Ding, Ding, Ding! It’s on to Round Two of the great TMCIC challenge! (Somebody please come up with a better name for this thing.) For those who missed it all last time, the gist of it all is that a friend of mine, Kevin Hopp, and I, take on a sort of “invention test” with four ingredients. We each pick two of them, announce them the day before, and then cook head to head via webcam (since he’s in Florida), along with anyone else who wants to join in. We haven’t had any other folk manning their stoves either time, but we have had some folk drop in to chat with us as we cook. We’re using the TinyChat video chatting service for now, and we announce the ingredients and the details the night before we do it via the usual social media outlets – aiming generally for Tuesdays when we’re both available, at 8pm BA time/7pm EST (probably roughly every other week). Any and all are welcome to join in the fun!
So on to last week’s challenge: Kevin threw down the gauntlet with salmon and artichokes, while I countered with tomatoes and cauliflower. I almost had picked artichokes too, that would have been interesting – I suppose we’d either have to pick another ingredient or they’d have to feature really, really strongly in the dish. On to the night of the cook-off!
I’m that guy that likes to think he eats more fruits and veggies than he actually does. When cauliflower was revealed as one of the mystery-must-haves, I was forced to run down memory lane and quickly find some low hanging inspiration. Since cauliflower is a gem-like-rarity in my diet I only need one hand to go through my list of eating them.
After graduation I worked at BBDO Detroit as a graphic designer on the DaimlerChrysler account. The job encouraged me to move to the west side of suburban Detroit, however I grew up on the east side, so by the gravity of gregariousness I befriended different coworkers and we ate in different places in different boroughs of Detroit. Polish Hamtramck, Middle Eastern Dearborn, Greektown, Mexicantown, and on the upper west side, where I worked, off the Big Beaver, there was a large Hindi population, large enough to support 100+ restaurants.
The Indian restaurants in the area took advantage of everyone escaping the office buildings during lunch by providing an insatiable spread of delicious traditional food buffet style. One of my new work buddies, Bruce Shlain, invited me to a small place off of John R and 17 Mile where he said the cauliflower were like shrimp – you could eat ’em all day. So this week’s dish is inspired and dedicated to Bruce Shlain, Michigan, and Indian Cuisine.
What I made was an Indian Spiced and Seared Salmon served Medium Rare, Roasted Cauliflower and Curried Apple Mash, Artichokes Braised in Fennel and Coriander, and a Tomato Raita.
I roasted the cauliflower until browned. Pan sautéed the remaining ingredients and processed the roasted cauliflower and the apple mixture in a blender until smooth.
cucumbers, cilantro, scallion, garam masala, tomatoes, yogurt
Cooked in stock with shallots, lemon, and garlic, then browned in olive oil.
I pureed a half cup of ginger and added garam masala, coriander, cumin, red chili flakes, garlic. Rubbed the salmon with it and browned in olive oil.
It was good.
Damnit, what is it with him and these expensive ingredients? Last time it was lamb that took me hours to find and cost a fortune, this time it’s salmon, the most expensive fish out there (in BA), and he keeps going on about scallops, pretty much the most expensive shellfish around and that I’d have to have flown in. Next time he’ll probably pick beluga caviar. 😉
I decide to make the cauliflower the star of the dish instead of the expected protein. I suppose that’d get me raised eyebrows from the judges on any of the various cooking competitions that we’re vaguely modeling after, but so be it. I’ve been wanting to really play around with creating a great “cauliflower steak” dish. But how am I going to work in the other ingredients without just lining up a bunch of veg on the plate. And how to incorporate salmon if it’s not the main feature?
My first thought, actually, was something completely different. I’ve been reading online about these grain-free pizzas made with a “cauliflower crust” (do a google image search for cauliflower crust pizza to get a sense of them). I do love my pizza – what about a cauliflower crust topped with fresh tomato sauce, no wait, make it a garlicky white sauce and then use some sun-dried tomatoes, some golden brown artichokes “escabeche”, and either some strips of fresh or smoked salmon. That’d work. It’d also take me about ten minutes to prepare and throw in the oven. And it doesn’t really feel like I’m getting the creative juices flowing.
