06 January 2017

Cauliflower, according to Jacques Pépin

If you are American, you probably know who Jacques Pépin is and you have probably watched his cooking shows on television. In addition, he has published many books over the past 40 or 50 years. Pépin is French from the Bourg-en-Bresse area north of Lyon, but he has lived in the U.S. for many decades now. If you live in France, England, or Australia, you might never have heard of him. It's fun to listen to him speak English, I think.



I mentioned a few days ago that I was going to make what in French is called a gratin de chou-fleur. In America, we'd call it cauliflower au gratin. If you're from some other English-speaking country, you might have a different name for it. Jacques Pépin's version is simple and quick, the instructions straight-forward, as are all of his recipes. There's nothing fussy about his cooking.



So I often go to Pépin's books and videos, of which I have quite a few, and which are available on the web, for recipes and ideas. I have an autographed copy of his Fast Food My Way book, thanks to blog reader Nadège who lives and works in Hollywood. She met him a few years ago and was nice enough to ask him to sign a copy of his book for me and Walt.


The only time I've ever seen Pépin in person, I believe, was one day when I was waiting at San Francisco Internation Airport, getting ready to fly to France I believe, sometime in the 1990s. I was sitting in a café having a glass of wine when he came strolling — no, almost running — by, probably in a hurry to catch a plane. I was tempted to go say hello to him, but it wasn't the right situation.


The photos here show the gratin de chou-fleur that I made on December 30. I basically follow Jacques Pépin's recipe — I've done so for years. I added lardons to the cauliflower because I had some in the fridge that needed to be used. Besides, lardons improve almost any recipe. And if you like the white dish I cooked the cauliflower in, let me tell you that I bought it recently at Intermarché for 1.50 €. I don't know if other supermarkets do the same, but both our local SuperU and Intermarché often sell the dishes that they use for pâtés and terrines at very good prices.


Walt and I started watching his cooking shows on television back in the early 1980s, when we lived in Washington DC and were homesick for France and French food. When we came back from Paris in 1982 and set up an apartment in DC, we were both busy working and didn't have a lot of time for travel. We didn't come back to France for a vacation until 1988. I was working in French in DC (with CHM and other francophones) so I wasn't completely cut off, but those six years were my longest period without a visit to France since I first came here as a student in 1970.


If for some reason the video above doesn't work on your device, you can find it on the KQED Essential Pépin site here. It seems to require Adobe Flash, but it works on my Android tablet. You can find the cauliflower recipe here, and you can see the many Essential Pépin videos and recipes by nosing around on his site. And there's a very good video interview with him here.

26 comments:

  1. It is cold and grey outside this window...I am now in a state of clamour for cauliflower cheese!
    I have just added such a beast to the shopping list!
    Have milk, have lardons (well a nice piece of smoked bacon)....
    have tomatoes...just need a nice large caulie.... or a Romanesco.... 'tis nice done with Romanesco!
    You will have noticed 'tomato' in that list.... I dot cherry toms all over the top, just under the cheese topping.
    Or slices if that's all you have... and on one occasion I used some smoked garlic sausage cut up into lardon sized strips...
    that was good too, typing this brought the memory back.

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    1. Not sure I'd want tomato, a summer vegetable, in what is basically a wintertime dish. But to each his own. The garlic sausage could be good though.

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    2. I use the tomato precisely because they are a touch of Summer....
      but only while we have some left....never buy them, 'cept in tins for certain dishes.
      But at the moment we still have some cherry toms... and plenty of Vanessa, a good keeper if kept cold.
      However, all that are left will need to be used or processed before January is out.

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  2. Funnily enough we had cauliflower last night. I now put a layer of mixed vegtables under the cauli and use a strong cheese sauce over them all with extra cheese on top before finishing off in the oven. That is a smart dish - the white one that is.

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    1. I wonder what mix of vegetables you use under the cauliflower. As for cheese, I almost always make the sauce with Comté.

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    2. Frozen pkt from Lidls it was the Italian mix this time. Now I've been able to watch M. Pepin .

