Brassicas: Cauliflower, Aligot, Kohlarbi, Leaves

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A couple of months ago all kinds of local cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli were available. The different colors of cauliflower alone was very impressive from white to green to orange and purple. I started thinking about one dish that can combine lots of these varieties in various preparation. This delicious and satisfying vegetarian dish is the result of about 2 weeks worth of research, prep, cutting and dicing, pureeing, roasting and sous vide-ing. With all the various cabbages in here what else to call it but Brassicas.

Cauliflower-Orange

Brassicas refers to the genus to which cabbage belongs and that includes plants like cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and mustard. They are hearty veggies that stand up to various cooking methods and robust flavors. Here we have a base of cauliflower aligot, cauliflower florets with vadouvan, seared Romanesco, kohlarbi cones filled with cauliflower puree and the plate is topped with a crispy crunchy dose of onion and breadcrumb “soil”.

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Aligot is a French potato preparation from L’Aubrac region made by mashing potatoes and blending them with copious amounts of cheese. How could that be bad. Right? This dish is over all very light and I wanted the base to be substantial enough to make it more than a fancy salad. It’s a dinner plate after all. For this version, I blended 400 gr each of sous vide cooked cauliflower (bagged with butter) and boiled potatoes that were cooked with garlic cloves. I added cream to loosen it up a bit and the cheese. Certainly not traditional but I opted for a nice smoked Swiss cheese to give the mixture more of an edge that can stand up to the strong flavors of the the vegetables. It was so delicious that I could eat it all on its own with a spoon!

In the Eleven Madison Park cookbook there is a recipe that is just cauliflower in many variations and it is definitely an inspiration for this dish. I borrowed a couple of ideas from that recipe including the puree and the sous vide cauliflower florets. I cooked the cauliflower sous vide with butter and vadouvan spice until very tender. I used mostly broken up florets and stem pieces for this saving the neater florets for another part of the recipe. To finish the puree I blended the cauliflower with whole milk and very little potato to hold it together. I put that in a squeeze bottle and kept it warm.

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For the cauliflower florets, both white and orange, I left some whole and the others (an idea from EMP again) I cut into neat disks. These also were cooked sous vide with some butter and salt.  For the crunch element I cooked onions down in oil, similar to what i did for this Alinea recipe, until deep brown and almost burnt. I tossed these with salt and darkly toasted sourdough bread crumbs. This made for a fantastic sharp and crunchy element.

When I added a couple heads of cauliflower to my order from Yonder Way Farm I was thinking I’d get a purple one maybe…or one of those green ones. Instead what I got was some very cool Romanesco. These are like broccoli crossed with cauliflower and then shot through with some alien DNA. Very neat looking. I cut those into wedges, rubbed them with oil and seared them very well to get a good caramelized flavor. I roasted them until they were cooked through but retained some crunch.

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Kohlrabi is another of those weird looking plants that we usually just pass by at the store and just barely give a second thought. These guys are delicious with a texture like jicama crossed with a turnip. Sliced paper thin on a madoline they can be salted and marinated with lemon juice or vinegar. They make for an awesome quick salad like that. They also become very flexible and can be used as a cool “wrapper” of sorts. It made perfect sense to make little cones out of them and fill that with the puree.

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After all the chopping and trimming I had a decent bit of cauliflower in random pieces. To use them up I borrowed another idea from EMP and made cauliflower couscous. Cauliflower is a very sturdy vegetable that can be easily pulsed in a processor until it’s the texture of bread crumbs or…couscous. I did not season these at all for this dish or cook them, but I can see how quickly sauteing them with butter, seasoning them with a bit of vinegar and topping them with a few scallops or shrimp would make for a delicious light dinner.

Not to waste anything I wanted to use the cauliflower leaves too. These local heads of cauliflower and the Romanesco came cocooned in thick deep green leaves. I blanched those and shocked them in ice water. To serve them I warmed them in a mixture of butter and water and then seasoned them with walnut oil, salt and homemade beer vinegar.

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Striped Bass and Oyster on an Edible Beach

Striped Bass-Beach

This dish came about because of the edible stones from Mugaritz that I posted about recently. I did not want to spend a good bit of time making the potatoes to look like stones just to serve them as is, a bite or two of food. So, why not spend much more time and incorporate them into an actual dish? the potatoes reminded me most of beach or river stones so fish was the first to come to mind. Then of course I remembered Heston Blumenthal’s very famous “Sound of the Sea” dish at the Fat Duck. that dish has a variety of seafood, served on a “beach”  complete with sand, sea foam, weeds, shells and to gild the lily an iPod! The iPod plays gentle beach and wave sounds as the diner enjoys the dish. The idea is that all of our senses are related and that we are much likely to enjoy the dish if every sense was immersed in the experience. Another of Blumenthal’s findings regarding sound and food: potato chips seem much crunchier and fresher if you eat them while listening to crunchy sounds? Anyways, back to the dish.

