“No matter what you do, it’s gonna grab a hold on you”
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I first encountered Marlene Shaw on an old Gilles Peterson Worldwide broadcast, and I was immediately hooked. Up until then, I had never heard of her and I’m guessing that could be the case for many music fans unless you’re deeply into Soul or Rare Grooves. What floors me about her sound is how she stands at the crossroads of big ’60 Dionne Warwick style pop production and the deep cultural change soul of Nina Simone. “California Soul” definitely falls into the Warwick side of the spectrum. Big brassy production evoking the pure joy of sun, sand, & surf. While I am firmly Team East Coast, I still find her homage to California the perfect soundtrack for a backyard grilling session in Brooklyn.
It’s also the perfect theme for yet another in my obsession with cauliflower.
There was a meme bouncing around during the Lockdown of 2020 that asked whether we asked if “cauliflower wanted to be all these things.” No, I did not as, well, even with the Dumpster Fire that has been 2020, I have not started talking to my vegetables. Besides, if cauliflower did not want to be this adaptable, it should not have chosen to be the tofu of vegetables. I mean, you can’t fuck with a poblano and make it taste like kung pao chicken. Hell, even when you tot broccoli, it’s still maintaining it’s broccoli-osity.
But cauliflower? Well, cauliflower knows it’s the white bread of vegetables. It knows it’s basic. It’s screaming for seasoning and roasting and frying and all the other things that will make it shine. It’s a vegetable with potential, and it’s up to us to unleash that inner brilliance.
In this case, that inner light comes in the hybrid of taking Buffalo roasted cauliflower, turning it into rice, and making that rice into a lovely bowl of Buffalo Tots. Sure, I could have just tossed Buffalo Spice into some steamed cauliflower, but I wanted the deeper flavor Yes, it’s going to require extra effort, but trust me it’s worth it.
The roasted cauliflower is pretty straight forward. Trim the head (keep those leaves & the stem for making stock), coat with olive oil & spice, place in 450°F oven and wait about a half-hour. If you really want to up your meal prep game, roast two heads and save the other for salads and sandwiches.
If there is anything actually tricky in this recipe, it might be what would appear to be simple: Buffalo sauce. During my years as a bar cook, I think I’ve had about a dozen ways to make what essentially is emulsification of hot sauce and butter. One bar even used heavy cream in the mix which was weird and too expensive. I’ve had a lot of home cooking Buffalo sauce failures, mostly due to the sauce splitting. I tried every trick I found on the interweb, but always ended up with ok but not great sauce. I honestly can’t tell you how or why I wasn’t using the method here, but it’s what happened. The key is to heat everything BUT the butter. Then, continually whisking off the heat, let the hot ingredients melt the cold butter. I’m sure any well-trained chef is saying “No shit, Sherlock!” but I honestly thought I had done this previously to meh results. I’m now happy to say not only does the sauce hold up, but I’ve even been able to keep a batch in the fridge for other recipes.
Finally, I feel I need to address the Ranch vs. Blue Cheese debate. As you can see, I use both here. I’ve rarely had an issue getting blue cheese with Buffalo wings though I do prefer ranch dressing. I feel the usual chunkiness of a blue cheese dressing gets in the way of dipping wings. Instead, as I’ve done here, I prefer to have a ranch dressing, but add a sprinkle of blue cheese for the funkiness. It’s the best of both worlds in one dish.
Cauliflower Buffalo Tots with ranch dressing, blue cheese, and scallions
Makes about 2 servings
Buffalo Cauliflower Tots (see recipe below)
Buffalo Spice (see recipe below)
Buffalo sauce (see recipe below)
Blue Cheese crumbles
Take half of the tots place in a large bowl. Add a healthy amount of Buffalo sauce and gently toss to coat the tots. Place the coated tots in a bowl or on a platter. Dizzle with Ranch dressing, a drizzle more of Buffalo sauce, some blue cheese crumbles, and a bit of sliced scallion.
BUFFALO CAULIFLOWER TOTS
Makes about 16 tots
For the roasted cauliflower
1 small head of cauliflower
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the tots
4 cups Buffalo roasted cauliflower florets
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 scallions, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Make the roasted cauliflower
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat the oven to 450°F.
Place the cauliflower, stem side down, onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over the top to coat, then sprinkle with Buffalo Spice. Roast until tender and browned on top, about 35 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes.
Make the tots
Reduce the oven heat to 375°. Remove the foil from the baking sheet and line with parchment paper or a Silpat.
When cauliflower is cool enough to handle, break the head into florets and measure out about 4 cups. Place them in a food processor and pulse until riced. Place riced cauliflower on a clean kitchen towel and squeeze to drain water. Transfer cauliflower to a large bowl with the egg, cheddar, parmesan, panko, scallions, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and mix until combined.
Using a tablespoon, form the mixture into tots, toss each tot in Buffalo spice, and place them on their sides on the baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes then use tongs to flip tots over. Place back into the oven and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden.
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix with a spoon or your fingers to combine. Set aside.
1/2 cup cayenne hot sauce (Frank’s, Red Devil, Crystal, etc.)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1/2 teaspoon Buffalo spice
1/2 cup butter
Place everything but the butter in a medium saucepan. Gently heat to a simmer. Add the butter and whisk until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat.