Tom Kitchin: Cooking with cauliflower

Tom Kitchin. Picture: TSPL
Tom Kitchin. Picture: TSPL
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JANUARY might be over, but the cold chill in the air still makes everyone reach for comfort food at this time of year.

That means plenty of soups, stews and one pot wonders to keep the whole family happy, cosy and content.

There are some classic comfort foods that I always choose when it’s cold and dull outside and cauliflower cheese is one of them. We serve it at The Scran & Scallie and it always proves a hit with our guests whether as a main or a side dish. The piping hot vegetables, layered with melted, soft cheese are too tempting to resist. It can make a brilliant alternative to macaroni cheese if you’re looking for a slightly healthier option.

Take a bit of time preparing the cheese sauce and you’ll taste the difference. I always like to add mustard, as well as a dash of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce to give the dish a little kick. Always make sure you bake it in the oven until it’s crisp and golden on top too – delicious.

While cauliflower cheese is a firm favourite you can do so much more with cauliflower to really bring out the natural flavour. Some people avoid cooking with this great vegetable because they think it smells unpleasant, but the key is not to overcook it – then you’ll avoid any unpleasant smells. You’ll find cauliflower all year round but it’s at its best from mid-December until mid-April, so now’s the time to make the most of it.

With more and more people seeking healthier foods, particularly at this time of year, cauliflower is also enjoying a bit of a surge in popularity with some choosing to use it as a substitute for rice or potatoes thanks to its heartiness and texture. You can use the florets raw in salads or as fresh starters, 
but cauliflower also tastes great 
when it’s steamed, boiled, or often best of all, roasted. It can taste delicious 
if you lightly roast it and add some lovely texture with herbs, spices, cheeses and breadcrumbs. The best way to make sure you don’t overcook it is by testing it regularly with the tip of a knife.

Making cauliflower soup is easy too, but I like to give it my own little twist by adding ox tongue – the two flavours complement one another perfectly, as do the textures. We serve a Vallum Farm cauliflower soup with Romanesco cauliflower and crispy ox tongue at The Kitchin, but I’ve created this simpler version to make at home. Perfect comfort food for cold February nights.

Cauliflower Cheese

Serves four

1 head cauliflower

500ml milk

4 tbsp flour

125g butter

125g Isle of Mull Cheddar grated (plus extra for topping)

1 tsp wholegrain mustard

1 tsp Dijon mustard

4 drops Tabasco

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper


Separate the cauliflower into small florets and blanch until just tender in boiling salted water. Leave to cool. In a small pan, gently heat the milk.

In a separate medium pan, melt butter, then stir in the flour to create a paste or roux. Cook the roux gently for 4-5 minutes, then add the warm milk stirring continuously. Keep cooking the sauce for 4-5 minutes or until it has thickened to a consistency that coats the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, salt and pepper, mustard, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Layer the florets and sauce in an ovenproof bowl and top with grated cheese. Bake in the oven at 190C/Gas Mark 5 for about 30 minutes until golden brown on the top.

Cauliflower Soup with crispy ox tongue

Serves four

2 tbsp olive oil/50g butter

2 onions – thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic – finely chopped

1 small leek – white part, thinly sliced

1 celery stick

1 cauliflower head – cut into small florets

1l vegetable stock

ox tongue

1 large onion

1 large carrot

4 celery sticks

2 leeks

1 bunch of parsley stalks

1 head of garlic, broken into cloves

1 bouquet garni

1 fresh ox tongue

1 tsp vegetable oil

salt to season


In a heavy-bottomed pan, sweat the sliced onions gently in the oil and butter for 4-5 minutes until soft. Add the chopped garlic, sliced leek and celery and sweat for a further 2 minutes until soft. Add the cauliflower pieces and sweat for 2-3 minutes.

Add enough stock to cover the vegetables and simmer until the cauliflower is just tender/cooked through. Top up the stock level if needed as it simmers. Leave to cool slightly before blending until smooth.

For the ox tongue

Bring a large pot of seasoned water to the boil. Dice all the vegetables, add them to the pan with the garlic and bouquet garni and bring back to the boil. Then add the tongue and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 4 hours or until the meat is very tender.

Once the tongue is cooked, lift it out and carefully remove the skin while it’s still warm. Also remove any glands, excess fat and gristle, then leave the tongue to rest and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Cut it into cubes and then fry in a heated, oiled pan until golden brown and crispy on both sides. Sprinkle on top of the soup to garnish with a little olive oil and some croutons.