Cauliflower's seen new life on restaurant menus and magazine recipe pages, but professionals and savvy home cooks alike have long appreciated its gently sweet flavor, hefty crunch, handy caramelizing power, and all those nooks and crannies to soak in sauce. So we asked a pool of experts for some fun, new ways to make the most of this alabaster vegetable.
Dmitry Rodov inherited his love for the culinary arts from his father before attending the Ukrainian Culinary College, then moving to New York and continuing at the French Culinary Institute. As the Executive Chef of Duet Brasserie, Rodov focuses on "home cooking, beautifully presented."
I love cauliflower tempura. First I cook the cauliflower halfway by boiling it in salted water, and then I dip it in a basic tempura batter and deep-fry it. I serve it with a sauce of jalapeño, ponzu, lemon, and soy.
Soulayphet Schwader is the chef/owner of the Michelin-recognized Khe-Yo, the first fully Laotian restaurant in New York City.
Everyone loves roasted cauliflower, but I love to pickle it. I love the texture and crunch, so when I pickle it, it's really about textures for me. I use a simple distilled white vinegar and add mustard seeds, chili flakes, a little turmeric, and coriander seeds. I use it as a garnish for a noodle dish to get the sour component and crunch. Try using a yellow or purple cauliflower for color.
Savory Cauliflower Cakes
Anthony Russo is the founder of Russo's Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen and Russo's New York Pizzeria based in Houston. His food philosophy, "if it's not fresh, don't serve it," is apparent on the Italian-inspired menus in each of his restaurants.
I like cauliflower cakes. I blanch the cauliflower for about five minutes, chop it into really small pieces, and toss it with eggs, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and a few pinches of flour—just enough to pull it together. Then I heat up about a quarter inch of olive oil and spoon the batter into the hot skillet until golden brown on each side. It's excellent. It's a good appetizer, and a great way to get kids to eat vegetables.
Give it the Rotisserie Chicken Treatment
Jesse Schenker is the executive chef and owner of The Gander and Recette in New York City. The James Beard Rising Star semifinalist was included in Zagat's "30 Hottest Chefs Under 30," Forbes's "30 Under 30," was named one of the Best New Chefs by New York magazine, and is the author of All or Nothing: One Chef's Appetite for the Extreme.
Cauliflower is a deceptively umami vegetable, and it's amazing whether you serve it raw, roasted, and puréed. I would say it's not underappreciated, but rather taken for granted—it's always been around and you always see it, but it's "been there, done that."
At the Gander, we rotisserie cauliflower, marinating heads like chickens and roasting them until they're crispy on the outside but still almost raw at the core. Then we cover them with anchovy paste, lemon, garlic, olive oil, and chili-flavored breadcrumbs. The exterior is melt-in-your-mouth caramelized, almost burnt on the outside, yet crisp inside.
At home, take the cauliflower, plant it in a nest of aluminum foil, and then season it intensely—since you can't season the inside, you want to compensate by going heavy on the surface. Put the head in a 450° oven for 10 minutes—the high heat will blast the outside, but the inside will be al dente. When it comes out, cover it with a healthy layer of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and some chopped white anchovies.
Two-time James Beard award nominee Craig Deihl is the executive chef at Charleston's Cypress. His Artisan Meat Share butcher and sandwich shop showcases his award-winning charcuterie on especially hefty sandwiches.
At home I put a quarter pound of butter in a pie pan, then take a whole head of cauliflower and season it with salt and pepper. Then I put it in my dome grill and cook it for about 45 minutes at about 400°F, periodically adding a quarter cup of water every time liquid evaporates so the bottom doesn't burn up. The cauliflower gets smoky and charred from that high heat, and it's phenomenal. It goes great with fish or meat, and it adds this amazing sweet vegetal flavor to a good backyard barbecue.
Classically trained in Italy, Amalia Scatena uses refined Mediterranean techniques, seasonal ingredients, and local products at her Charleston newcomer Cannon Green.
A lot of people are familiar with mashed or puréed cauliflower, and that's great, but I like to treat it like a piece of meat. Caramelized cauliflower is just so much better than mashed or steamed.
You slice it into quarters so it has two flat sides, then continue to slice it so that you get half-inch pieces that are flat, almost like small pork chops. Then sear it really hard in a pan or out on a grill. It caramelizes really well, and you can eat it with a knife and a fork like a steak. You can toss spices on it, too—curry powder is an obvious one.
An Easy Polenta
Originally from Missouri, executive chef Rachel Dow of Chicago's The Betty has lived and worked in Chicago for over a decade. She honed her skills at classic restaurants like Perennial, Blackbird, Maude's Liquor Bar, and Avec.
I separate the florets from the stems. I chop and purée the stems, then briefly pulse the raw florets, adding butter, and melted butter to warm it all up. That's literally all it is, and it tastes like a cauliflower polenta, if you will.
Grain-Free Beans and Rice
Chef Matthew Tropeano spent 8 years at the famed New York restaurant La Grenouille, receiving a 3-star rating from the New York Times during his tenure as executive chef, followed b a stint heading up the kitchen at Pain D'Avignon in Cape Cod.
For the satisfaction of beans and rice or curry without the starch, swap the grains with cauliflower. Chop raw cauliflower until it fits in a food processor, then process until it's about the size of white rice grains. Then sweat some garlic and add the cauliflower, salt and pepper, and a little chicken stock until it's just cooked. Finish it off with some stewed beans. The cauliflower soaks in all the flavors you lay on top of it.