It’s cauliflower, but not as we know it – seared cauliflower “steaks” with almond and sultana butter

Cauliflower cheese, you say? Bored, bored, bored*! I know it’s an old favorite and on a chilly Sunday afternoon with a roast dinner, maybe it has a place.

However, on a balmy evening in Miami, with a 24 oz, grass-fed, naturally-raised beef porterhouse sizzling on the grill we have no business with the often overcooked cauli. Its sometimes floury sauce and its fat-oozing cheese do not belong on our dinner plates. With a bit of special treatment though, the humble, pale cauliflower can come into its own.

Some years ago Ian Leckie, head chef at Sam’s Brasserie did something very similar with roast cauliflower as an accompaniment to sea bass and last year I had an appetizer at a Miami local that was similar to what I’m going to show you here. So it’s not a totally new idea, but hopefully it is new to you.

Feeds four as an appetizer or more as a side dish

  • 1 whole head of cauliflower, washed
  • 1 small handful of raisins or sultanas, soaked in a little warm water for about 1/2 an hour and then drained (I like the colour-match of the sultanas in this dish so that’s what I used but remember they are sweeter than raisins).
  • 1 small handful of whole, blanched almonds. If you’ve had almonds sitting in your pantry for months, please taste them before using them. Nuts go rancid, especially in warm store cupboards.
  • 175g unsalted butter, fridge cold and cubed (you can use salted, just allow for it when you season later)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill or fennel tops (I don’t like dill so never use it and happened to have a fennel bulb in the fridge from which I was able to scavenge the delicate, fragrant fronds)
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper (you can, of course, use black but I don’t like the black specks in my beautiful, shiny yellow sauce)

Cubed butter

Wine reduction

  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  • 2 thick slices of onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 or 4 black peppercorns
  • pinch of salt

Wine reduction: you need this for your butter emulsion. Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce until you have about two table spoons of liquid. Remove or strain out all the bits, reserve the liquid and set aside until you need it.

Almonds: toast in a preheated oven at 180 c for ten minutes, more or less. Keep a close eye on them, you want them brown but not burnt. Let them cool and then crack using a pestle and mortar or chop them up with a sharp knife – not too finely though.

Cauliflower: While the almonds are toasting you can prepare the cauliflower. Cut a little off the base of the cauliflower to give it a flat side that you can stand it on. Using the longest knife you’ve got, slice the cauliflower into “steaks” – I like them about 1.5 to 2 cm thick but whatever suits you is fine. Remember though that if the slices are too thin the florets may break off.

In a shallow pan, bring enough salted water to the boil to cover the cauliflower slices  – it’s hard to find a pan that will hold four slices of cauliflower so do this in batches, it only takes a few minutes. Blanch each slice just long enough to ensure you no longer have raw cauliflower. You still want it quite firm. Drain and set aside. Tip the water out of your pan, give it a wipe down, toss in one or two of your cubes of butter and return the pan to the heat.

BlancheBlanche

Once the butter has melted and started to foam, swirl it around the pan to cover the base, return the cauliflower to the pan, reduce heat to medium and sauté each side until you have a good caramelization over the cauliflower.

SautéSauté

Butter sauce: While the cauliflower is browning in the sauté pan you can prepare the butter emulsion. Emulsions can be a bit precious and tend to split if not treated with love so go slowly, use very very cold butter and keep whisking.

Put your reserved wine reduction into a small saucepan and place over a high heat. It will only take a few seconds for the reduction to heat up and when it has, reduce the stove temp and start adding your butter, one cube at a time, whisking all the time. Don’t add more butter until the cube in the pan has completely melted. You may need to remove the pan from the heat from time to time, you don’t want this to boil.

Adding butter

Keep a jug of boiling water nearby and if you see your emulsion starting to split, add a few drops (and I do mean a few drops – like a teaspoon full) of boiling water and keep whisking, it will come together again. Once all your butter is incorporated, stir in your fennel fronds or dill and remove from the heat.

Thicker

Fennel fronds

Add the roughly chopped almonds and the drained sultanas to the butter sauce and season with salt and white pepper. Put the cauliflower slices on a serving plate/plates and spoon over the sauce.

Notes: 

Cauliflower “steaks”  – great for presentation but can be finicky to prepare and is not really necessary. The same awesome flavor is achieved by simply breaking the cauliflower into florets, blanching them and sautéing them.

Butter emulsion – regardless of the quantity of sauce you are making, you will not need more than two tablespoons of the wine reduction. If you prefer not to use wine, the same effect can be achieved (with obvious flavor differences) by using a wine vinegar reduction or simply using water.

This type of butter sauce is a good one to have in your repertoire – it does not contain egg, is quick to prepare, can be flavored with just about any herb and can be used on any number of dishes – grilled/steamed/poached fish, as a dipper for asparagus, as a garnish on other veggies.   

* Apologies to any cauliflower cheese I may have offended with my cries of boredom, it is in fact, still one of my favorites.
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My happy place

I love glass jars. I love the way things look in glass jars. I love organizing my glass jars. I love filling them, moving them, reorganizing them and ultimately standing back and looking at them, sometimes for hours.

A neat, organized, labelled store cupboard is my happy place. And The Container Store, that’s also my happy place. A place staffed by the organizing savvy who will sell you a container, a receptacle, a vessel, a canister, a can, a box, a repository or a beautiful glass jar for every single thing in your home.

