My mother always fried up cauliflower late at night. Long ago she had decided it—or her fluffy buttermilk pancakes—was the perfect antidote to flagging appetites, so she would make a batch after she noticed one of us had eaten very little at dinner.
During school holidays or when one of us lay afflicted with some childhood bug, it was often past eleven o’clock when she carried the tray into the TV room, piled high with bronzed cauliflower nuggets and golden lemon quarters. We ate fast, lest we miss Zacherley pulling up his wife’s hair or the Mummy’s response when offered thirteen tanna leaves.
Because we polished it off so quickly, I always assumed it took no time to prepare. Not so. The cauliflower must be boiled until tender before being breaded and fried—necessitating another large pot to wash. I once tried to skip this step, but the whole purpose of fried foods is the contrast of the crisp and crunchy coating the soft and yielding.
I have come upon a technique, though, that works with fresh young cauliflower. If you pour boiling water over small florets and let them steep awhile in a bowl, you can eliminate the parboiling.
To coat the cauliflower, my mother usually used matzoh meal, which falls somewhere between bread crumbs and flour in terms of thickness. Because it is so bland—it lacks even salt—it must be generously seasoned. She used lots of garlic, lemon peel, and, when she had them on hand, finely minced anchovies for a zesty nuance not readily identifiable by anchovy haters.
For perfectly fried cauliflower, I rely on two simple tricks. When possible, let the coated florets set at least fifteen minutes (before frying) to allow the egg dip to dry to a gluelike paste, so that the matzoh meal is less likely to fall off and burn in the oil while frying. And divide the seasoned coating mixture into two piles. After a while, dredging the egg-dipped florets into the matzoh meal renders the meal ragged with little wet eggy clumps. So, when the matzoh meal is just too lumpy to coat the cauliflower, I replace it with a fresh supply.
© 2000 Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.