Chicken Thigh Cabbage Rolls

Growing up in this part of the American “Midwest” – the belt that stretches from, let’s say Buffalo along the great lakes to Minnesota and encompassing most of the old industrial core of the country, I was exposed to a lot of food that was called “Eastern European” or “Slavic” or some similar designation that didn’t quite name itself as originating in a particular culture.  Some of the dishes were probably polish in origin, or Hungarian, Czech, or Russian.  But I think at some point it evolved into its own nearly unique cuisine.  A cuisine of the American Rust Belt.  Green peppers, paprika, onion, tomato, potatoes, and cabbage feature prominently in that cuisine – perhaps more so than in any of the countries or traditions that influenced it.


My mother grew up in Cleveland.  Her cooking was strongly influenced by those flavors and traditions, and as a kid we ate a lot of things that were described using the words and names of those traditions – like for example goulash.    I say “described using the words and names of those traditions” because those things that were called goulash were not in fact goulash.  Search Google for “hamburger goulash” to see what I mean.  There’s macaroni in it.

One of the dishes my mother commonly made consisted of cabbage leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice, then braised in a sauce of tomatoes, green peppers, and onions.    I didn’t like it.  The ground beef was dry and I always thought there was too much green pepper.  Since then, I’ve played around a lot with cabbage rolls under difference auspices as though calling them “Crepinette” or some other frenchified name would erase the faint emotional stain of those dry 1970’s cabbage rolls.   The truth is, once I started thinking of them as sausages, I genuinely started to enjoy them.


After a lot of playing around I discovered that a cabbage roll filled with cooked rice and finely ground and heavily spiced pork, dressed in a onion and tomato sauce tempered with a bit of yogurt or sour cream was really delicious.    Of course, then my chicken thigh addled brain said “hey, if you can make it with ground pork, you can make it with chicken thighs!”

And I did.

These aren’t my mother’s cabbage rolls.  They’re a great way to use those outer leaves of a cabbage you bought to make coleslaw, and a great way use up that two-day old rice that came with the take out.  They’re like other dishes from that rust belt cuisine. They are thrifty, but really delicious.

Chicken Thigh Cabbage Rolls

Recipe by DrewCourse: Boneless, Stove Top


Prep time


Cooking time




  • Cabbage Rolls
  • 8 large cabbage leaves

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken thighs

  • 1 cup cooked white rice

  • 1 medium white onion

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1 tsp sweet paprika

  • ½ tsp fresh thyme leaves

  • ½ tsp ground black pepper

  • 1 tsp kosher salt

  • Sauce
  • 1 14.5 oz can peeled diced tomatoes

  • 2 cups chicken stock

  • 1 medium white onion

  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

  • 1 tsp kosher salt

  • ½ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt


  • Cabbage Rolls
  • Separate the outer leaves from a head of cabbage.
  • Prepare a pot of boiling water.
  • Blanch the cabbage leaves in the water until just softened.
  • Peel, and trim the garlic.
  • Peel, trim, and coarsely chop the onion.
  • Cut the chicken into 2 inch pieces.
  • Add the garlic and onion to the bowl of a food processer.
  • Pulse until the onion and garlic are finely chopped.
  • Add the chicken, thyme, paprika and salt.
  • Process until the chicken is finely ground.
  • Add the rice and pulse just until combined.
  • Place a blanched cabbage leaf on a flat surface.
  • Place 1/8th of the filling on top of the leaf, off center.
  • Carefully fold the sides of the leaf over the filling, then roll to make a tightly rolled parcel.
  • Place the cabbage rolls into the prepared sauce and simmer covered until cooked through, about 40 minutes.
  • Sauce
  • Peel, trim, and slice the onion.
  • Add the butter to a pan over medium heat.
  • As soon as the butter has stopped foaming, add the onion and cook until the onion is translucent.
  • Add the paprika and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until fragrant but not smelling burnt.
  • Add the chicken stock, salt, and tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes.
  • Use the back of a spoon to break up the tomato pieces.
  • Stir in the sour cream.
  • Optional: I like to put about ½ of the sauce into a high speed blender then return it to the pan just before adding the sour cream for a creamier texture.

Be sure to check out my other food project, The Weekly Menu!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.