[holding up a newspaper] It was an ill conceived,
overgeneralization which placed one of the world's great vegetables in
a bad light. And I apologize. I ... [flying pig cutouts cross in front
AB: Oh, nice. Nice. Yes, that's very, very funny. Thank you.
Alton Brown Nixes White Nosh!
Cauliflower Sales Sink!
But let's face it. Cauliflower is easy to overlook. It's just so, well, white. And yet this is not a case were blanc and bland go hand-in-hand. Nor is the cauliflower, as Mark Twain stated, a cabbage with a college education. No, my friends, despite my crass remark and Twain's vegetal blasphemy, the cauliflower is ...
[Good Eats theme]
Any student of history can tell you that
the European royal houses of old had some mighty twisted family trees.
[picture is Charles IV of Spain and His Family,
Goya] Well, the
worst of them have nothing on the decendents of the wild European cabbage,
Brassica oleracea. As was once the case with the royal houses, the
Brassicas experienced, well, they've experienced more than a few bizarre
mutations through the ages.
Of course, when mutations happen in royal families, the unfortunate result is locked in a castle turret and fed through a slot in the door. When mutations happen in vegetables, you also isolate the result. Not to hide it, but to harvest the seeds, shoots, or cuttings for propagation purposes. That is, of course, if you like the mutation. Such basic genetic engineering gave us green cabbage, and kale, and mustard greens, and red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Romanescos, as well as broccoli and cauliflower. Which are so closely related as to be nearly identical from a genetic standpoint.
And yet, any cook knows that they are very, very different critters indeed. The biggest difference between the broccoli and the cauliflower besides, of course, the color, is that the broccoli is continuously pouring energy and resources into the production of hundreds of little yellow flowers. Which will bloom if you don't cook it first. The result is, well, an assertive, fibrous plant that prefers fast, moist cooking lest it's hue fade and its flavors turn all sulfury.
Now the crown of the cauliflower is also a tightly formed cluster of buds. But in this case, they are botanical duds. Aborted is actually the term. Which means the nutrients intended for flowers remain down in the stems and the buds remain in dormant, tight clumps called "curds". This is, perhaps, sad for the cauliflower but it's very good news for the cook.
Now, the standard cauliflower crown gets its alabaster complexion from the giant leaves that sprout right below the head. Now in many varieties, these leaves stay wrapped around the head and naturally blocking sunlight. No sunlight, no chlorophyll. No chlorophyll, of course, no green and no strong flavors. Although some varieties like the Revella here are self-wrappers. Many others like the equally popular Snow Crowns need assistance from growers who actually tie leaves over the heads by hand. Pigmented varieties such as Purple Cape, Romanescos, and the Orange Cheddar—and no, it doesn't taste like cheese—require no such coverage. But then their flavors are stronger than the white varieties.
|Now, white cauliflowers come in three seasonal types depending, of course, on when they ripen: Early, Fall or Over Winter. I prefer Early varieties for their sweetness. But I am grateful that the others are there to allow for year around American harvest.||
Okay, now purchasing: unless you buy directly from a farm stand, odds are the cauliflower you face will be trimmed of most leaves and stem and wrapped in plastic which will allow a cursory exam. If you spot any black, soft spots just put it down and walk away. Mushy gooey spots are especially bad. Now if a truly thorough exam is desired you'll have to breach the containment and give a sniff. There should be no sulfury cabbage aroma. Lastly, bend the leaves at the base. If they're floppy, drop it and walk away.
[at the fridge] I make every effort to
cook cauliflower the very day I bring it home. But if such hasty culinary action
is not in your "curds" [chuckles], keep your curds under a layer of paper
towels or even a big cabbage leaf, like that, to prevent condensation from
actually setting on the curd. Then, wrap in plastic and stash in the coldest
part of your fridge which will always be the bottom, mostly likely the crisper
drawer. That's what it's for.
[at the counter] If cauliflower suffers and unsavory reputation in this country, then we only have the British to blame. That's because they taught us that, "if it's a cabbage ...", and cauliflower is a cabbage, "... then you boil that cabbage. Boil that cabbage!" They certainly boil it long enough for the glucosinolates to give up the sulfur compounds that they contain. Thus filling the home with a World War I trench-like aroma. Mmm.
