Why is it that my lunch looked superb yesterday, with poached chicken delicately reheated in a little butter and sunflower oil until colours were that of golden hues and ochre. The cauliflower cheese was bubbling and nicely golden. And the mash beautifully fluffy and creamy. That was with the lights on. As it was a shame it wasn’t possible to focus never mind take photos without them. And that was me, as my camera focuses auto! No kidding, the natural light was that dull. Today wasn’t much better. Which is just as well as the chicken delicately reheated in a little butter and sunflower oil looked like it had been exposed to radiation – for days. At least the cauliflower cheese reheated nicely. And tasted superb, even though I was roasting leftovers. Hence the reason why it’s not seen anywhere near the chicken leg looking like it’s just received third-degree burns. Seriously, I’ve seen orange people look less tanned. And that rust coloured glow at the back of the lead-in photo is, yes, the chicken! Thankfully Depth of Field saved the day. Anyway, enough about wretched British wintertime daylight. As the flavour of the cauliflower cheese eased that pain away. Here, I’ve gone with using mace, for the first time. Apparently, mace would’ve been very popular here in the UK for flavouring potatoes, white sauces and this particular dish. Which is fairly synonymous with British cuisine. And that’s exactly why I’ve wanted to go with a non vegetarian version of this ever since I managed to find mace. Even though I don’t really know of other recipes to use it in. For those of you that aren’t familiar with mace it’s the aril or outer covering (known as a blade) of the nut-like seed that is nutmeg. It’s flavour is similar but more delicate. And for me it’s also slightly bitter, rather than pungent, with a definite smokiness to its aftertaste, which I happen to like. To the extent this is turning out to be the new dahling of my spice cupboard.
Cauliflower Cheese, with home-made chicken stock and mace
INGREDIENTS: (vegetarian version available here)
PREP: about 30 mins ~ COOK: about 1 hour for stock & up to 30 mins roasting time ~ READY IN: 2 hours +
ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT NEEDED: fine wire metal sieve, small oven suitable roaster or casserole dish for 2 portions
FOR THE STOCK:
- 2 x carrots, trimmed, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 x large onion, peeled, trimmed and cut into quarters
- several small inner leaves of the cauliflower, rinsed
- 4 x organic garlic cloves, peeled and kept whole
- 2 x dried bay leaves, split
- 10 x juniper berries
- 2 x small sprigs fresh thyme, rinsed
- 500ml (1.057 pint) x cold water
- 500g (17.64 oz) x chicken leg quarters, with drumstick and thigh, skin and excess fat removed and discarded
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 1 x medium sized cauliflower, cut into florets and soaked in cold water
- 2 x tablespoons plain (AP) flour
- 2 x tablespoons oil, I used both extra virgin olive oil and sunflower
- 300 – 400ml (0.634 – 0.846 pint) x chicken stock, strained
- 100g (3.527 oz) x mature Cheddar cheese, grated + extra grated for the top of the cauliflower cheese itself
- single/light cream, amount used to personal taste
- seasoning, both freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
- 1 x 2.5cm or 1 inch blade or piece dried mace OR if mace isn’t available use several gratings of whole nutmeg (add about 3 or 4 to begin with, allow sauce to infuse, taste and add more to personal taste)
Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.
- Add all of the stock ingredients to a large saucepan with lid and put on electric heat No 4 (out of 6). Bring to a boil, reduce heat to No 2 and simmer for at least 30 minutes and preferably an hour. What I do is switch the heat off (after an hour) and leave it to cool down before separating the chicken from the stock, straining the stock and storing both in the fridge overnight. The stock needs to be strained through a fine wire metal sieve before storing. The next day any fat that has collected on top of the stock is scraped off and discarded.
- After soaking the cauliflower florets put a large saucepan on heat No 4 with plenty of lightly salted cold water and a lid. Bring to a boil, carefully add the drained florets and bring back to a boil. Give the florets about 2 minutes maximim after the water is back to a boil again. Drain into a metal colander and refresh the caulifower florets under cold running water until absolutely chilled. Drain well and set aside.
- When the sauce is needed add the flour and the oil/s to a heavy-based saucepan and put on heat No 1 or lowest heat setting. Allow about 5 minutes for the flour to cook out, stirring often. If any bubbling occurs take off heat and allow to cool slightly before putting back on heat again.
- Preheat oven to 200°C or 392°F.
- Up the heat with the flour mixture to No 3, start adding the strained chicken stock (through a sieve if necessary) to the roux or flour mixture and stir continuously until the sauce starts to thicken. This is when more stock, and cream if using, needs to be added to gain the right consistency. When that’s achieved add the mace, cheese and season to personal taste. More stock and cream can be added to thin the sauce slightly. It should be the consistency of a normal white sauce.
- Add the florets to an oven suitable casserole, pour over the sauce and add more cheese to the top. Place in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the top is nicely golden.
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