There are some meals that just linger in the memory. One such I ate in Paris a couple of years ago with a friend. We’d booked ourselves into Les Papilles on Rue Gay-Lussac. It operates a single menu. You get a set four courses, no choice.
I remember it vividly not least if was one of the first times I’d eaten meat in years. The duck that constituted our second course seemed oddly chewy and hard work, if artfully done. I had no point of comparison and I’m told that the French like to chew hard on duck. Apparently. Then there was a sublime piece of Roquefort served with a prune cooked, I believe, in port that served as a perfect counterpoint and which I tried to recreate subsequently if not as well, and finally a passion fruit panna cotta that was… nice. However the first dish was revelatory; a cauliflower soup that transcended mere soupiness. It was simply the best soup I’ve ever eaten.
I had a first go at doing something similar a few weeks back and added parmesan to roasted cauliflower soup which simply produced an effect not unlike liquid cauliflower cheese. It was OK. No more.
So the other day I had a second go. I conferred with my dining partner and we agreed that smokiness was the thing, she recommending smoked bacon or bonito.
So I set about building proper smokiness into the soup. That meant roasting the cauliflower over an open fire. This is preferably best done over embers rather than flames so I set up a trivet and turned it a couple of times. It was charred a tad more than I’d have liked (as you can see there were flames) but not so badly that I wanted to lose the blackened bits. Then I cut up the cauli- head, tossed it in olive oil and popped it in the fan oven at 160C (180C conventional).
While that was doing I gently fried some smoked bacon lardons in butter in a pan to release the fat, chopped up a shallot, added it to the bacon and when the cauliflower was more or less done popped it in with the shallots and with three medium small potatoes all sliced up. To these I added a quarter to a half teaspoon of smoked paprika (the sweet rather than the hot one).
After these had very slightly browned I poured in the stock; I’d added chicken concentrate (stock-pot) to boiling water and roughly chopped an onion, carrot and a stick of celery and tossed those in to boot and left it all to simmer.
Finally I blended it and added creme fraiche. It was pretty damn good. As good as the soup at Les Papilles as remembered at a remove of two years? Hmmmmm, not quite. There was something elusively wonderful about that soup, but this one was pretty damn good.
So what would I do to improve it? Well it was a little to thick for my taste so less potato and possibly some milk. I’d also consider sieving it to make it silkier. I’d roast the cauliflower slightly more carefully over the fire so it cooked rather than blackened. I might experiment with a splash of truffle oil. And if I had veggie dining companions I’d happily dump the bacon and use purely vegetable stock though I might add more butter for richness.
1 medium head cauliflower
1 medium potato
smoked bacon lardons or similar
1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 stick celery for stock + chicken or vege stock (cube, gel, powder or liquid) or make fresh.