Why It Works
- Roasting the cauliflower brings out a deeper richness and dehydrates it slightly, helping to create a thicker, more pâté-like purée later.
- Soaking the pecans makes it easier to purée them to a smooth consistency.
- Soy sauce and brandy bring out a deep, meat-like savory flavor.
"You know, this kind of tastes like pâté," my wife, Kate, told me when she took a bite of the roasted-cauliflower purée that I made for Serious Eats. I hadn't realized it until she said it, but damned if she wasn't right! Most vegetarian pâté recipes use mushrooms as a base, which makes sense, given certain similarities of mushrooms to meat. But, as Kate's comment made clear, I'd inadvertently stumbled on an excellent alternative—roasting my cauliflower had brought out a deeper, meatier umami flavor, and the vegetable also proved to have an incredibly smooth, pâté-like texture when puréed. All I needed to do was tweak it slightly to push it further into pâté territory.
For my basic roasted-cauliflower purée, I roast the brassica in a hot oven until it's well-browned. That process also dehydrates it, which is ideal for a thicker texture similar to that of pâté. Then I sauté some onion and garlic in butter until both are softened and fold in the roasted cauliflower. I top the vegetable mix with cream (or chicken stock) and fresh thyme, then simmer it all together for a few minutes before blending it into a purée.
Of course, using chicken stock wasn't going to work for this vegetarian recipe. Luckily, I prefer cream anyway—it adds a fatty richness that's in keeping with the texture and flavor of a good pâté. That said, those looking for a completely vegan alternative can use a good homemade vegetable stock in place of cream, and vegetable or olive oil instead of butter. It won't be quite as rich or pâté-like as my vegetarian rendition, but it'll still work (and taste great).
The first step to transforming my purée into something more immediately recognizable as a pâté was to work in some nuts, which help to thicken it into a spread you can slather on crackers or bread. I ultimately chose pecans because they work nicely with the cauliflower, though walnuts could easily take their place. Before adding them to the pot with the onions, cauliflower, and cream, I soak them in water to soften and help them blend in when it comes time to purée the mixture.
The second step was to add a small splash of brandy to the onions and garlic once they'd softened, then cook it down until fully evaporated. The brandy coaxes out a flavor profile reminiscent of a classic liver pâté, which almost always incorporates some kind of alcohol, while simultaneously helping to counter some of the cauliflower and onion's inherent sweetness.
The third step was to reduce the liquid in the pot more fully, to avoid a "pâté" that's as loose as a purée. For a finishing touch, I decided to add a splash of soy sauce, which underscores that umami depth even more.
You can use any kind of blender to purée the mixture—just make sure to do so until it's smooth and even. The pâté might appear a little loose, but it just needs to be chilled until firm before it's served. You can speed this process up by spreading it on a parchment-lined baking sheet (a quarter sheet pan is the best size). Press some plastic directly against the surface to prevent it from browning and forming a skin, which can happen wherever air touches the pâté's surface.
And that's it—it couldn't be simpler. The texture is as smooth and silky as the most refined foie gras pâtés, though a little softer, since it doesn't have as much protein, nor as high a proportion of fats that solidify when chilled. Still, it's thick enough to deliver an impressively pâté-like experience, and it's certainly far better than a lot of the vegetarian options sold at markets.
If you're like me and have a lot of vegetarians in your extended network of friends and family, this is by far one of the most thoughtful things you can serve as a snack during the holidays. That way, it won't be just the meat-eaters who'll feel like they're getting a small bite of luxury.
2 ounces pecans (about 1/2 cup; 60g)
1 head cauliflower (2 pounds; 925g), trimmed and cut into florets
3 tablespoons (45ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter (see note)
1 large yellow onion (8 ounces; 225g), thinly sliced
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup (60ml) brandy
1 cup (235ml) heavy cream (see note)
1 sprig thyme
1 teaspoon (5ml) soy sauce
In a bowl, cover pecans with at least 1 inch water and let soak for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 500°F (260°C). Place cauliflower on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast, flipping cauliflower with a thin metal spatula halfway through roasting, until tender and deeply browned on both sides, about 20 minutes total.
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and cayenne and cook, stirring often, until softened and just starting to turn golden, about 4 minutes. Add brandy and cook until completely evaporated.
Add cauliflower, cream, and thyme. Drain pecans and add to saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then cook, adjusting heat to maintain simmer, until cauliflower has softened and liquid has reduced to about 3/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Discard thyme sprig. Add soy sauce.
Using a blender or immersion blender, blend cauliflower and liquid to form a very smooth purée. Season with salt and pepper. To chill rapidly, spread vegetarian pâté in a thin, even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet (a quarter-sheet size is best for this), then press plastic wrap directly against pâté's surface, pushing out any air. Otherwise, transfer pâté to a heatproof container and press plastic directly against surface. Refrigerate until well chilled. Transfer to a serving vessel and serve with crackers or toasted baguette rounds.
While the final texture and flavor won't be as luxuriously silky and rich, you can make this recipe vegan by using oil in place of the butter and vegetable stock in place of the cream.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 12 to 16|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 12g||16%|
|Saturated Fat 5g||25%|
|Total Carbohydrate 5g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||7%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 27mg||134%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|