24 January 2011

Choux-fleurs et feuilles de choux-fleurs

The chou-fleur (“cabbage flower”) or cauliflower is a variety of the standard cabbage, Brassica oleracea, that has undergone centuries of careful selection by growers to produce the plant and vegetable we know today. The cauliflower is harvested immature, before the flowers actually open.

A very fresh cauliflower from Brittany

Typically, only the underdeveloped flowers or "meristems" of the cabbage are eaten. But the fact is that the leaves that envelope the cauliflower are edible too. It's just a cabbage, after all. Those leaves need to be fresh, of course.

A little while back I bought a beautiful chou-fleur at the supermarket in Loches. It was perfectly fresh, judging from the green leaves that had been left around the flower — to protect it from bruising and drying out, I imagine. I'm not sure how often cauliflower is sold this way in the U.S. I hope it's sold with its leaves all the time.

The Larousse Gastronomique food and cooking encyclopedia says that the chou-fleur has "oriental origins" and is an « aliment très délicat, qui doit toujours être acheté avec ses feuilles vertes (d'ailleurs comestibles)... » — a very delicate food product that should always be purchased with its green leaves (which are edible, by the way) intact.

Brittany and the southeast area of France produce a lot of cauliflower, so it is available year-round. I usually buy it during the winter, when the Brittany crop comes in and prices go down. It's good to eat cooked or raw. If it's not overcooked, it doesn't develop the unpleasant odors and taste that many people associate with cooked cauliflower. The same is true of broccoli.

Un gratin de choux-fleurs comme je les aime...

One of the best ways to cook cauliflower is to blanch it or steam it briefly and then finish cooking it in a cheese sauce in the oven. Sprinkle some extra grated cheese over the top of the casserole dish and it will brown nicely. You can mix some chopped ham or smoked pork lardons into the cheese sauce (c'est une sauce Mornay) to turn the cauliflower au gratin into a complete main dish.

I've posted before about making un gratin de choux-fleurs, here and here, with the recipe. That's what I did with the cauliflower I bought in Loches recently. And here is another recipe for finely chopped cauliflower incorporated into the cheese sauce served with pasta. It's something I made a few years ago, trying to reproduce a dish I had in a good restaurant in Half Moon Bay in California in the 1990s.

So the other day, when making another gratin de chou-fleur, I decided I needed to cook the green cauliflower leaves too. I trimmed them up, washed them well, and cooked them separately with water, salt and pepper, and some duck broth and duck fat for seasoning. I also trimmed and chopped the "core" of the cauliflower after I had cut off the florets, diced it up, and added it to the pot with the greens.

Cauliflower leaves and trimmings cooked as greens
with a little duck fat for seasoning

Both the gratin and the greens were delicious. We ate the greens with some pulled pork "barbecue" — eastern North Carolina style — that I made last week. I bought two boneless pork shoulder roasts and steam cooked them in the pressure cooker the same way I had earlier cooked a pork loin roast. The shoulder made better barbecue, and since I cooked five pounds (2.3 kg) of pork we have plenty of it in the freezer. Pork barbecue made this way freezes really well.


  1. That certainly is fresh and lovely cauliflower. I don't usually see it still with its green leaves, I must admit.


  2. It all looks delicious, Ken. I love cauliflower and appreciate that is is low carb but as much a comfort food to me as any potato dish could be. Was your duck broth something you made yourself, or can one buy this in France?

  3. The leaves of the collie are very good eating, as is the stalk... I will try your method with the 'braising' technique.... probably tomorroe as we picked up a very nice Romanesco on the market.
    For those readers who do not know the Romanesco, it is a spiky, green collie... a bit stronger in flavour and the most fascinating veg to look at as well!
    Does everything that a collie does... and we often use the two together in a cheese sauce as per Ken's method.

  4. I love cauliflower....but almost never see it with any leaves still on.....and unfortunately they are wrapped in plastic.

  5. We're lucky enough to have cauliflower with leaves intact, and also Romanesco, here in Half Moon Bay. And (you knew I'd ask, Ken!)... what was the restaurant? I wonder if it's still in business and if they still serve the dish. I'd like to set my taste expectations properly before giving it a try. :-)

  6. I read the blog entry this morning before going to work and saw the image of that beautifully browned gratin. I decided that was what I was going to make for dinner today.

    We just finished that dinner and the gratin was given rave reviews by my wife... the cheese fanatic.

    Before making this dish I checked the Mathiot recipe. Her sauce Mornay used the sauce blanc base which uses cold water rather than milk. I bought some chopped ham to put in it as lardons are not available easily around here. It was very good and worth making again (with bacon)

  7. Hi Kirstie, the duck broth and duck fat are things I've saved after cooking duck (and geese and turkey). I'm not sure you can buy duck broth but you can definitely buy jars of duck or goose fat.

    Ellen, the restaurant is still there and I'm trying to think of the name... it used to be in a little building on the main highway going north out of HMB and now it is at Pillar Point. Oh, Mezza Luna is the name. I guess there's no guarantee they would still make the cauliflower cheese sauce.

    Craig, good job and glad you liked it. It's a winter standard for Walt and me, and has been for years. I use skim milk and some cream to make the bechamel sauce before putting in the cheese, and I usually use Comté cheese.

  8. I saw comte in the cheese section at the grocery store but I used gruyere. Perhaps next time I'll try the comte.

    As an FYI a company called More than Gourmet sells duck sauce and fat (Glace de Canard and Graisse de Canard) it can be purchased through their website or at Amazon.

  9. Ah, Mezza Luna, a favorite. We'll check it out next time we visit!

  10. No leaves on any of the cauliflower I've seen in the groceries around here - one must either grow it in one's garden or buy it at the local markets to retrieve the more nutritous leaves!

    I love cauliflower gratin!

    Thanks for the inspiration, Ken.


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