How can I not pick up a cookbook that has tattooed sleeves holding heirloom beans? Heritage is right up my alley. And as Sean Brock (of Husk Restaurant in Charleston and Nashville) from rural Virginia tells his story his love for food shows. “It doesn’t matter if it’s chicken and dumplings or ‘Oysters and Pearls’ from the French Laundry. If it’s made with care, it is special,” he says and I am immediately a fan.
He rhapsodizes about growing things yourself, even a pot of rosemary, because “your outlook changes when you grow something from seed to stalk” and he talks about sitting under the family walnut tree for hours, trading stories and shaving cabbage into a crock for kimchi. Then he posts a manifesto with such gems as:
- Cook with soul – but first, get to know your soul.
- Listen to your tongue, it’s smart.
- Eat with your hands as much as possible.
- He who dies with the biggest pantry wins.
alongside amazing photography and this cookbook demands respect. But then it becomes irritating. He puts recipes to beautiful, fussy salads like Beet and Strawberry Salad with Sorrel and Rhubarb Vinaigrette or Strawberry Gazpacho with Tomato Water Jelly, Basil Ice and Stone Crab Salad up against the most un-photogenic Farro with Acorn Squash and Red Russian Kale or worse; How to Cook Grits like a Southerner or How to Build a Pit and Cook a Whole Pig like a Champion Pitmaster. Not that it’s impossible to have grits and tomato water jelly, it just seems unlikely. And as the book got more and more fragmented, I got more and more disinterested. I have made many fussy salads and have partook in a few pig roasts but I want my cookbooks to have a purpose.
The condiments and preserves section almost redeemed it. Tomato jam, watermelon rind mostarda, nasturtium capers, pickled okra….I would have made everything in this section if I could have found the produce before I had to return the book to the library but out of season and out of state has serious limitations.
Finally I settled on a roasted cauliflower recipe that seems to be from one of his restaurants, Roasted Cauliflower with Meyer Lemon and Brown Butter, Watercress and Pink Peppercorns that I adapted.
Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon and Brown Butter, Watercress and Pepper
- 1 large head of cauliflower with a 1″ stem
- Kosher salt
- 3 TBSP unsalted butter
- 1/2 Cup canola oil
- 3 Cups vegetable stock
- 1/2 Cup heavy cream
- Freshly ground white pepper
BROWN BUTTER SAUCE:
- 8 oz butter
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 6 pickled leeks (the original recipe calls for ramps)
- 1 TBSP chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 bunch watercress for garnish – washed, patted dry and tough stems removed
- Fresh ground salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- Remove the green leaves from the cauliflower but leave the stem intact. NOTE: He suggests pressing a small ring mold into the stem so it would stay upright but I guess I didn’t have enough stem to make it tippy as I didn’t need this.
- Generously sprinkle with salt.
- Heat the butter and oil in a large, deep ovenproof skillet over medium heat and stand the cauliflower up in the skillet. Cook, occasionally spooning hot butter over the cauliflower for about 20 minutes until the outside of the cauliflower is golden brown. NOTE: This didn’t happen for me. The outside of the cauliflower got soft (making for problems later) and the only color came from the butter. If I were to make this again, I would just roast the head in the oven on high.
- Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the cauliflower for about 10 minutes, until fork-tender. Remove the cauliflower from the over and let stand for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and open the oven door to cool it down. NOTE: this was not enough time for the centre to cook.
- Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring until it is golden brown and starts to have a slightly nutty smell, about 8 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat, add the lemon juice and stir to emulsify.
- Return the skillet to the heat and reduce the heat to low. Add the turmeric, pickled leeks, and parsley and cook for 1 minute to blend the flavours. Keep the sauce warm at the back of the stove. If necessary, reheat gently before serving.
- Grease a rimmed baking sheet. Remove the cauliflower from the ring mold. Remove the stem from the cauliflower and peel away the outside of it, reserving the peel, then slice the stem into the thinnest circles possible; set aside. Cut the cauliflower crosswise into 1/2″ thick slices. Reserve the 6 center slices for serving. NOTE: I only got 2 out of mine, the rest crumbled.
- Chop the remaining slices and any scraps and reserve. Lay the cauliflower slices on the prepared baking sheet and place it in the still-warm oven (with the door closed) while you finish the dish.
- Put the peelings from the stem and the reserved scraps into a small saucepan, add enough vegetable stock to cover and bring to a simmer. Add the cream and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend on high to a smooth puree, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper. NOTE: I didn’t do this at all because it seemed like a lot of work for something that wasn’t going to add any flavour.
- Make a pool of cauliflower puree in the centre of each plate. Place a cauliflower slice on top of the puree and top with a small mound of watercress. Garnish with the slices of stem. Spoon the sauce on the cauliflower and sprinkle with the lemon zest and freshly ground pepper.
I was so annoyed by the time I finished making this recipe that I almost forgot how good it was. I often roast cauliflower in olive oil and turmeric but the other ingredients here were a great addition, albeit fussy. But the broiling didn’t work, the cooking time was wrong (and I had a head on the small side of what he recommended), the slicing didn’t work, etc. I ended up throwing all the remaining cauliflower pieces into a roasting pan with the sauce and eating it for lunch the next day with a dollop of greek yogurt.
I know that sometimes recipes just don’t work out the way you intended, and maybe I was tired when I undertook it but I can’t help but feel like these are recipes from his restaurant that aren’t kitchen tested.
by Sean Brock
from Artisan Books