This is a new favourite. It doesn’t take too long, and it’s crispy, kinda rich, and implausibly moreish for what was once thought of as a deeply dull vegetable.
For years, the British have cooked cauliflower like it was the one vegetable they’d singled out as an example to the others. All flavour and structure boiled away, it was presented like a warning, lest anything else should get ideas above its station – say, providing vitamins, or tasting of something beyond anemically coloured water.
Lately, we’ve at least realised it doesn’t have to be that way. You can have fun with cauliflower, and one of the fun things you can do is to fry it crispy with just so much garlic.
Karaage is familiar to many as “Japanese fried chicken”, but it absolutely doesn’t have to be poultry, or even meat. I think the crux of it is a simple marinade before frying, and a light flour coating rather than dunking in batter. It’s a great appetiser or bar snack, and the idea to do it with cauliflower is shamelessly pinched from one of Cambridge’s street food vendors, the excellent Guerilla Kitchen.
Eat it there if you catch it on their rotation, but if not, well, you have to try this one.
- Cauliflower, 1 large – about 700g
- Plain flour, 60g
- Potato flour, 60g
- Ginger, about a 2cm slice
- Garlic, 4-6 cloves*
- Soy sauce (light), 20ml
- Shaoxing (or sherry), 1tbsp
- Cider vinegar, 1tsp
- Sesame oil, 1tsp
- Sugar, 1tsp
- Salt, about 1/2tsp
- Sichuan pepper, a pinch
*Obviously about 8
This will do as a starter/side for 3-4 or a decent main for 2. Use cornflour if you can’t get potato flour, but do try to get potato – it makes it extra crunchy.
Break the cauliflower into medium florets, and blanch them in boiling water until just tender to a knife point. This takes about 2 minutes, maybe 3 if the pieces are large. Drain the cauliflower and immediately plunge it into cold water to prevent further cooking. Let it cool, then drain thoroughly.
In a blender or using a pestle and mortar, work the garlic, ginger, and Sichuan pepper into a rough paste, along with the sugar. Mix this with the liquid ingredients. That’s the marinade.
Mix the drained cauliflower thoroughly into the marinade, and leave it for at least 2 hours. Stir periodically to ensure a good coating. It’s not a lot of liquid volume, so it’s a cling-and-coat affair rather than a big gooey immersion.
To cook, get a deep fat fryer (or giant pot of oil on the stove, if you’re rocking less anxiety than me) up to around 180c
You’ll need to fry the cauliflower in batches. Just before you do, combine the plain flour, cornflour, and salt, and then roughly mix it with the cauliflower in its marinade. Don’t worry about getting it smooth – the knobbles and bumps are all tasty texture. Just ensure there’s a decent coating, and we’re good.
Fry each batch of the cauliflower for around 2 minutes, being sure not to overcrowd the fryer. We’re looking for a dark-ish colour but nothing crazy brown, and plenty of crisp.
Remove each batch to drain – they should keep warm ok on their own. I’ve used a wire rack, and I’ve used kitchen paper – neither seems particularly better than the other.
These make a fantastic appetiser, and we’ve actually built a meal around them, just putting them with rice and some fried lettuce with salt and pepper. A wedge of lemon doesn’t hurt on the side, or maybe a tart dip, something with tamarind, perhaps? Frankly, my preference for these succulent, feisty little brassicas is “just give me a giant bucket of the fuckers, and a cold beer”.
The garlic and ginger go wonderfully with that slight astringency of the cauliflower, and that shaoxing/soy thing in the marinade gives the batter a really distinctive flavour, bringing out the rich savoury. I just inhale these.