Cauliflower Steak – is it Meat in Effigy?
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I won’t go so far as saying that there is a right way and there is a wrong way to cook cauliflower. I will say that there are ways to bring out the best of the flavors locked in its brainy white florets, and there are ways to make it taste like rotten eggs. It’s up to you (and your tastebuds) to decide what tastes good .
Cauliflower and its brethren (broccoli and Brussels’ sprouts) – known as cruciferous vegetables – contain sulphur compounds. When raw the sulphur isn’t apparent. Cooking breaks down the cells and the sulphur gets assertive. The longer you cook the cauliflower, the more it stinks. BUT … you have options. Methods that cook for less time (microwave or steaming) vs. those that take a while ( boiling) are easier on your nose. Roasting and sautéeing (dry heat cooking methods) are aromatically even better. Best of all, the dry heat methods impart flavors in the nutty, toasty, caramelized spectrum.
Cauliflower steaks are trending in non-meat-eating circles. When grilled, seared in the pan, or roasted they have a certain hefty “I’m an entree” quality. Add the right combination of seasonings and they bring a distinctly savory component to a meal. I won’t go so far as suggesting that they’re meaty.
The whole concept of calling a slab of cauliflower a steak strikes me as a bit odd. I do it, because it’s a term that is currently applied to the vegetable by a fair number of chefs. In terms of marketing it sounds better than calling it a slab or a big old honking piece.
There’s a whole world of vegan and vegetarian foods that pay a sort of homage to meat. Tack the word “mock” to the name of a recipe and it becomes a meatless dish. Mock Chopped Liver, Mock Sweet and Sour Chicken, Mock Meatloaf. It saves time, since the name lets you know the dish is a non meat version of a recipe.
If someone eats chicken-shaped fake chicken, isn’t that person eating meat in effigy? If you believe it’s wrong to eat animals why name your food after dead animals? I realize that Textured Vegetable Protein a la King isn’t exactly marketing gold. If I was vegan I’d be put off by Mock Chicken a la Anything. I know some pretty smart people who choose the V/Veg options on a menu. How is it possible that none of them has come up with a sexy name for fake meat? We give cars sexy, come-hither made-up names all the time. Maybe we could do it with tofu and tempeh and seitan (which sounds too much like Satan for my marketing sensibilities).
The brown crusty rice stuck to the bottom of the paella pan is called the socarrat. It’s pronounced so-cah-raht with a very light “t” at the end. It’s a sexy Basque-Spanish word, but if even if you’re an only-English speaker and say it with a fake French accent it flirts with bedroom eyes. Socarrat Schnitzel, Socarrat Bourguignon, Socarrat Chili; they all sound good pretty good to me. I think I might adopt it as my word for meatless versions of recipes. Maybe it will catch on.
I’m back to the my Cauliflower Steaks with Savory Nut Butter. If you slice a whole uncooked cauliflower into slabs and pop them into the oven the outsides will be overcooked by the time the insides are tender. The solution is to par cook the whole cauliflower. Depending on size somewhere between 7 and 9 minutes in the microwave (in a covered bowl with a 1/4-inch of water in the bottom) or steamed for 6 – 8 minutes should suffice.
You want a thick spreadable topping; something that won’t liquefy when it gets hot. The goal is to end up with a nice crust on top. I used walnut butter (from the Farmers’ Market at the Ferry Building in San Francisco). Almond butter, tahini, and cashew butter are all nice options. I added some soy sauce and parmesan (each teeming with savory umami flavor), and black pepper. To thin to a spreadable consistency I added a little olive oil. It took about half an hour at 375 F. That’s it.
The top brown-crusty top of the finished “steak” does look a bit like socarrat.