Cauliflower Steaks with Herbed Cauliflower Purée
Finally the produce stands are showing signs of spring. Bountiful in the market these days are snowy white heads of cauliflower; they inspire me to try new ways to showcase their beauty. So I found this inventive recipe, a creation of chef Dan Barber, champion of the farm to table movement and an innovator when it comes to cooking vegetables. His restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester County, is located within an 80 acre farm whose mission is to educate about agriculture. I recently had the honor of attending a conversation with chef Barber and the legendary Ferran Adrià (of El Bulli fame) where the topic of discussion was rethinking the way we approach and prepare the food we eat. Chef Barber, apologizing for his sleepiness, told of how he had been up all night trying to conceive an innovative way to serve enormous parsnips that had grown on the farm. His solution? Present them as steaks: sliced crosswise, grilled, and accompanied with traditional steakhouse sides like creamed spinach and baked potato. This cauliflower dish is a lovely riff on that theme.
This simple recipe thinks outside the box and truly celebrates cauliflower in all its glory. And it makes for a stunning presentation, too. Begin with the vegetable itself: select a nice round head with tight, white florets and minimal brown spots.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Remove outer leaves and, using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the head of cauliflower in half down the center. Cut a one inch thick slice from the center of each half, being careful to keep each steak intact.
Chop remaining cauliflower into florets–you should have 3 to 4 cups.
In a medium saucepan, combine the florets with the milk and water. Season lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, until cauliflower is tender when poked with a knife.
Use a spider or strainer to remove florets from the liquid and spread out on a baking sheet; reserve one cup of cooking liquid. Place florets in oven and bake for 10 minutes to dry out.
Remove cauliflower and raise oven temperature to 350 degrees. Place florets in the bowl of a food processor or blender.
Add 3/4 cup of reserved cooking liquid and blend, adding more liquid as needed to reach desired consistency–it should be fine but not watery. Return purée to saucepan.
Over a medium high flame, heat canola oil in a heavy skillet or cast iron pan. Brush both sides of the cauliflower steaks with more oil and lightly season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add steaks to hot pan and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes on each side until golden brown. Place skillet in oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the steaks are tender.
While the steaks bake, rewarm purée over medium heat. To add a bit of luxe to this recipe, stir in crème fraîche and fragrant minced marjoram leaves–chives, parsley, chervil, or tarragon would also work nicely here. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Spoon warmed purée onto two rimmed plates and top each with a cauliflower steak. Celebrate vegetables!
Adapted from Dan Barber/bon appétit
1-1 1/2 to 2 pound cauliflower
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups water
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
1 to 2 tablespoons créme fraîche, optional
2 teaspoons minced marjoram, or other fresh herbs, optional