On to the cauliflower steak idea, which had been hovering in the back of my mind. The artichoke idea comes to me suddenly – turn it into the sauce, make it a puree. From there, the tomatoes quickly fall in line – I’ve been wanting to try out making “tomato caviar” – gelled beads of tomato juice, so why not use those as an accent, and for color? The salmon I find myself stumped by – I keep thinking about strips or cubes or something of that sort, maybe cured or pickled, to accompany the cauliflower, kind of the reverse of what I’d do if the salmon was the “steak” and the cauliflower was the accent. And then it comes to me – something that can be both a bit of a garnish and at the same time create a sort of second sauce. Salmon rillettes. I haven’t made that in a long time. But, texture. Everything is soft – the cauliflower steak, the artichoke puree, the tomato gel, the salmon rillettes. And suddenly – crumbed and deep-fried cherry tomatoes pop, unbidden, into my mind. And, away we go.
Cut 2-4 2cm thick slices of cauliflower across the middle of a decent sized head, save the rest for something else. Steam them until just barely tender, about 8-10 minutes.
Make a mixture of a half teaspoon each of cumin, ginger, smoked paprika, coriander, cayenne and salt.
Heat two tablespoons each of olive oil and butter in a skillet until bubbling and hot, add in the spice mix, stir around, add in the cauliflower steaks and cook, basting regularly with spoonfuls of the butter/oil mixture, until browned on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side.
Trim a couple of fresh artichokes down to the heart, steam the hearts along with the cauliflower, it takes about the same length of time. Puree in a blender with a quarter cup each of water and good olive oil, a small green hot chili, 1 teaspoon of salt and the juice of a quarter lemon. Adjust salt or lemon if needed. Spread it out on the plates and top with the cauliflower steaks.
You can find great demos of this online in various places, but the gist of it is, chill about two cups of olive oil in a fairly deep and wide glass container – 30 minutes in the freezer will do it – I stuck mine in the refrigerator earlier in the day and then into the freezer just as we got started. Bring a quarter cup of tomato juice, a grated small clove of garlic, and a half teaspoon of agar-agar to a simmer over low heat and cook, stirring, until the agar is completely dissolved and then for about another minute or so. Off the heat, blend in a few drops of lemon juice. Suck the liquid up into a syringe (no needle, just the syringe, or something else that can create droplets), and proceed to drip the mixture into the icy cold olive oil. It will bead up and create, more or less, little round spheres of tomato gel. I’m sure it takes practice to get them right – this was the first time I’d done it and they’re a little misshapen. Oh, and no, you can’t use gelatin, it doesn’t stay stable and gelled when warmed up as agar does – the little caviar pearls would just melt on contact with the cauliflower steak. These are tasty, though I think they could have the flavor amped up a bit – maybe more spices or something that really concentrates the tomato flavor – perhaps simply taking a larger quantity of tomato juice and reducing it.
Fried Cherry Tomatoes
This was actually the most tedious part of the dish. I’ve tried to bread and fry tomatoes before, and the breading only sticks to the exposed surfaces, the skin is always too smooth, so I figured the little cherry tomato bombs would be the same (they are, I’ve tried it again without the following). So, I cut little cross slits in the top and bottom of each tomato and then dunked them for about ten seconds in boiling water, then into ice water, and peeled off the skins. Then, into flour mixed with a few pinches of the spice mixture from the cauliflower above, then into beaten egg, and then into panko crumbs. Then I set them aside for about ten minutes to let the shell kind of meld together for a bit. Then, deep fried. Drained and onto the plate. A couple of them cut in half just for effect.
Poached some fresh salmon in a quick court bouillon – water, white wine, lemon, shallot, garlic – until just barely poached. Mashed it up with a fork and let it cool. Chopped up an equal quantity of smoked salmon and mixed the two together. Added in a good spoonful of softened butter, whipped cream cheese, and a splash of cream. Seasoned with lemon juice, salt, white pepper, and chives. Done. Kept at room temperature and then a scoop of that on top of the steaks.
The only other element was wanting something green on the plate, and it just happened I had a handful of brussels sprouts in the crisper drawer. So I cored them, separate the leaves, blanched and shocked them to soften them and set the color, and then quickly sauteed them in a spoonful of the oil/butter mix from cooking the cauliflower. Scattered over the top.
That’s my dish and I’m sticking to it. Actually, that’s not true. I’d dump the salmon rillettes, which really didn’t do much for the dish and seemed like a bit of an afterthought, and just present this with the other components as a vegetarian dish. I could eat that any day.