Riffing the Cauliflower Steak: Restaurant Cooking at Home

By Charleen - October 25, 2020

One positive outcome from the coronavirus pandemic is that it allowed me to discover Gordon Ramsay and his zest for maximizing flavor and yield. Interestingly, my favorite recipe from taking two MasterClasses with this uncompromisingly meat-eating chef is the Charred Cauliflower Steak with Olive Pistou and Mushrooms. After making this vegetarian entrée 4x over the past 6 months, I have modified the seasoning blend and toppings to suit our tastes. The flavors are complex, smoky, tart and bright. Who knew the shy, but versatile, cauliflower could be brought to such heights? 

The Love2Chow Smoky-Sumac Cauliflower Steak with Szechuan Green Beans

Gordon Ramsay's Cauliflower Steak with Olive Pistou, Mushrooms & Chive Blossoms, with cauliflower leaves added into the topping, served over Dan Barber's Cauliflower Purée and a drizzle of harissa-spiced pan juices
From the very first recipe in Gordon Ramsay's basic Masterclass, the Poached Egg & Mushrooms on Toast, I was hooked. The mushrooms are simply amazing, allowed to panfry until they had released their water, and then basted in browning butter until they have crisp edges. Somehow they were not greasy at all. These experiences have inspired me to innovate and experiment, leading to development of my own delicious and visually appealing vegetarian dinners. Shortcut to the Love2Chow recipe.   
Poached eggs with mushrooms and asparagus over toast
One of my innovations was to skip the bacon and sprinkle them with Penzey's smoked Spanish paprika in addition to the salt and pepper. I also added asparagus as I had some spears that needed to be used. Everyone in my family thought the mushrooms were absolutely delicious. Without any cues from me, they spontaneously exclaimed that it reminded them of bacon. 
Lacking bacon, I used lard rendered from making carnitas (upper left), adding Penzey's smoked Spanish paprika (upper right) and some asparagus spears that needed to be used. A pat of butter is added and allowed to melt and brown into the mushrooms (lower left). The whole mixture is drained on a paper towel (lower right) before being piled onto the toast.
While the smokiness of the seasoning helps, it really is the cooking technique that yields a perfectly textured slice of slightly chewy "bacon" with crisp edges. I later tried the Serious Eats recipe for making king oyster mushroom "bacon," but found it to be much too fussy and time consuming, generating many extra dishes to clean over the longer than 1 hour process. In contrast, adapting Ramsay's cast iron technique, but using my carbon steel wok for more rapid heat transfer, resulted in tastier slices of mushroom "bacon" in only 4-5 minutes.
The quickest vegetarian "bacon" ever - from sliced king oyster mushrooms to meaty, slightly crispy slabs of smoky deliciousness.  And it only takes 5 minutes using a carbon steel wok.
But, I digress. While I did not know at first what I thought of the f-bomb dropping Ramsay in the first 3 lessons, he simply lit up once he was allowed to talk about food. I can still hear him rhapsodizing about vegetables and herbs in lesson 4, the chef-prized texture of the salmon belly that is usually trimmed off in lesson 12, and the continual emphasis on saving and using those flavors "that money can't buy," which many people feed to the trash. 

These is little food waste if you save and repurpose all the scraps, and it allows you to stretch the portions yielded by, for example, a single ball of ravioli dough. This sensibility resonated with my habits for using things most Americans throw away, influenced in part by watching my mother carry basins of vegetable washing water to thirsty plants outside, or my dad using odds and ends to fulfill a new purpose instead of buying something designed for only one purpose. Every day they collected the scraps from trimming vegetables and meats to cook up a fantastic-smelling treat to supplement the dog's dry food.

So how is it that the cauliflower is my favorite recipe from this self-professed die-hard carnivore, infamous for his anti-vegan stance that included tricking vegetarians into eating meat? It started because my daughter, home from college due to Covid-19, wanted me to cook more vegetarian dishes. Funnily enough, Ramsay also alludes to his daughters as the impetus behind developing his Charred Cauliflower Steak entreé.

I have now made this dish four times since Easter weekend, each time a little differently. It is surprisingly filling -- two slices of central cauliflower yields enough for my family of three with one leftover portion. And everyone in the family, including my initially reluctant, midwestern husband, absolutely loves this vegetarian dish. This impressive dish could easily be made vegan, but I do baste with browned butter, as demonstrated by Chef Ramsay in his cauliflower and crispy-skin salmon recipes, to add a nutty rich flavor.


An Easter Discovery with a Food52 Genius addition.

The first time, I made Charred Cauliflower Steak with Olive Pistou and Mushrooms was simply because it was the only vegetarian entree I could find in the two MasterClass series. As the recipe uses only the central two slices of cauliflower, I had to find a use for the florets cut off of either side. 
One head of cauliflower generates two central steaks, a bunch of side florets, and some nice fresh greens
The Food52 Genius Recipes cookbook had a great Dan Barber solution for this. Serve the cauliflower steaks over a silky puree of boiled florets in milk. So I decided to combine the two recipes, cooking the "steaks" a la Ramsay, and serving it drizzled with buttery-harissa pan juices over a low-carb self-pureé instead of mashed potatoes.
The extra florets were boiled in a milk-water mixture seasoned with ground white pepper and salt, then puréed to form the base for serving the cauliflower steaks. The purée also did a great job of soaking up the harissa oil pan juices leftover from roasting the cauliflower.
Since I did not have porcini mushrooms or chive blossoms, I used cremini mushrooms and sliced up the green cauliflower leaves to add some fresh color to the mushroom mix.

