Heston’s Cauliflower risotto recipe with cocoa powder and curry. Typical weirdness from the Fat Duck chef, but the results are outstanding.
This recipe is classic Heston. A traditional dish: risotto. An unloved or unglamorous ingredient: cauliflower. And finally, an almost deliberately weird flavour pairing: in this case a pinch of curry powder and a dusting of cocoa.
It’s also classic Heston in that it’s based on the risotto recipe from his very first recipe book from 2002, Family Food, and is a simplified version of a dish served at the Fat Duck.
Now, I make no secret of the fact I don’t like cooking risottos. I know they’re relatively cheap to make, and wonderfully satisfying – ideal for a week night. But the relentless stirring required means making them is as gruelling and tedious as a random battle encounter with two Malboros. And, to get decent results, you need spend 3 hours making a stock first. Plus, it’s never a good idea to dump that much starch and saturated fat into your body in the evening.
Fortunately we’ve got the stirring issue sorted. Modernist Cuisine have proved that you can cook a perfectly respectable risotto with a fraction of the time and effort simply by deploying a pressure cooker. So, excuse us our unhealthy dinner, but we’ve got a Heston recipe to test.
Special Equipment: Pressure Cooker
Special Ingredients: Vermouth
Time: 20 – 30 minutes
Cost: £5 approx
Note: In our case we’re halving the ingredient list to serve 2 people. If making for 4 we would estimate you would need two heads of cauliflower, as one won’t quite give you enough.
Step 1: Prep
For best results in Heston’s cauliflower risotto recipe he says you want the chopped onions to be the same size as your grains of rice (he means when they’re cooked, thankfully). This will be a good test of your knife skills. Mine aren’t bad, and a further Jamie-style minute of stomping our biggest knife through the pile of chopped onion gave perfect results.
For a dish with so few simple ingredients there’s actually a lot of faff and measuring. We’re not mise-en-place obsessives, but with this recipe it is an especially good idea to have everything weighed and measured before you begin.
Step 2: Cauliflower Puree
It’s best to get this bit started first, and keep going back to it as you cook the basic risotto recipe. You’ll add the resulting puree at the end of the recipe. Start by chopping up a cauliflower and blanching it for 3 minutes.
The recipe now asks you to cook it in a whole 90ml of chicken stock! This is barely enough to make the base of the pan damp (We used some Knorr concentrate). There are zero notes in the recipe, but we kept the lid on to avoid the pan drying out, which it would after about 60 seconds with so little liquid. You should also add a pinch of curry powder at this stage.
We simmered the cauliflower for about ten minutes and it still wasn’t as tender as we’d have liked. Perhaps a longer time, in keeping with true risotto cooking times, is what’s required. And we should have chopped the cauliflower into smaller pieces.
The slightly firm cauliflower meant the pureeing didn’t go quite as smoothly (sorry) as we’d have liked. Pushing the mix through a sieve was murder too. Perhaps we ought to have added the milk and cream before blending, to help the process.
Either way, can any of you recommend some good quality fine mesh sieves? Our Tesco ones get destroyed after about 6 months thanks to Heston’s instructions to create smooth, refined dishes. (e.g. Heston’s Cream of Mushroom Soup recipe)
At this point we did add the milk and cream and heat the puree through for a few minutes. This step doesn’t take long. Surprisingly, given the quantity of ingredients, there wasn’t all that much puree.
Step 3: Risotto
Heston’s basic risotto recipe is all you need here. We’ve made it a few times and it’s now become a relatively uncomplicated affair. Especially if you have all your bowls and jars of weighed and measured ingredients lined up next to you.
Heston’s risotto recipe begins by frying the rice in a disturbing quantity of olive oil. With quite a high heat you will get a pleasing Rice Krispy-like crackle from the pan as the grains toast (for better flavour and absorption, Heston says). This only takes a minute or two. Then add onion, butter and garlic.
In his risotto recipe Heston asks you to just fry the onions and garlic for 5 minutes. To us this doesn’t seem nearly long enough to remove all of the raw onion smell and flavour.
Now start adding liquid. White wine and Vermouth (we saw no reason not to add these together). Once those have nearly disappeared you can start adding the stock. Heston’s traditional risotto recipe takes the classic approach of adding a ladle-full at a time. His newer recipes, in Heston at Home, suggest adding half your stock at first then topping up with the remainder in the usual way.
Obviously we’re taking the Modernist Cuisine risotto recipe advice and just using a pressure cooker with all the stock dumped in at once. So: lid on, wait until you get to full pressure, then just start a timer for 3 minutes. Beautifully easy. We used some of the vegetable stock we had left over from making Heston’s Beetroot Spelt Risotto recipe.
Once the pressure cooking is done you can sieve out any surplus stock. Then just return the risotto to the pressure cooker to finish. We found this risotto needed quite a lot of seasoning.
Note: If you want to make a risotto the traditional way Gary at the marvellous BigSpud blog is an expert on risotto recipes and recommends a heavy cast iron pot and a good whisk or spatula (silicone preferred – we got one on his advice and it’s been invaluable).
Step 4: Finishing the Dish
As is traditional, add butter and grated parmesan, along with your cream + milk + cauliflower puree. Then leave to stand for a few minutes (while you scramble for plates and cutlery).
Now for the weird part: plate up your risotto, then dust it with cocoa powder. Not odd enough? Grate a few bits of raw cauliflower over the top. Now you’re ready to serve.
This is a thoroughly excellent risotto recipe. We can report that cauliflower and cocoa powder (with a pinch of curry) is a combination that really works. As you push your cutlery through the risotto it develops a delightfully chocolate-speckled latte colour, and the combination of flavours is subtle yet earthy. It doesn’t taste of chocolate at all, but rather the chocolate supports and boosts the flavour of the cauliflower.
There’s only one minor flaw: those onions. We cooked ours a little over five minutes, but this wasn’t quite enough to remove their slightly raw harshness. Perhaps it’s just that we prefer a sweeter, caramelised onion flavour, but they stood out unpleasantly.
Other recipes we’ve read sauté the onions before adding the grains to toast. We guess it’s a balancing act: add the grains first and the onions are undercooked, add it second and the rice doesn’t toast as well, since you need a lower heat for the onion.
The raw cauliflower adds an extra cauliflower flavour but, like our mistake with the Tiramisu recipe, we ought to have grated it more coarsely to give this aspect more impact, and ought to have added more as well.
One last thing: the recipe suggests adding a couple of tablespoons of chopped chives. We totally forgot this, and it would really have elevated the dish. We’ll be sure to remember next time, but even without it Heston’s Cauliflower risotto recipe was delicious.
- Cook the onions first, on low for ten minutes, then add rice and turn up the heat
- Chop the cauliflower more finely, and add milk and cream before blending
- Grate the raw cauliflower more coarsely
- Remember to add chives
If you’ve ever made this recipe yourself, or if you have a sure-fire risotto recipe that you always swear by we’d love to hear about it so feel free to enter your comment below.