Alphons's Cauliflower: A Variation on an Escoffier Classic
April 9, 2018 | Food & Gardening
My uncle, Alphons van der Poll, is a classically-trained European chef who has worked in kitchens around the world. He was born and raised in the Netherlands. Many years ago, he taught me how to make a classic beef brown sauce, and it is still one of the most delicious concoctions in my cooking repertoire, especially when it comes to using it as the base for meat soups and stews.
I recently spent some time with Uncle Alphons, who is now 80. He shared a recipe for a wonderful cauliflower dish that he said he used to prepare often for restaurant guests.
After Uncle Alphons explained how he made the cauliflower, I asked him what the name of the dish was, and he told me he’d have to look it up. He produced a well-worn hardcover copy of Escoffier’s Le Guide Culiniare, a slim volume printed in 1963, which he bought in Paris around that same year, when he was a young chef. You can find English versions on Amazon.
August Escoffier was the father of modern French cooking, and his books are still an essential reference for modern chefs and serious cooks. Back when Uncle Alphons was training, Escoffier was the standard textbook that chefs had to study. Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire is not a recipe book in the traditional sense. It describes the components that go into a particular dish, and it presumes that the cook knows how to prepare the components. For example, here are the instructions for Filets de Soles Chauchat (#873) from an English version of Escoffier I accessed on Scribd:
Poach the fillets of sole, folded, in butter and lemon-juice. Coat the bottom of a dish with Mornay sauce and set the fillets of sole thereon in the form of an oval. Surround the fish with roundels of cooked potatoes turned to the shape of corks. Cover the fillets and the garnish with Mornay sauce, and glaze quickly in a fierce oven or salamander.
If you’re an experienced cook, this concise description is really all you need. You already know how to make a Mornay sauce, you know the approximate proportions of butter and lemon juice in the poaching liquid, and you know how hot a “fierce” oven is.
Back to cauliflower. It turns out that Alphons’s version is a cross between Escoffier’s Chou-Fleur Polonaise and Chou-Fleur Milanese. Mostly it is the Polonaise version, but because of the addition of Parmesan cheese, it crosses into Milanese territory. Whatever it is called, it is scrumptious and it deserves a place at the table.
1 average-sized head of cauliflower, cleaned, de-cored and cut into florets
Boil the cauliflower in plenty of salted water until tender. Drain well and let sit in the colander while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Just before you are ready to assemble the dish, finely chop the cauliflower.
1 medium onion, finely diced
¼ lb. butter
1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
1-4 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
3 hard boiled eggs, diced
Sautee the onion in the butter just until soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let the onion brown. Mix in the parsley, cheese, and egg. Fold all this into the chopped cauliflower. Serve hot or warm.
Individual portions. Scoop the cauliflower mixture into individual portions and place in soufflé cups or on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Top with Sauce Mornay that has been flavored with either parmesan or gruyere. Top with breadcrumbs. Bake in hot oven until topping is browned. Serve hot.
The whole head. You can keep the cauliflower head whole and slice and serve at the table. Boil the cauliflower whole until tender. Drain thoroughly. Brush it with additional melted butter, frost it with the onion-cheese-egg-parsley mixture, and then sprinkle on a layer of breadcrumbs. Brown in a hot oven until the topping is golden. Serve hot.