The steps are conceptually simple, but the combination of flavors is exceptional! Note that I used a lot less oil than called for in the MasterClass recipe (link at bottom of post) which calls for 11 tablespoons just for the cauliflower part, plus more butter and oil for the pistou and mushroom parts.

Step 1. Marinade, pan-fry and oven roast the cauliflower steaks
1a. Optional - While cauliflower steaks are pan-frying, use a small saucepan to boil remaining cauliflower florets in milk until soft.

Step 2. While steaks roast, cut up and mix components of the parsley pistou (keep olive slivers on the side if a member of your family does not like them)
Olive, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, and parsley
2a. Optional - transfer cauliflower into a blending container along with only part of the cooking milk. Otherwise it will turn out too thin and runny as I learned the hard way). Use a stick blender to puree. Season with salt and pepper.

Step 3. Brown mushroom slices and combine with pistou to form the topping. Thus far, I have made this with cremini and oyster mushrooms. Looking forward to trying it using the recommended porcini mushrooms -- if I can ever find them!
Cremini mushrooms, onion, garlic, butter - plus fresh cauliflower leaves for flavor, nutrition and #nofoodwaste, all combined with the olive pistou for a rich flavorful topping!
Step 4. Serve steaks over a smear of mashed cauliflower, and top with mushroom-pistou mixture and some more lemon zest. Drizzle with harissa-stained pan juices, if desired. 
It would also be great with an attractive side of spinach or asparagus or green beans (see below).

Kicking it up a notch with chive blossoms

The second time I made this dish in the late spring, I had fresh chive blossoms growing in boxes on my patio.
Olives, olive oil, chive blossoms, sliced cauliflower greens
The chive blossoms added not only a burst of spring color, but also a fresh oniony flavor. I had run out of the harissa powder my daughter had brought back from a service trip in Morocco, and substituted the more golden ras el hanout plus paprika for color.
Charred cauliflower steaks with chive blossoms, mushrooms, onions, sliced cauliflower leaves, olive oil, butter, olives. Served over cauliflower puree and drizzled with pan juices
The next day, I used the leftover pan juices, basically olive oil and browned butter infused with paprika and ras el hanout, to make oil-basted eggs on toast for Father's Day.
To preserve my bounty of chive blossoms, I packed a small jar full and covered them with rice vinegar. In the early summer I made this dish again, and found that pickled chive blossoms were just as wonderful!

Perfecting my own smoky cauliflower steaks

This Fall, I decided to come up with a new flavor profile for the cauliflower steaks. As the mushrooms tasted so great with the Spanish smoked paprika, I settled on using that combined with the warm citrusy notes of sumac. Instead of capers, olives or chive blossoms, I added red radicchio and caper berries for the most amazing version yet.  
Mise en place for Love2Chow smoky paprika-sumac cauliflower steaks
I had some lovely red radicchio leftover from a Gordon Ramsay salad that I found online when I impulse bought some fresh fennel. While I did not have blood oranges, I used pineapple white balsamic vinegar in the dressing, which turned out to be a most delicious impromptu dressing! Anyways, the radicchio added the perfect depth to complement the lemon zest, olive oil, mushrooms, caper berries and parsley. It was so tasty that the olives served on the side were left untouched.
A radicchio, lemon, caper berry, parsley pistou
The caper berry was a culinary discovery made from visiting the now closed Lidia's Pittsburgh. She served chicken scallopine with a mass of wilted green spinach, all topped with an exquisite lemon-butter-caper sauce. But it was the larger caper berries that really captivated our attention. I bought her cookbook Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen, and these pounded chicken breast cutlets became our family's favorite dish for a while. It was loved by both kids and both nannies. Here is the recipe from her website, and it is worth finding the buttery Cerignola olives!
Pan-frying the smoked Spanish paprika-sumac-olive oil marinated cauliflower steaks
As it was a warm day and my oven is not heating well, I decided to roast the skillet-charred cauliflower in the toaster oven. 
While the cauliflower steaks finished roasting until soft, I made the mushroom topping in the wok. The parsley and radicchio added a colorful punch to the earthy mushrooms.
Topping for a fall version of charred cauliflower steaks, seasoned with smoked paprika and sumac
For this version, I did not make the cauliflower puree because I had cut the steaks a few days ago and already used the florets for a rather disappointing version of the Indian Aloo Gobi dish. So I made my vegan shortcut Szechuan-style green beans as a side instead, using the Mealthy air-fryer lid for the shortcut step as I was only making a 1x recipe. For the air-fryer lid, I cooked them in batches at 400°F x 5 min before flipping and cooking 4-5 min more.  While it took longer than my original shortcut version using the broiler, it was hands off and still easier than the traditional dry-frying method.
Using the airfryer for shortcut Szechuan-style dry-fried green beans.  For the recipe, click here.
After eating this version of the cauliflower steak, we all agreed that the smoky-lemony flavors of the Love2Chow version of this dish tasted even better than the original harissa-based recipe; both give rise to a rich red-orange hue and complex yet balanced flavors that elevate cauliflower into a gourmet treat. 
Love2Chow smoky sumac cauliflower steaks with mushroom-radicchio-caper berry pistou and Szechuan-spiced air-fried vegan green beans