[at the oven] Due to its arrested development, botanically speaking, cauliflower doesn't have much in the way of stringy and soluble cellulose. So it doesn't need to be introduced into a lot of extra water to cook. Nor does it need to cook quickly for color's sake as its yellow pigments are by and large heat stable. And, of course, long exposure to heat actually develops cauliflower's nutty flavors while softening the higher concentrations of plant pectins and other carbohydrates inside creating an almost custard like consistency. And since cauliflower contains 3.6 times more naturally occurring salt than broccoli, it doesn't need to be cooked in a seasoned environment. All of these factors point not to cooking in boiling water, but to roasting and baking in the oven. In fact, my two favorite cauliflower applications actually do depend on this space.
Up through the 1940's, much of the
in the Eastern US was grown in the Catskills.
Of all the crimes perpetrated against cauliflower, none is more diabolical than the dish the English call, cauliflower cheese. Not "cauliflower with cheese", just cauliflower cheese. Which is what happens when our hero is doused with a roux-based yellow goo reminiscent of the stuff they squirt on nachos at the ballpark. This scenario is made all the more insidious by the fact that cauliflower and cheddar cheese are like BFF. And I think it's time to patch up this relationship.
|We begin with a microwave safe bowl, a tea towel and a cauliflower in the two pound range. Now to remove the leaves and to break up the curds we could use a serrated knife. Or if you've got one of these [drill with 2" door hole-saw attachment] ... Well, excuse me. [cauliflower is taken off screen, the drill is heard and the cauliflower comes back with no leaves on it] Ah. There. That's a little bit more like it.||2 Pound Head Cauliflower|
Now the florets or the big clumps of curds
should easily come off. And you'll only need to use a knife right here on the
end. There. And they're all basically the same size although that top one may
need to be broken in half. Good. Now remove the towel and cover with plastic
wrap. And make sure you get a good seal around the sides of the bowl.
Move the bowl to your microwave and nuke on high for four minutes.
Now at the end of that time, the internal temperature of the curds should be about 130 to 135 degrees, but the cooking is not over yet. We're going to leave the plastic in place and let the residual steam inside continue to cook the cauliflower for about four more minutes [in the microwave]
After that time, we need to cool it down. So very, very carefully remove the plastic wrap and be mindful of the steam that may still be there. And let that sit for another four to five minutes.
|Meanwhile, crank the hot box to 400 degrees, place a rack in the middle of the oven, and that gives us time to assemble the software.||
Beginning with spices. Now I don't want to
overwhelm the native flavors of the cauliflower. I wish to heighten them,
elevate them. And since it is
cruciferous and so is mustard, I'm going to go with one teaspoon of dry
mustard powder, one half teaspoon of paprika—smoked paprika
if at all possible would also be a welcome addition as would a quarter teaspoon of cayenne
pepper. It'll help cut through the cheesy flavor.
Also, 1¼ ounces, that's half a cup, of homemade bread crumbs, okay? Homemade. Japanese style or panko bread crumbs can be substituted in dire emergencies, but for the love of all that is holy, please tell me you don't buy these [plain bread crumbs from the store]. I don't even know why this is here. I have to tell you that it is my opinion that no good eats comes out of a cardboard canister such as this. I could be wrong. Doubt it though.
[at the fridge] As for the sauce, cauliflower has always had a special friendship with dairy. So ½ cup of heavy cream will be called into service. As for the cheesy goodness, 4½ ounces of sharp cheddar cheese. The sharper, the better. We will also require the binding power of one whole egg. And while we're here, a tablespoon of butter for the dish.
Now microwave ½ cup of the heavy cream on high for 30 seconds. Meanwhile, go ahead and grate the cheese using the small holes on your box grater. There.
|Now into a mixing bowl goes the bread crumbs, homemade, again, remember? Followed by the egg, the smoked paprika—regular paprika is okay in a pinch—dry mustard powder, cayenne pepper, one teaspoon of salt, and about six good grinds of black pepper for a total of one quarter of a teaspoon.||
½ Cup Coarse Breadcrumbs
1 Whole Egg
½ tsp. Smoked Paprika
1 tsp. Dry Mustard
¼ tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
|Then add four ounces of the cheese. We'll reserve one half of the ounce. And then the hot cream which should be warm enough to melt that cheese. And just stir it in.||
4 Ounces Cheddar Cheese,
½ Cup Heavy Cream
Then when it comes to adding the
cauliflower, take each curd and rub between the hands to break off the smaller
florets. If you're left with a stalk like this, discard it. Once all the
cauliflower is in, stir to combine. It doesn't have to be perfect. And then move
to an oven safe vessel capable of containing 2 quarts. And that was buttered, of course, because this stuff will stick.
