It's been too long since I last did some extended, just-for-fun weekend cooking! The half a huge head of cauliflower delivered in our recent vege box inspired me to try one of J. Kenji López-Alt's battered-and-fried cauliflower recipes, which he published more than two years ago on Serious Eats.
I'm not in the regular business of battering or deep-frying, but its never quite as bad as I imagine. There's always a bit of dripping, and disposing of the oil isn't great, but it was well worth it for these tender, golden cauliflower bites. This particular batter includes sesame seeds and dessicated coconut. To my surprise they separated from the batter once it hit the oil, floating up to the surface to form a fragile, nutty lace. It was kinda fun and tasty to nibble at, but a hint that I shouldn't bother including these ingredients in the future - I'll just keep some sesame seeds aside for garnishing instead.
The key point of interest and flavour in this recipe is really the gochujang, a smooth Korean spice paste of roasted chillis and fermented soy beans. I'm glad I image-searched this condiment before we went shopping, because we happened upon the distinctive red plastic completely by chance in an unfamiliar shop - it wasn't on a designated shelf and was covered in a fine layer of dust (but was within its expiry date, I was sure to brush off that dust and check!).
The gochujang forms the foundation of a dressing that's warm, tangy, salty and sweet. It clings to the batter, giving the cauliflower a soft, lively coating that eliminates any need for a dipping sauce. It reminded me a bit of the barbecue sauce we've used for years, and I can imagine skipping the batter palaver and dry-frying tofu in it.
Gochujang fried cauliflower
(slightly adapted from a recipe at Serious Eats)
1 head cauliflower
1/2 cup cornflour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup sesame seeds (would save for garnish instead)
1/3 cup dessicated coconut (would skip entirely)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vodka
large volume of vegetable oil, for deep frying
1/4 cup gochujang
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons water
Chop the head of cauliflower up into bite-sized florets.
In a medium bowl, stir together the cornflour plain flour, baking powder, sesame seeds (if using), and coconut (if using). Whisk in the water to form a smooth batter, then whisk in the vodka until the batter is smooth and runny.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients.
Pour the oil into a saucepan until it's about 6cm deep (we chose a small saucepan so that it wouldn't be too much oil). Set it over medium-high heat.
When a drop of batter sizzles in the hot oil, it's time to get frying. Drop a few pieces of cauliflower into the batter, coat them all over, and shake off any excess batter before gently dropping each floret into the oil. Fry the cauliflower florets in batches, for around 4-6 minutes each, until they're golden. Transfer the cooked florets to absorbent paper and season them with salt. (If you're cooking in many batches, consider transferring the fried cauliflower to a baking tray in a oven on its lowest setting, to keep them warm.)
When all the cauliflower is cooked, toss it gently but thoroughly with the dressing and serve, garnished with an extra sprinkling of sesame seeds.