My Nephew Ian comes up with so many good questions that turn into posts, I should have him on the payroll… This time around, he asks “Was thinking about making a cauliflower purée – how do I do that so that it actually tastes good?” The question sparked the realization that I get a lot of questions about purèes, so it’s time to expand on the topic.
Most humans start out eating purées as their first ‘solid’ food; that may explain both the attraction as well as the reticence many adults have with the concept. A purée is basically a sauce, somewhere between a paste and a very thick liquid in consistency. Point of fact, several variants are things we eat quite often, like apple sauce and mashed potatoes. Others are a bit rarer, like the cauliflower Ian asked about. The term is, of course, French – it means to purify or refine, and it’s quite old – My research found references to it all the way back to the 1200s.
Achieving a purée isn’t difficult; foods can be blended, processed, ground or sieved to achieve the desired result. That means that those of you who don’t have blenders or processors won’t be left out – something as simple as a sturdy single mesh strainer, a masher, or an old fashioned potato ricer will work just fine for many foods; a large fork will work in a pinch, too.
When it comes to constructing a tasty purée, a little forethought goes a long way. Potatoes lend themselves selflessly to the process, while that cauliflower requires a bit more effort. In both cases, (as with most foods you purée), cooking is necessary; this achieves several things, from making a food purée-able, to arriving at the desired consistency, and improving overall flavor. Steaming is always a great first cooking choice as it preserves nutrient content better than boiling does. A slow, gentle simmer is another good choice. At a minimum, blanching prior to puréeing takes the raw edge off, and maintains nice, bright colors as well.
Next consideration is water content. You might think that the average spud has more water onboard than cauliflower does, but it ain’t necessarily so – cauliflower is around 92% water, while the potatoes are more like 79%, (root veggies are among the lowest water content of any of the common veggies, one reason they store well.) What that tells us is that the cauliflower is going to require some reduction in water content to achieve a good purée, while the spuds will need some moisture added. Here’s a handy reference for future use.
Next consideration is the overall taste profile – what you’re after with a purée. Foods that have big flavor right out of the chute, like apples and berries, or sweet peppers and fresh peas, don’t need a whole lot of reinforcement to make a great purée – A little spice in the former (cinnamon, vanilla bean, ginger for instance), a little seasoning in the latter (sea salt, fresh ground pepper, a touch of citrus), and you’re good to go. Working with a light touch in either example allows the food being puréed to shine without being overpowered. Now that cauliflower, well… There are certainly folks who like this veggie plain, but it’s a safe bet more of us like some serious augmentation – my version treats it pretty much like mashed potatoes, adding stock, dairy, and fresh herbs, as you’ll see below. Personally, I treat almost all root veggies that way – They’re big on starch and sugar, but can all use some help in the taste arena.
A few final thoughts. A purée is a nice change of pace, and a great way to insert a touch of flavor into every bite of a main course dish. Whatever you purée, a nice, smooth consistency is what you’re after – gritty or lumpy isn’t likely to float anybody’s boat – This is where stock and dairy, (cream, sour cream, butter, and yoghurt are all nice), really shine as an adjunct ingredient. Keep that textural change in mind; make sure there are plenty of other touches, like a little crunch, so that you’re presenting a nice, balanced plate. Consider something a bit outside the box when you’re ready to try one – The herbed blueberry version below goes great with pork or chicken, as a for instance.
Here’s a couple to get you started.
1 Head Cauliflower
1/4 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil
1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
Rinse cauliflower, pat dry, and cut into roughly 1/2″ chunks.
Place cauliflower in a steamer basket, within a large pot with about an inch of water therein.
Turn heat to medium high until water starts to boil.
Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and steam cauliflower until it mashes easily when tested with a fork, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Transfer cauliflower to a blender or processor. Add stock, oil, butter, lemon juice, and salt. Pulse until a nice, smooth consistency is achieved, about a minute.
Crush lemon thyme by hand and add; add a few twists of pepper. Pulse to incorporate, taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
Herbed Blueberry Purée
2 Cups fresh Blueberries, (frozen will do fine)
2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
1 Navel Orange
4-5 leaves Fresh Basil (Cinnamon, or Christmas Basil is spectacular)
Pinch Sea Salt
Rinse blueberries, then toss them into a blender or processor and pulse to a smooth consistency, about 30 seconds.
Cut orange in half; zest and juice half, return the rest to fridge.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine berries, honey, zest, juice of half orange, and salt.
Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat so blend is at a low simmer; cook for 10 to 15 minutes until blend has reduced and thickened notably.
Remove from heat, add basil and stir to incorporate. Allow basil to steep for 15 minutes as the mixture cools.
Pour the blend into a glass bowl through a single mesh strainer to remove solids and basil leaf.
You can serve just as it is, or allow to cool to room temperature.
Will store refrigerated for 3-4 days.
To serve, heat in a sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon of butter and whisk to incorporate.