Puree: elegant or baby food?

Let’s face it, the texture of food is crucial to our enjoyment (or lack thereof) of a given dish.  What balances a dish?  Something smooth, something crunchy, something chewy… Desserts are great examples of cuisine that almost always require textural balance.  Something smooth, like a cheese cake or ice cream, something chewy- a genoise or even fruit, and something crunchy, a tuille or crisp crust.  Crusty bread with soup, croutons with salad, chips and salsa, the crispy skin of a roast chicken… flavors and textures work, and classics are born.

Personally, I like purees; I think they bring out the essence of a given food.  Usually they apply to starch (potato puree is a fancy name for loose mashed potatoes), sometimes apply to fruit- but we like to call this ‘coulis’, and once in a while apply to vegetables.

Fruit smoothies are purees.  The minted pea sauce the British love to serve with their lamb is a puree.  Thick soups are loose purees.

A puree should be very simple.  A few ingredients, proper technique, and that’s it.  As a restaurant chef, purees were my go-to components on a dish when I didn’t have time to make anything more complicated.  Done right, with the appropriate protein and vegetable, they can easily dazzle any diner and saved me a lot of work during the day.

There are several purees I made on a regular basis, and I will highlight three:

1. Cauliflower puree.  I HATE cauliflower.  I hate the flavor, texture, color (bland white), and everything else about it.  BUT, when pureed, it takes on a new flavor and texture and suddenly, it becomes exquisite.

2.  Celery root.  A true root vegetables, but when pureed with truffles, becomes incredibly dynamic.  Served with osso bucco, braised lamb, venison, etc it can easily steal the show.

3.  Sweet corn puree.  Summer corn speaks for itself.  This sweet puree intensifies the flavor of corn like an explosion in your mouth.  Served with seared scallops, baby bok choy and shitake mushrooms, you might as well serve a little slice of heaven.  No one will know the difference.

Cauliflower Puree

Prep time: 5 min
cook time: 10 min
Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 head cauliflower, trimmed of all leaves, cut into 1 in cubes
1 vanilla bean, split, scraped, reserve the seeds and pod
2 cups cream
1 cup milk
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cold
kosher salt

Method:

In a medium sized sauce pot, add the cream, milk, 1 tbsp salt, cauliflower and vanilla.  Bring to a simmer and cook about 5 minutes until cauliflower is very tender.  Strain, reserving the cooking liquid.  Discard the vanilla pod.  Place hot cauliflower in a bar blender and about 1/2 cup cooking liquid.  Begin blending.  Add liquid 1 tbsp at a time until the puree just loosens up (DO NOT ADD TOO MUCH LIQUID).  Use less liquid than you think you should, this is a puree, not soup.  It should be the consistency of loose mashed potatoes.  When this consistency is reached, add the butter, one cube at a time and continue to puree.  Re-season with kosher salt, and either serve right away or hold warm.

This is the only way I will eat cauliflower, and I think it is delicious.

Enjoy.

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