground grass-fed beef chuck

1 1/4 cups uncooked rice

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, diced

2 teaspoon sweet paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

5 cups tomato juice

2 cups sauerkraut

1 smoked pork hock

Method

To ferment cabbage, hollow out the cabbage core as far as possible without breaking into the leaves, pack the hole tightly with kosher salt and place in a large ceramic crock along with dill and horseradish. Cover generously with salted water that has been boiled and cooled, using a plate to weigh down the cabbage and keep it submerged. Store at room temperature, stirring with a wooden spoon every day for a month and removing any scum that forms on top.

To make rolls, combine pork, beef, rice, garlic, onion, paprika, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup tomato juice. Mix well, keeping ingredients cold. Removed large cabbage leaves from head and trim so stem end is same thickness as leaves. Fill each leaf with a small handful of meat shaped into a log, roll and press in ends securely.

Distribute 1⁄3 of sauerkraut in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Add 1 cup tomato juice and season with salt and pepper. Place pork hock in the centre and surround with cabbage rolls. Add additional layers of sauerkraut and cabbage rolls until pan is full. Top with a final layer of sauerkraut and remaining tomato juice. Cover securely (pushing bone from hock out of the way if necessary) and bake at 300 F for 2 hours before reducing heat to 260 F and baking 2 hours longer.

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