a cauliflower panna cotta, per se

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walking through whole foods the other day, i spied the most glorious and gigantic head of cabbage — creamy white florets surrounded by dewy green leaves.  it must have weighed 10 lbs by itself because after picking it up, i realised that i’d have a hard time lugging home another at the 2 for $5 price. we’ve been eating cauliflower for the past 3 days. i’ve had the chance to roast it, stir fry it and yes…to finally conduct an at home cauliflower panna cotta trial.

my lucky stomach has been to thomas keller’s per se twice thus far. and each time, aside from the fact that i feel as if i’m bursting at the seams with food, i walk away thinking that the degustatory evening was a rather zen-ish, cocoon-like experience — a bit, i suppose, like holly golightly falling in love with tiffany’s because nothing ever goes wrong at per se.

reading the cauliflower panna cotta recipe, i gained a deeper sense of chef keller’s genius.  the panna cotta itself is quite straight forward. but what i didn’t notice while eating it was the transparent oyster gelee he used to coat the top of the panna cotta.  that thin gelee layer leant both a glossy finish to the dish as well as adding a briny complexity which cut through the richness of the panna cotta. glancing through the other recipes, i realised that none of keller’s dishes are quite as simple as they might have looked at the restaurant.

for my home version (picture above), i made just the cauliflower panna cotta, leaving out the oyster gelee and the caviar.  i also took a shortcut and spooned the panna cotta into one serving dish — a definite mistake; it should have been separated into 12 servings. the resulting panna cotta is so dense and rich, that it really should be eaten in small quantities.  any serving size beyond the size of a 3 inch ramekin is really too much.

Cauliflower Panna Cotta
(adapted from the French Laundry cookbook)

Cauliflower 8 oz. Cut into ½ inch florets
Butter 2 tbsp
Water 1.5 cups
Heavy cream 1 cup
Gelatin sheets 1 sheet (note: these are kind of hard to find in the US grocery store.  I usually pick them up in London.  You can however order them online.  Additionally, gelatin sheets come in 2 sizes.  The ones I buy in London are about half the size of the gelatin sheets used in the professional kitchens.  By 1 sheet, I believe Chef Keller means those that are 8-9 inches in length (the width will vary).  Additionally, 3-4 sheets are roughly equivalent to 1 envelope of Knox gelatin)
  1. Spread cauliflower evening in a saucepan
  2. Add butter and water.
  3. Simmer for ~30 minutes, until the water is mostly evaporated.
  4. Add the cream and simmer for another 10 minutes. The cauliflower should be completely cooked at this point.
  5. Transfer the mixture in the saucepan into a food processor and blend until completely smooth.
  6. Strain it.  Chef Keller advises using a chinois.  Lacking one, I used the strainer I had on hand.
  7. Add salt for taste.
  8. Soak the gelatin in cold water for 2 to 3 minutes.  When the gelatin leaf has softened, squeeze out the excess liquid and add it to the warm cauliflower mixture.  If for some reason, you’ve allowed your cauliflower mixture to cool and the gelatin won’t melt, you can put it over a water bath.  That said, don’t overcook the gelatin — it will smell like fish bones if you do.
  9. Spoon 2 tbsp of the panna cotta into 12 serving bowls and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to set.
  10. When set, top the panna cotta with 1 tsp of oyster gelee and garnish with a quenelle of caviar (beluga, of course)

Oyster Gelee

Oyster juice ¼ cup (Chef Keller gives instructions in his book on how to make oyster juice from fresh oysters)
Gelatin sheet 1/3 sheet
Water 2 tsp
Freshly ground pepper 3 turns of the pepper mill
  1. Place water and gelatin sheet in a small bowl and set over a water bath.  Stir constantly to dissolve the gelatin.
  2. Remove the bowl from the water bath and add in the oyster juice.
  3. Stir until everything is well combined.
  4. Add in the pepper.
  5. Chill in refrigerator until it has thickened to the consistency of oil and the pepper bits are suspended in the jelly.
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One response to “a cauliflower panna cotta, per se

  1. Good blog post. I certainly love this website. Keep writing!

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