Afternoons don’t get much better than a wander through the über-organized shelves of The Container Store.

For Mary. Scallop and shrimp ceviche

This morning someone asked me for a ceviche recipe… it reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago with a less-than-charming head chef who, for the purposes of this little anecdote, I’ll refer to simply as “R” – it is less wordy and so much more polite than the names I used to call him in my head.

Me: R, may I please have your osso bucco recipe?
R: Well, SHELLEY, (yes, in the conversation he did in fact snarlingly bold, cap and italicize my name), if you knew anything at all about cooking you would know that it is a method and not a recipe. So no. You may not.
Me: Oh.
R: *Snarl*
Me: *Goes to the computer, looks up recipe on recipe database in folder called “recipes”. Prints recipe. Goes home and prepares osso bucco.*

R was snarly but he made a good osso bucco with close-to-perfect risotto Milanese and he gave me my first taste of ceviche.

So back to the point of the post. Ceviche.

There are so many interesting and clever ceviche recipes around. Recipes that include coconut milk or coconut water, passion fruit, mango – I suppose anything that is evocative of a day in a tropical paradise (although in Ecuador they apparently add ketchup, which doesn’t scream “tropical paradise” to me, but you know what I mean). Whatever the recipe, the basic principle is always the same – fish or seafood is marinated or “cooked” in citrus juice. The preparation is similar to that of an escabeche, both require some kind of acid to “cook” the fish, the biggest difference being that an escabeche is prepared using vinegar, not citrus juice.

This is my default ceviche recipe – it is embarrassingly simple and never fails to impress. And while I would love to claim the recipe as my own, the Incas probably deserve credit for the method…

This serves four as a starter. I made it on Saturday night using scallops and prawns (Florida shrimp) but the recipe is good for any fish, really. I prefer something firm like halibut, yellow tail, Chilean sea bass – be guided by what is freshest on the day.

Ingredients
  • 4 large scallops
  • 8 Florida shrimp, cleaned and deveined
  • 1/4 red onion – sliced as finely as you can get it. I used a mandolin.
  • 2 medium red chillis – finely sliced. As many as you think you need to achieve the level of spicy you enjoy
  • Juice of fresh limes – enough to cover your fish. I needed 4 1/2 limes for this recipe but obviously that changes depending on how juicy your limes are.
  • 1 medium avo, perfectly ripe
  • Tbl spoon fresh coriander, coarsely chopped
  • Generous pinch of sea salt

Add your sliced chillis, onion and sea salt to the fresh juice in a glass or plastic container – nothing reactive. Prepare the seafood. Each scallop should yield eight pieces by slicing down the centre (as you would a bagle), this will give you two discs of equal thickness, and then cutting each disc into quarters. If you are using a fillet of fish, cut into pieces of equal size and thickness, around one and a half cm by one and a half cm. Slice the prawns lengthways down the centre and then cut into two or three pieces (depending on the size of your prawns).

Put all your fish/seafood into the lime juice and make sure it is all completely submerged – I like to cover it with cling film with the film actually pressed down onto the surface of the liquid to keep air out and to keep the fish covered by juice. Leave in the fridge to “cook” for no less than an hour. It is ready when the fish and seafood have turned opaque and the prawns have developed the same light pink colouring as when cooked using heat – this happens because the citrus affects the protein chain in the same way as heat does (it’s a bit more complicated than that but only interesting if you’re interested in it so I won’t bore you with the details – if you’re interested, Google it).

When you’re ready to serve, carefully remove the fish from the juice (save the juice) with a slotted spoon and place into a clean prep bowl if you’re serving the dish plated or a serving bowl if it’s a help-yourself scenario (plating is better as you are able to ensure everyone gets equal amounts of all the good stuff). Cut the avo into cubes equal in size to that of your fish and gently stir the avo and the coriander through the fish mixture. Plate-up, drizzle each portion with about a table spoon of the reserved lime marinade and serve.

Ingredient notes

Fish – as with sashimi, you have to use fresh fish of excellent quality. That is all. You have to. While the acid in the citrus fruit juice alters the proteins in the fish enough to make it look and taste “cooked” it is not able to kill bacteria as efficiently as heat will and so it must be of the best possible standard before you start.

Freshly squeezed lime juice (or whatever citrus juice you’re using) – Freshly squeezed. Freshly squeezed. Freshly squeezed. Not from a bottle. Not from concentrate. Not squeezed yesterday. Freshly squeezed.

Chilli – I like the heat of birds’ eye chillis and the appearance of red chillis but really any fresh chilli will do – red or green serranos or jalapenos are probably more traditional. Habaneros will also work.

Prawns/shrimp – in England, South Africa and America the words “prawns” and “shrimp” mean different things. They all refer to bottom-feeding exoskeletons with eyes that look like black lentils but the size varies. What you want is something meaty and that you can slice to about a 1.5 cm by 1cm piece – don’t buy tiger giant or big LMs, I know they are delicious, but they’re more delicious left whole and tossed on a BBQ.

Avocado – this is not an essential ingredient but I like the contrast of the creamy avo to the firm fish. If your avo is not perfectly ripe, soft and buttery, don’t bother with it.

Red onion – swap for a banana shallot if you like.

I’m sorry I have no photos – we had this one night over the weekend but as I was not expecting the request I, once again, failed to take out my camera. When will I learn?