Cauliflower Comfort

This week’s Chef’s Night theme was to elevate a “comfort food” to a Rogue Estate level. Comfort food – warm, familiar, often simple, readily available and easily stretchable on tight budgets. It’s a huge list of qualifiers to pick a single dish from, but after some inspiration from Michael Ruhlman, I settled on Roasted Cauliflower as my offering for this particular table.

Roasted Cauliflower at it’s most basic: a head of cauliflower is broken down into florets, oiled, seasoned and baked until golden, then served immediately. A preparation so simple that anyone can do it and the flavor and aroma so earthily wonderful that even the stubbornest anti-vegetarian will make room on the plate for it. How to improve something so perfectly wonderful as is? What could possibly be done that justifies the “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule?

I began my quest for gluttony by paging through various older cookbooks from home cooks and semi famous chefs alike and eventually did a bit of google searching on the subject as well. The evidence below is an amalgamation of influences collected from different eras, regions and even a few related only by virtue of containing cauliflower dishes which I tested the night before and prepared successfully and to much enjoyment on Chef’s Night itself.

The software:

  • 1 head of cauliflower, whole
  • 2 tbl lard (grapeseed oil works here if you’re worried.)
  • 8-12 garden sage leaves
  • 2 springs silver thyme
  • 2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1 shallot, grated
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 cup butter (more for a larger head of cauliflower)
  • nutmeg
  • 1 oz parmesan cheese
  • 1 oz asiago cheese
  • 1 oz gruyere cheese
  • 1 oz finely chopped fresh parsely
  • 2 oz freshly squeeze lemon juice
  • scant dash of tobasco sauce

Method:

Rinse the cauliflower, remove leaves and cut the stem back flush with the bottom of the head, leaving enough to hold everything together. If possible, brine a mild salt water solution for an hour or so prior to the next stage.

The Pre-cook: this is an interesting step I discovered during my initial research courtesy of Harold McGee: a low heat pre-cook helps some veg reinforces cell walls, which in turn keeps things in better shape during high temp cooking. Cauliflower happens to be one of those vegetables aided by this process, called Persistent Firmness. Since the intent is to keep the head whole for a stunning presentation, do this if you have the time. Put the cauliflower in a pot and fill til just covered with water. Heat until the internal temp of the cauliflower is 130-140F for 20 minutes, remove and drain.

While the precook is going, preheat the oven to 425F and put your fry pan on the fire to melt the lard or heat the oil and saute’ half of the total sage leaves, thyme and all of the garlic and shallot. Once the herbs are spent, remove and discard, reserving the hot flavored lube.

With the cauliflower drained and dried, lube the bottom of  your baking pan and set the cauliflower in it, then spoon or brush the entire head with the remaining lube. use it all. season with salt and pepper as desired and shove the whole thing into the oven uncovered for 45 minutes, give or take.

While the head is roasting, grate the cheeses and chop the parsley, then combine in a zip lock or a bowl along with black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg and set aside for finishing.

Check your Cauliflower around 30 minutes – it should be starting to brown by now. Fire up the fry pan again, this time with the butter, remaining herbs, a pinch of nutmeg, the lemon juice and the tobasco. Sautee the herbs as before, discarding when they’re spent. Continue to heat until the butter starts to brown, than remove to a bowl or cup for basting.

Pull the cauliflower from the oven and drench with the butter. Cover every surface of the thing that you can and get it back into the oven to continue roasting. Pull and re-baste after 10 minutes and then sprinkle an ounce of the cheese mixture over the head, then send it back into the hot box for the finish.

When it’s reach your preferred level of golden brown, pull, slice it thick and transfer to your serving dish, fan the slabs out just a bit and sprinkle more of the cheese mixture over it and serve immediately.

It’s considerably more effort than the traditional roasted veg, but that’s the kind of indulgent bastards we are around here and everyone present for this week’s Chef’s Night can tell you – it is well worth the investment. Cauliflower never had it as good as this.

Cook this up for you next meal and put it in your heads!

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