So guys we know that cauliflower is the most amazing vegetable in the world and it has super powers enabling it to masquerade as a carb and disguise itself as a delicious Italian sauce, but eating it whole roasted in this way, is simply the very best way it can be eaten. And I’m not making this up.
You can read the backstory about how Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani took this humble dish and turned it into a worldwide phenomenon here – and this was over 10 years ago. Of course, since then everyone who is anyone in the food world has made their own version of the dish. In most cases, the cauliflower gets whacked in the oven whole and raw with various seasonings and olive oil. No doubt also delicious, but, what sets Shani’s dish apart from the rest is that its parboiled in salted water then drained like a potato to get rid of moisture and maintain texture. The other technique that takes his whole roast cauliflower to the next level is he pushes the boundary on the charring stage. Almost to the point of burning – and certainly burnt in parts. It’s there where all the flavour lies. Rich umami that makes you salivate and devour a whole head without a blink of an eye. Eyal Shani says ‘“People don’t tend to be generous with their vegetables. With meat they are, and this is something primordial within us. The cauliflower engenders generosity,”
I was lucky enough to get to both dine at Eyal Shani’s North Abraxass restaurant in Tel Aviv and meet the charismatic man himself on my trip to Israel in January. It was an absolute highlight. Not only have I never seen chefs and service staff stop in the middle of what they were doing to dance, sing and burn sage, but I had never been served a whole head of cauliflower this delicious, straight up on paper without any cutlery to devour with my hands. It was a life-changing culinary moment.
We managed to garner as much intel as we could about how to recreate this incredible dish from various people on the trip, and since we’ve been back a few of us have been playing around in the kitchen. Aida Mollenkamp from Salt & Wind made her version with a garlic and tahini sauce, and Luiz Hara, aka The London Foodie, kept things straight up like the original. I decided to do the same. I mean why change perfection, and anyway I craved that incredible flavour.
The first time I made it I boiled if for less time and found the olive oil didn’t sink that easily into the crevices. The second time I made it – and for this recipe and video, I boiled it for 15 minutes and it was probably a little too soft. It did, however, allow for all the olive oil to get sucked into every nook and cranny and the result was even more delicious but with a loss of texture. So it’s all going to depend on the size of your cauliflower to start. If it’s large, I would say boil for 15 minutes, and if it’s small – as mine was, boil for 10. His recipe calls for 10 grams of salt for every liter of water, but I found 2 – 3 tablespoons for a large pot perfect. Allow it to drain and cool. Pour over a generous amount of olive oil – I think I got a little carried away here and added too much, then season with salt and pepper. Shani doesn’t use pepper in his recipe, but I like it. Roast in a very hot oven for an hour. I went as hot as mine would go, at 250C. After researching this article and finding Shani’s recipe online – I see he recommends 220C, and doesn’t state how long to cook it for. Just until golden. I also found the second time I made it the bottom got all charred too and formed a delicious chewy base, perhaps this was due to using too much olive oil.
Eyal Shani’s Whole Roasted Cauliflower
Serves 4 as a side
- 1 whole medium-size, fresh, white cauliflower, florets tightly packed and covered in bright green leaves
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- mineral water
- sea salt
Preheat the oven to 220 C (430 degrees F). Bring a large pot of salty water to the boil. Add about 10 grams of salt per liter of water. Cover with a lid and cook the cauliflower for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the cauliflower. Drain in a colander for at least 5 – 10 minutes
Serve to the table in the baking dish. The outside of the cauliflower should be crisp and the inside as soft as butter. Separate the florets with a spoon and serve.
I made a little video on how to do it.
Find me on Instagram