Before I get to the recipe, I have to talk about my favorite gift from Christmas this year – one I gave, not one I received. I’m not even sure how I first heard about Jon Klassen’s book I Want My Hat Back, which has apparently spawned its own online meme, but it is one of the most clever, sneakily macabre childen’s books I have ever seen, one that my daughter and I both loved on first read. It’s about a bear who has lost his hat, asks various forest animals if they’ve seen it, and eventually realizes where his hat is, a few pages after the reader has figured it out. It’s dry and a little twisted, but also perfectly captures how kids lie even when they’re caught red-handed. I’d put the vocabulary level at age 3 or 4, but the subject matter might make 5 a better minimum age. My five-year-old daughter wasn’t disturbed, and she asked to read it again last night, which is good, because I wanted to read it to her again anyway.
As for this peculiar side dish, I got the idea from the most recent issue of Bon Appetit, a magazine with which I’ve had pretty mixed results over the years. (The original recipe does include a useful photo if you can’t picture a cauliflower steak.) I’m just finishing a free subscription I received because my wife bought me one of their cookbooks as a gift, and the book included a coupon for a free year of the magazine, but I won’t be renewing because their recipes don’t work well and the magazine seems so much more focused on eating out (and expensively) than on actual cooking. Anyway, the idea of a cauliflower cut vertically into large steaks appealed to me, but I changed up the sauce to something that I thought better suited the mellow, slightly sweet flavor of well-browned cauliflower.
To cut the ‘steaks,’ start with a whole head of cauliflower and trim away all green leaves while leaving the stem intact. Standing the head on its base, make a small mark with your chef’s knife in the center of the top of the cauliflower, and then make similar marks at least ½” in either direction, enough to cut four slabs from the head. Anything less than a half inch won’t hold together when cooked; too much more than about 5/8” and you’ll only get two steaks that won’t cook through before the outside burns. You can cut the remaining florets and brown them with the steaks, or save them for another use (like soup).
This sauce is tangy, but contains no heat; you could also roast a hot pepper, like a red jalapeño, and add it to the puree, or finish the sauce with a few drops of red chile oil.
Cauliflower ‘Steaks’ with Roasted Red Pepper sauce
1 cauliflower head, cut as described into four steaks
2 red bell peppers
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil
1. Roast the peppers on all sides under a broiler, about 40 minutes total (turning as needed), until well charred. Throw the garlic cloves on the same sheet pan for about ten minutes to soften and brown slightly. Set the garlic aside.
2. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with foil for ten minutes to allow the steam to escape the peppers and separate the flesh from the skin. Remove the charred skin, the stems, and any seeds, saving the liquid from inside the peppers.
3. Place the peppers, garlic, pepper liquid, and sherry vinegar in a bowl or cup and puree with an immersion blender, or puree in a food processor. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and set aside.
4. When the peppers are done, set the oven to bake at 400 degrees. Heat a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat.
5. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to the skillet and heat until shimmering. Add two of the four cauliflower steaks and cook one and a half to two minutes until nicely browned. Flip the steaks carefully with a spatula (place your hand on the cool side to flip without splashing the hot oil on yourself) and brown the alternate sides. Remove the steaks and any stray bits of cauliflower to a rimmed sheet pan, add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, and brown the other two steaks.
6. Roast in the oven for ten minutes until you can easily pierce them through with a paring knife. Remove, season with salt and pepper, and serve on a bed of the roasted red pepper sauce. Finish with a drizzle of an assertive, peppery olive oil if desired.