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  3. As far as I know, Pepin has not been seen in Australia. I asked Household Management about the name of the cauliflower dish he cooks, and he said cauliflower and cheese, but was quite in agreement with the name Cauliflower au Gratin. I can eat cooked and hot cauliflower without adornment but it is much nicer in the baked form with a sauce.

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    1. In the U.K. they seem to use the term "cauliflower cheese" but I don't know that name in America. We say "au gratin" and don't pronounce it the French way but something like [oh-GRATn].

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    2. We put more emphasis on the 'in'.

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  4. Just made a cauliflower soup of his yesterday with a hint of curry. It's in season. I only have one of his books, but it is a big one, and I find the recipes to be well-written, easy to follow, and always successful.

    I've only recently discovered your blog. Love it!

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    1. Thanks for the kind comment. Try to get Pépin's Fast Food My Way. It's packed with good recipes.

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  5. he is my all time fav.....have you seen his artwork....it's very nice...a lot of chickens! cauliflower au gratin is a thanksgiving staple at our house (esp now that I can find gruyere already shredded at the local Harris Teeter!)

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    1. Good that you can get Gruyère. I'll have to check out the cheese selection at the Harris Teeter store in Morehead City the next time I'm there. I have seen some of JP's artwork and we're lucky, thanks to Nadège, to have one original example ourselves (link) in a signed copy of one of this books.

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    2. So he's an artist as well. A really talented person. From what I remember from The Apprentice (no connection to the DT show of the same name), Pepin left school early, but later returned, got a college degree, then eventually was on his way to getting a PhD (from Columbia?) when he lost interest.

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  6. Pepin is an amazing person. Although I've read his autobiography, The Apprentice, I don't have any of his cookbooks. I'll have to change that. And I think I'll start by making this dish.

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    1. I'll repeat myself — Fast Food My Way.

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  7. Your video works fine on my iPad. Choufleur au gratin is one of my favorites, but what is not my favorite if it's good?

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    1. I first uploaded a video that I had downloaded and edited, but it required Adobe Flash Player, which is not supported by most tablets, incuding Android and iPad. So I finally uploaded the video to YouTube and then "embedded" the code for it in my blog post. That works a lot better. You probably didn't see the first version of the video, because by 9:30 a.m. here in France I had changed it.

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  8. Jacques Pepin is my favorite culinary teacher because he is so knowledgeable and skilled and with it all, so down to earth. Whatever the quality is that makes an excellent teacher, he has it in abundance. I have a lot of his books and watch his videos on youtube. I really enjoyed this post and am planning to make the cauliflower au gratin this evening when my younger daughter and her family come over. It will be with chicken thighs and some more colorful stir fried vegetables. I agree with Pepin that the thighs are the tastiest part of the chicken.

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    1. What I like about Pépin is that he's not rigid or fussy about food. I agree about American chicken thighs being very good, and it's nice to be able to get them boneless. We don't find those here, and the French chicken thighs are not a plump and meaty as the U.S. ones for some reason. We get good chicken wings though, and the Guinea hens we roast have very meaty, tender thigh meat.

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  9. I am a big fan of Pepin too. I bought cauliflower yesterday and I have all the ingredients but milk. I do have half and half though! Since I'm not starting my diet until Monday, I guess I might as well indulge!

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    1. You could thin the half and half with some water to turn it into a milk substitute and keep the calories down. Sometimes I put some heavy cream in the cheese sauce, and sometimes I make it with just whole or even skim milk. It all depends on how I feel at the time.

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  10. Brilliant. Thanks Ken. We bought a lovely cauliflower at the St. Livarde market this morning, so will give M. Pepin's recipe a whirl.

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    1. Happy Cooking, as JP says, et bon appétit.

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  11. This is exactly as my mother-in-law showed me and how I've done cauliflower, ever since. In fact, Paul picked one up at the market, yesterday so I guess I should prepare it. I have some lardons in the fridge, too, and they've been in there a while, so I guess I'll just copy you all the way, Ken.

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    1. Hope you enjoy(ed) it. With JP's recipes you can't really go wrong.

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