Cauliflower and Smoked Haddock Gratin / Cauliflower Cheese with Stilton & Bacon
Updated: May 19
Cauliflower cheese is a comfort food classic - a side dish served at any half-respectable Sunday roast, or a quick and easy mid-week meal. Its simplicity - florets of cauliflower baked in the oven in a cheesy béchamel sauce - also make it a wonderful canvas for culinary creativity as you can easily jazz it up with any number of inventive additions.
These are two of my favourite twists on the classic, and both use the same basic recipe, with one ingredient different. Both dishes include the leaves as well as the florets of the cauliflower, and have a flavour base of bacon and onion.
Adding smoked haddock creates a stunning stand-alone supper with a flavour similar to Cullen Skink, whereas the addition of stilton makes for gloriously grown-up side dish.
Recipe (2 people as a main, or 4 as a side dish):
This is the recipe to make either variation on the dish - the only difference is whether you choose to add the smoked haddock OR the stilton before baking. Don't use both - although both go well with cauliflower, smoked fish and blue cheese together are quite overpowering.
The step of infusing flavours into the milk for the sauce is crucial. Don't rush it and don't skip it. One of the wonderful properties of dairy fats (milk, cream, butter) is their ability to grab and hold onto flavours. It's one of the reason chefs love them. You can use the same technique to get loads of flavour into anything from macaroni cheese to soups and purees.
Recipe (serves 2):
1 good sized cauliflower
1 tablespoon flour
2 garlic cloves, crushed with the side of a knife
2 bay leaves
A couple of pinches of grated nutmeg
125g strong cheddar, grated
1 onion, finely sliced
salt and pepper
100g bacon lardons (or chopped up streaky bacon)
A handful of breadcrumbs
Either: 1 fillet of smoked haddock, chopped into rough chunks OR 50g of Stilton (or your blue cheese of preference), crumbled
1. Preheat your oven to 160 degrees
2. Infuse the milk you are going to use for the sauce by placing it in a pan over a low heat and adding the garlic, bay leaves, the clove and the nutmeg. Bring it to a gentle simmer then take off the heat and leave for 30 minutes while you prepare everything else.
3. Peel the leaves from the cauliflower. Wash them, shred them finely with a sharp knife and set aside.
4. Break the cauliflower down into florets, and chop the stem into small chunks
5. Bring a pan of lightly salted water to the boil. Add the cauliflower florets and chunks of stem and cook for 5 minutes. Strain and set aside.
6. In a large pan over a medium heat fry the bacon until it starts to colour, then remove from the pan and set aside. To the same pan add 20g of the butter and the sliced onion and shredded cauliflower leaves. Cook them for around 6-7 minutes stirring regularly until the onions are soft and translucent, then set aside with the bacon.
7. Give your pan a wipe, then return it to the heat and add the remaining butter. Once the butter has melted, add the flour and whisk to combine. Allow the flour / butter mixture to cook for a couple of minutes, then slowly start to add the warm milk (taking care to remove the garlic, bay leaf etc you were infusing into it), a splash at a time, whisking constantly until you have a smooth sauce.
8. Add 100g of the grated cheddar and stir until it has melted and the sauce has thickened. Taste, and season with salt and pepper to your preference.
9. Mix together your cauliflower florets, the cooked leaves, bacon and onions and EITHER the stilton OR the smoked fish. Place the mixture into an over proof dish, pour over the cheese sauce and top with the remaining grated cheddar and the breadcrumbs.
10 Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling and the cheese on top is melted and golden.