[at the oven] Now into the oven for 20 minutes.
|Alright, when 20 minutes is up, the cooking is not over. So just slide out the casserole, and scoot your rack up to within, say, four or five inches of the broiler which you will want to turn on to high. Then take the last half ounce of cheese and just scatter across the top of the cauliflower and reinsert into the hot box for six to eight minutes or until golden brown and delicious.||
½ Ounce Cheddar Cheese,
Exact broiling times may vary depending on the make and model of your oven.
Finally, cool for a minimum of 10 minutes
before serving. This is important because as the starches in the cauliflower
cool, it will soak up the creamy goodness that lays just beneath the surface.
[tastes] Mmm. Cheese, yes. Spices, certainly. But mostly and above all, the
flavor of cauliflower comes through which is the way it ought to be. [goes in
for another bite] Ha, ha, ha, ha ... [he's automatically moved down the table
away from the dish] Hey.
Although it could be argued that England traditionally doesn't have a real grip on cauliflower, ironically a country England used to have a grip on does. I speak, of course, of India: the only culture that I think really gets cauliflower.
Cauliflower was first brought to England in the 16th century by Flemish weavers escaping the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands.
[at the spice shelf] Although cauliflower can play it mild mannered when mild mannered is required, it can also stand tall alongside the curious compendium of spices known as curry. And no, I do not mean curry powder. I don't even know how this got in here. We don't traffic in such nonsense. I mean, of course, a fresh mélange of spices which we will grind to order ... or mostly.
|In this case, we'll go with half a teaspoon each yellow mustard seed, whole cumin seed, whole coriander, whole fenugreek, dry orange peel. And half a teaspoon of ground turmeric, one of the only spices that I'll buy in the ground state. Because to tell you the truth, it's pretty hard to grind this stuff at home. We will combine all of these in a small ramekin.||
½ tsp. Each Yellow Mustard
Seed + Whole Cumin Seed
½ tsp. Whole Coriander
½ tsp. Fenugreek Seeds
½ tsp. Dry Orange Peel
½ tsp. Ground Turmeric
|Then, pound with the end of a rolling pin until a lightly crushed. There. Then pour those into half a cup of canola oil that has been heated to 350 degrees and make sure you turn off the heat. There. Let that just sit and steep. And yes, it's going to hiss a little bit.||½ Cup Canola Oil|
Then bring at least a cup of water to a boil.
Alright, go ahead and kick your broiler on to high and position a rack so that it's about four inches away from the element.
High Broiler Setting
And go ahead and retrieve a sheet pan and a cooling rack which we'll use as a roasting rig in this case. If you don't have one, use the broiler rig that most likely came with your oven when it was new. So we'll have that [roasting rig] standing by.
|Here we have a medium cauliflower in the 1½ pound range. Now I want to cut this into about 12 wedges. So I'm going to quarter it and then cut each of the quarters into three pieces. What's important is that some of the central stem be in each piece. Otherwise it won't be a wedge. It'll just fall apart. And it doesn't have to be pretty, but some of that stem has to be there. Obviously, I skipped the pretty part here.||1½ Pound Head Cauliflower|
|Now you'll definitely get between ten and a dozen pieces. And just spread them out on the rack and then cover with foil. Tightly seal the foil on three sides leaving one of the long sides a little loose, because we're not quite done with that yet. Now place that on the rack and then pull the rack out so that you've got good physical support. Open up the loose edge and pour in a cup of the boiling water. Alright? Now this is going to give us some steam which is going to soften the cauliflower, and cut down on the cooking time. Just make sure that you now seal that edge very, very thoroughly to trap that vapor in. Good. Now park this, still under the broiler, for six minutes.||1 Cup Boiling Water|
Then carefully pull the rack out. Remember there's water sloshing around in there. And remove the foil very carefully, alright? You know there's steam in there. Don't want to get scalded.
|Now brush on the oil being sure to get some of the seeds as well. And get good coverage over all the pieces. And then sprinkle on ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. Broil this, now, uncovered for anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes or until it is nice and brown, especially around the edges.||¾ tsp. Kosher Salt|
|That'll look something like this. And again, carefully manipulate the pan so you can get at the pieces. And flip them using your tongues. I find the best way to do this is to actually grab that central stalk again. Paint on the rest of the oil, sprinkle on another ¾ of a teaspoon of salt and broil again for another 5 to 10 minutes or however long it takes to produce a color ...||¾ tsp. Kosher Salt|
... like this. Now when you're ready to
bring it out, I really don't want to move that pan around with that hot water.