Love2Chow Smoky Sumac Cauliflower Steaks with Mushroom-Caper Berry Pistou

Ingredients

1 large head of cauliflower

Olive oil

1 Tbs Penzey's Smoked Spanish Paprika

1 Tbs Penzey's Sumac Powder

Salt

2+ Tbs unsalted butter, cubed

1/4 cup water or vegetable stock

Optional: whole or 2% milk

1 lemon for juice and zest

2-3 Tbs rough chopped flat leaf parsley

Optional: handful of green and/or kalamata olives, pitted and cut into slivers

8 cremini mushrooms

4 garlic cloves

1/2 small onion

Optional: 2-3 leaves of sliced red radicchio

1 Tbs nonpareil capers

Optional: caper berries

Optional: chive blossoms

Fresh ground black pepper


Step 1. 

a. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 325°F, depending on how big your cauliflower slices are.


b. Remove leaves from cauliflower. If they are in good condition, cut them into slivers to add to the mushroom saute. 


c. Slice cauliflower in half. Then cut off a central 1 inch slab from either side to create two "steaks". Trim the tough part of the stem off, making sure making sure there is enough left (1-1.5 inches) to keep the steak in one piece. 


d. Drizzle a 9 x 13 glass pan with 1 Tbs of olive oil. Sprinkle on 0.5 Tbs each of paprika and sumac, and a generous pinch of salt. Mix and rub the cauliflower steaks across the pan. Drizzle another Tbs of olive oil across top of steaks and sprinkle with remaining paprika, sumac and another pinch of salt. 


e. Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water evaporates in about 1 second.  Add 1-2 Tbs olive oil. Brown the steaks in the pan for 2-3 minutes. Then turn them over, and add 1 Tbs cubed butter to the pan. When butter is beginning to brown, tip the pan and spoon over top of steaks. 


f. When butter is frothy, add water or vegetable stock and bring to a boil.


g. Place skillet into preheated oven (or transfer contents to a metal baking sheet if using toaster oven), and roast for 8-10 minutes, or until a knife enters easily into the stalk. Remove from oven and allow to rest. 


Optional Step 1a.  Inspired by Dan Barber's Food52 Genius Recipe

While cauliflower is marinating and skillet is preheating, weigh the remaining cauliflower florets. For every 200 g of florets, add 1 cup of water and 2/3 cup of milk to a saucepan. 

Simmer for 10 min or until florets are soft. 


Step 2. 

While cauliflower is roasting in oven, zest lemon peel and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine 2 Tbs of olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, half of the zest, parsley and optional olives. Salt and pepper to taste. 


Optional Step 2a.

When boiled cauliflower is tender, transfer all the florets along with 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid to a container and use a stick blender to puree until smooth. Adjust thickness with additional milk if necessary.  Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.


Step 3. 

a. Cut the mushrooms into 1/3 inch thick slices. Peel and cut garlic into slices. Cut onion into quarters and thinly slice to make curved pieces. Cut larger caper berries into slices, if using. 


b. Heat a wok or skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water evaporates in 1 sec. Add 1-2 Tbs of olive oil.  Add mushrooms and spread into a single layer.  Allow to cook undisturbed for 2-3 min to brown. 


c. Stir and add onions, garlic, and sliced cauliflower leaves or radicchio if using. Toss occasionally and cook for about 5 minutes until shallots and garlic are translucent.  Add capers and/or caper berries and toss briefly to heat. Remove wok from heat and mix in the parsley mixture. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.


Step 4.

Take generous scoops of the cauliflower puree, if using, and smear it across the 4 dinner plates. Cut cauliflower steaks in half, and place one half on the puree or plate. Drizzle with juices from the baking pan, if desired. Spoon the mushroom-parsley mixture on top and finish with sliced olives, remaining lemon zest and chive blossoms. Enjoy!

Link to the Gordon Ramsay MasterClass cauliflower steak recipe that inspired this dish. 

Tips: 
🐾 There is a lot going on with this recipe. Asking a helper to prepare the cauliflower puree or to prep the ingredients for the parsley or mushroom toppings can be very helpful.

🍃 While the oven is convenient as you can transfer the entire pan into it, the toaster oven may be more energy efficient to heat. The third time I made this dish, I preheated a metal pan in the toaster oven, and transferred the boiling stock and browned cauliflower to this pan for roasting. This also frees up the browned butter left in the pan for cooking the mushroom mixture, although I prefer to use my wok for that.

DID YOU TRY THIS RECIPE?

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