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I made my beach scene based on the recipe from the Fat Duck but simplified it a good bit and went with what I had. The “sand” mixture from the Fat Duck includes powdered kelp, blue shimmer powder (no idea what that is), carbonized vegetable powder (I’m pretty sure this is burned vegetables), dried baby eels, fried Panko bread crumbs, tapioca maltodextrin, spices, salt,….I stuck with the bread crumbs, the powdered kelp, ground up hazelnuts, black pepper and the maltodextrin. Really the maltodextrin is the one that gives it a perfect sandy texture and make it just melt in the mouth when eaten. So, it is essential here.

Sand Mixture

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For the seafood, I wanted at least one fish and a shellfish or two. I intended to use clams and mussels for the shellfish but the couple of stores I went to did not have any decent ones. So, I settled on good quality shelled packaged oysters from Louisiana. For the fish I stopped by a favorite of mine, a large Asian grocery store that always has excellent whole fresh fish in addition to a few live ones. The striped bass looked the best so I picked one and asked the guy behind the counter to gut and scale it but leave it whole. When I got home I rinsed the fish well and filleted it. This gave me 4 nice bass portions. It also gave me some bones and the head to make stock that I need for the sea foam sauce. I made the fish stock sous vide for the first time per the instructions in the Modernist Cuisine at Home book. I packaged the bones and head with a lot of aromatics and some white wine and vermouth and cooked it at 80 C degrees for 1.5 hours. It made for a marvelous stock with clear color and a perfect flavor. Fish stock should not simmer much or boil at all so cooking sous vide makes perfect sense. It also eliminates evaporation which concentrates the flavor by not allowing any aroma to dissipate into the air with the steam. Another stock by the way that is amazing prepared sous vide is vegetable stock.

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I cooked the fish sous vide and crisped the skin right before serving. For the oysters I also cooked them sous vide but included a good dose of garlic and parsley butter in the bag. With the seafood cooked, the “stones” and alioli good to go, the “sand” is ready and my fish stock is prepped, I focused on finishing the sauce which forms the beach   foam as well as preparing some “shells”. The shells are shallots that I separated out and poached till tender. Then I tossed them in some Ponzu sauce right before serving. For the sauce, I warmed the fish stock and mixed in the juice from the oysters then seasoned it with soy sauce, salt and pepper. To finish it and foam it a bit I added soy lecithin and blitzed it with the hand blender.

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To plate the dishes,  we (since I was preparing several plates Diana helped a lot with plating) put the “sand” down  on one side of the plate and then added a few dollops of the alioli on top for the “stones” to sit on. Then on the side of the sand went the fish and oyster followed by the foamy sauce on the edges of the sand. Then the garnishes went on including the  “shell” shallots and a few green leaves as a stand in for sea weed that I had not time to shop for. It all worked great and my in-laws who stopped by for dinner that evening enjoyed their whimsical meal very much. It’s always a relief when experimental dishes like this one work out when guests drop by and we don’t have to order pizza or something. The plate had a lot of flavors that worked perfectly and of course a lot of textures ranging from crunchy to soft to somewhere in between.

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Noma: Vegetable Garden

This was a first attempt to cook a recipe from Noma as closely as possible to how it’s written in the book. I made a sort-of Noma recipe before and loved the focus on the vegetables. They are cooked perfectly and presented simply. This particular recipe caught my attention from the first time I flipped through the book. It’s little more than a selection of vegetables and a base of mashed potatoes (and soil). Nothing too weird or difficult, except the final dish looks like a small vegetable garden complete with soil and all. I would love to serve this dish with small rabbit chops along side the vegetables…bunnies in the garden.

Redzepi uses a selection of root and green vegetables for his dish including celery root, leeks, sunchokes, baby zucchini and parsley root. I did not stick to that listing verbatim, but picked what seemed nice and fresh at the store. My list consisted of:

  • Beets – Roasted with salt and butter in foil, then peeled and cut into small segments
  • Thin carrots (with tops) – Cooked sous vide with salt at 85 C for about 45 minutes, tops reserved for garnish
  • Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem Artichokes) – Cooked sous vide with butter at 85 C for about 1.5 hours. They retained a nice firm texture while fully cooked.
  • Leeks – Used the smaller inner portion and blanched in salted water
  • Asparagus – blanched in salted water
  • Cauliflower – Florets cooked sous vide with salt at 85 C for about 45 minutes

The soil component of the dish is made from ground hazelnuts, flour, beer, malt flour and butter. It is seasoned with salt and sugar. The soil is made in two “installments” over a period of two days. Ingredients are mixed in, dried in the oven for hours and crumbled. The next day another set of ingredients goes through the same treatment before the two get combined. The idea is that the end result should look like dark rich soil and have a nice crunchy texture to complement the soft vegetables and the mashed potatoes. My soil did have that nice texture and very deep and rich taste, but unlike the recipe picture in the book it is much lighter in color. It looks more like sand than soil I guess. That malt flour might be the reason why the color was off. I could not find it anywhere and resorted to using a mixture of flour and malt powder.

The last component is a straightforward potato puree flavored with horseradish and enriched with butter and cream. The quantity in the book for the potato puree is a bit too small so I just tripled it. To plate, the mashed potatoes go in first as a base. After heating the vegetables in a butter-water emulsion, they get “planted” in the potatoes and the soil covers the whole thing up. For a garnish, I used carrot-top leaves, garlic shoots and parsley leaves. This was a delicious, satisfying and beautiful plate of food.