So I'm just going to grab the rack and then I'll come back and get the pan when it's
Although I often serve as a side with a bit of cucumber yogurt sauce, more often than not, I serve my cauliflower wedges with my fingers.
By the way, serving cauliflower in any form is kind of like opening up a nutrition store. Besides loads of vitamin C, vitamin K, even omega-3 fatty acids like you find in oily fish, cauliflower packs a wallop of phytochemicals, many of which act as anti-inflammatories which is ironic seeing as how this whole thing started over an inflammatory statement on my behalf.
Now having shown conclusively that dry heat is key to answering the "call of the flower", I would be remiss if I didn't take a few moments to point out that under certain conditions, cauliflower can be served raw. [camera pans down to a crudités plate] This is not one of those situations as there's not enough ranch dressing in the world to make me want to eat big old raw hunks of cruciferae. However, change the proportions and there's hope.
|Take one large head of cauliflower, about two pounds, and break into a pound and a half of florets just small enough to get into the feed tube of your food processor fitted with the shredding blade. You'll notice right away that the curds kind of shatter apart on the, on the grater, kind of jump out of the work bowl as you're trying to put more in. And the little pieces almost resemble grains, like very, very pale cracked wheat, a.k.a. bulgur. And you know what? If it looks like bulgur and feels like bulgur, well, you might as well make tabbouleh, right?||2 Pound Head Cauliflower|
There. Everything is through. I've got some pieces of stem in there. Ah, that's all okay. No problem.
In most European languages the name for cauliflower translates to "flowering cabbage" despite the fact that it almost never does.
|Time to build the tabbouleh. [this recipe is called Cauliflower Slaw] Begin with one teaspoon of kosher salt in a large mixing bowl. Dissolve that in two tablespoons—that's an ounce—of freshly squeezed lime juice. Just whisk it for a moment and then slowly drizzle in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Then some herbage. We've got two tablespoons of fresh mint, chopped of course, half a cup of fresh parsley, half a cup of chopped tomatoes, and three quarters of a cup of golden raisins which are really the only raisins I like.||
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
2 Tbs. Lime Juice, Freshly
1 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbs. Fresh Mint, Chopped
½ Cup Fresh Parsley,
½ Cup Chopped Tomatoes
¾ Cup Golden Raisins
cauliflower back to the bowl and follow that with one half cup of pine nuts,
toasted. Now let's just hold it there a second.
While we're on the subject, ... [camera is tilted too high] Hey! [camera pans down] ... did you know that pine nuts are extracted from the mature pine cones of several varieties of Pinaceae Pinus, a.k.a. pine trees. Go figure. Now this entire device is, in fact, designed with both protection and dispersal in mind. Getting at the nuts is kind of difficult. You see right up under there, there's a couple of pine nuts side by side. There's one over there. Once extracted, the outer shell also has to be removed. It's a labor intensive process which is one reason that they are so darned expensive.
Although nuts from European Stone Pine are considered kind of the pièce de résistance, I actually prefer those from Pinyon Pines grown in the Western U.S. They're also several Asian varieties. But I'd steer clear of nuts from Chinese White and Red Pines because they have been linked to cases of Pine Mouth the only symptom of which is strange metallic taste in the mouth which strikes within a day or two of consumption. The cause remains a mystery. But we have top men on it. [dramatic pause] Top ... men.
Now once quality nuts have been procured, you may want to salt and roast them in order to fully realize their flavor potential.
|We begin by washing half a cup of pine nuts in a fine, mesh strainer. Then while they're still a little moisture clinging, toss in a teaspoon of kosher salt [while still in the strainer].||
½ Cup Pine Nuts
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
There, now place those in a food grade paper bag such as this—we also call these lunch bags—and lightly seal. Place in the microwave for 1 to 1½ minutes on high. Then carefully remove—there could be steam—and cool slightly before integrating into the salad. Very nice.
|Now just stir to combine along with a quarter teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.||
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
Now you certainly could consume this salad as is. But
spending a few hours in the refrigerator would certainly up the flavor ante
Well, I hope the entire Brassica family will forgive the affront suffered by my questioning the value of your lilly white kins plant, the cauliflower. Whether steamed, baked with cheese or broiled with the flavors of the subcontinent or tossed raw into a Middle Eastern salad, with a little care and culinary cunning, cauliflower is a big helpful head case. [notes bad analogy] I'm going, I'm going to work on rephrasing that. See you next time on Good Eats.
[exits, muttering] Maybe it's a head ...
Transcribed by Michael Menninger
Proofread by Michael Roberts
Last Edited on 11/03/2011