Cauliflower Gratin

Cauliflower Gratin
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old-computer-thumbSorry about the hiatus, but we had a slight problem with our computerized filing system here at Scratchin’ It Central. Fortunately, we were quickly able to upgrade to something newer, and, we hope, more reliable.

So, while we were installing and upgrading our computer, we needed sustenance, high-powered, delicious sustenance, and we got it through a cauliflower gratin. Not just any cauliflower gratin, but our take on Thomas Keller’s cauliflower gratin. We found the original recipe on The Delicious Life, and modified it to match what we did and didn’t have around the house, and to make it a bit easier to make. We also have a suggestion on how we’d make it next time, so keep on reading.

Cauliflower Gratin

Yield: 4 servings

Cauliflower Gratin


  • 1 head cauliflower
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs minced shallots
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 tsp dried thyme (or 1 sprig fresh thyme)
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/8 tsp curry powder
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup (40g) grated Comté cheese
  • 1 Tbs bread crumbs

Abbreviated Instructions

Remove green leaves from cauliflower (discard or save for stock). Cut away florets, saving the stem and core. Cut florets into 1-inch size pieces.

Peel stem and core, removing the tough exterior (discard or save for stock). Finely chop core and stem. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large kettle of salted water to a rolling boil. Add vinegar, and blanch florets in two batches, allowing the florets to blanch for 2 minutes, before removing with a slotted spoon. Drain florets thoroughly and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt to taste. Transfer to an 8-inch baking pan or gratin dish.

Empty kettle and rinse. Cook butter and shallot in the kettle over medium heat, stirring often, until translucent, 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add minced cauliflower, bay leaf, thyme, and wine, and simmer until almost all wine is evaporated and cauliflower is tender, about 12 minutes. If needed, add water and cook until cauliflower is tender.

Add cream and bring to a simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and remove and discard bay leaf and thyme sprig, if using. Let cool 5 minutes.

Place cream mixture in a blender and blend on high until smooth. Add curry powder and blend an additional 15 seconds. Taste and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste, blending to incorporate between additions.

Pour mixture over florets and toss lightly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Sprinkle gratin with cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 40 minutes, or until bubbling and browned on top.

Ingredient discussion:

Just so you know, the vinegar is there to help keep the cauliflower white, not for flavoring; we think ordinary vinegar would work, too. For the white wine, we used some Pinot Grigio that was sitting in the fridge for just such an occasion; if you don’t have wine, use water, which is what the original recipe called for. We prefer to use organic heavy cream, since it’s 100% cream — nothing else on the ingredient list — but, sometimes, we don’t achieve the goal (this time is a case in point); the recipes still turn out. Finally, if you can’t find Comté cheese, try an Emmental, or a Gruyère.

Procedure in detail:

preparing cauliflower
You want florets about an inch on a side so they’re bite-sized and cook evenly.
chopped cauliflower
All the tender scraps should be chopped finely to help ensure they purée nicely.
cauliflower florets
Once drained, the florets can go into a baking dish to wait until the sauce is ready.

Prepare cauliflower. Trim off the green leaves from around the cauliflower; you can save these for stock, which is what we did, or you can find another use for them, or, if you like to waste perfectly good food, you can discard them. Cut off the florets, keeping the stem and core. Cut the florets into 1-inch-sized pieces, cutting off the stems of the florets as needed. Save these stems, too, as we’ll be using a bunch of these scraps in the sauce. Trim away the tough outer parts of the stem and core — like the leaves, these tough outer pieces are perfect for adding to stock — keeping the tender pieces of cauliflower. Chop all these pieces as finely as you can. The original recipe called for processing them in a food processor until they were nearly puréed; we chopped, so we didn’t have to clean the processor. Tip: If your blender has a variable speed, you might want to try using it to chop the cauliflower pieces very finely, rinsing the pieces out of the blender with the wine. After all, you’ll be using a blender anyway, so it won’t create extra cleanup. That’s what we’ll try next time.

blanching cauliflower
Blanching the cauliflower with a bit of vinegar in the water helps keep the florets white.

Blanch and salt. While you’re prepping the cauliflower, bring a large kettle of salted water to a rolling boil. How much salt? The water should taste like the ocean. Add the vinegar, and blanch the cauliflower florets in two batches. Drop in about half the florets, and let them cook in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove them, placing the florets in a colander to finish draining. Repeat with the remaining florets. Taste a floret, and, if needed, sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Once drained, transfer to an 8-inch baking dish or gratin dish.

Cook shallots. You can use the same pan that you used for blanching for making the sauce; just rinse it out, add the butter and shallots, and place over medium heat. Cook the shallots gently, stirring often, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Season with a bit of salt and pepper.

cooking cauliflower pieces
Once the shallots are tender, add the cauliflower, spice, and wine, and simmer away.

Cook minced cauliflower. Add the minced cauliflower, bay leaf, thyme (or thyme sprig), and wine to the shallots and allow to simmer, stirring often, until the cauliflower is tender and most of the liquid evaporates, about 15 minutes. If needed, add more water to ensure the cauliflower is fully cooked.

simmering with cream
Don’t simmer with cream too long, only two minutes, just enough to remove that raw cream taste.

Add cream. Add the cream and bring back to a simmer. Allow the cream to simmer, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and remove the bay leaf and thyme sprig, if using. Let cool for about 5 minutes.

prep for blending
You’ll blend, season, blend, season, so get everything ready.

Blend and season. Pour the cream mixture into the blender, and, before blending, remember that hot liquids can cause pressure to build in the blender, popping the top right off and spewing hot liquids everywhere. You don’t want that, so vent your blender, cover the vent with a kitchen towel, and start the blender as slowly as possible. Increase the speed to high and blend until smooth. Add the curry powder, and blend another 15 seconds. Taste the sauce and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg as needed, blending and tasting between additions.

adding gratin sauce
Pour the sauce over the florets. Even without baking, this is tasty. Of course we tasted it!

Assemble gratin. Pour the sauce over the florets in the pan and give everything a gentle toss to coat.

assembled gratin
It helps to let the flavors meld for a while, preferably overnight.

Meld. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate so the flavors can meld, at least 30 minutes, or, even better, overnight. That’s what we did, and it was really nice to have a dish ready to go into the oven the next day with minimal work. If you refrigerate overnight, take it out about an hour before you plan to bake so it can warm (or temper) before being placed in the oven.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place a rack in the center of the oven.

adding cheese and bread crumbs
It’s not a lot of cheese, but, with all that cream, it doesn’t need much.

Cheesify. Sprinkle the cheese and breadcrumbs over the gratin. It’ll look as if there isn’t enough cheese, but the rich sauce will be formed by the cream, not the cheese, so don’t be tempted to add more.

cauliflower gratin
Oh, lovely. We can’t wait to dig in!

Bake. Slide the gratin into the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until it’s bubbly and browned. If you wish, you can get an extra-crispy top by placing it under the broiler for the last 5 minutes or so; just make sure your pan is broiler-safe (ours was not, so broiling action was out).

As with all Thomas Keller recipes, this turned out nearly perfectly. The gratin sauce thickened nicely and had just the right amount of flavor. We originally thought that the curry powder would be a bit odd, but it wasn’t. It added exactly the right amount of flavoring; just a little hint of something, but it wasn’t like having something curried. With that in mind, we think that we’ll have to add the horseradish to the sauce that was called for in the original recipe. And, as with most of Thomas Keller’s recipes, it seems as though there are a lot of steps, but none of them is particularly difficult; just take your time, and you’ll be able to make this gratin, too. An easy five stars.


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