Heston Blumenthal's Broccoli
August 20, 2008
I feel almost silly posting this because it's barely even a recipe and besides I should be packing instead of writing about broccoli, but I promise to keep it brief and in any case, it's such a good little recipe that I simply have to tell you about it quick quick quickly before I go.
Okay, so I have this book by Sophie Grigson lying around the apartment (Sophie being the daughter of the late, great Jane Grigson) and I'm flipping through it, wondering how on earth I'll figure out what a marrow is, oh, and a kumara, for that matter (and swedes? really? why?), when I come across a paragraph referring to Heston Blumenthal's method for cooking broccoli. Suddenly I snap to attention. Because, you see, I love broccoli, so much so that for years I ate it multiple times a week, all year long. And then I grew sick of it. Fell sick of it? It happened rather quickly is all I know. Steamed, dressed with lemon and olive oil, plunked down on a plate at yet another evening meal, oh, it was all just so boring. Good lord, I'd have rather munched on cardboard. Tragic! I know.
I mourned my lost love, wondered if I'd ever get it back. I dallied with lettuces and beets and fennel - oh fennel - but secretly I always wondered when I'd finally grow up and come home to broccoli again. And here, suddenly, the chance lay flat in my lap. A few sentences instructing me to simply scorch the stuff in a hot pan and shake things about a bit before dumping it out on a plate. It sounded...almost too good to be true. Too easy. I was suspicious.
But, of course, I needn't have been. After all, if you're a world-famous chef with Michelin stars and a television show and bestselling books and you're still doling out tips for dealing with the humble broccoli that feature nary a foam or emulsion or reduction or sous-vide treatment or sprinkling of foie gras or coating of caviar, I'll be the first admit that it's silly to mistrust you.
Okay, so here's what you do: wash a head of broccoli, or whatever comes wrapped in a rubber band and sold as one "head" of broccoli at the grocery store and lop off all the florets so that they're approximately the same size. Then peel the stalk of the broccoli, if you feel like it, (don't if you don't) and slice it into thinnish coins (1/4-inch thick? 1/2-inch is fine, too). Take a heavy-bottomed pan (something like this, perhaps) and pour a couple of spoons of olive oil in it. Set it over high heat until the oil starts to smoke and then dump the broccoli into the smoking pan all at once and cover it quickly with a lid. Cook for 2 minutes with no peeking. Take the lid off, season the broccoli with salt and pepper, put on oven mitts and grab the handles of the pot to shake the broccoli around a little bit, add a lump of butter (I used about a tablespoon) and then put the pot back over the flame, covered, for 2 more minutes. At this point, you can test the broccoli and see if it's cooked enough for your liking. If it's not, put the top back on and cook for a final 2 minutes. It should be scorched in spots and still quite green in others.
This swift, high-heat method concentrates the flavor of the broccoli, but still cooks the broccoli through so it's yielding and almost creamy. The seared spots are toasty and delicious. It's even better than the roasted broccoli at City Bakery and so much more interesting (and fast) than my old steamed stalwart. I'm not quite sure what the addition of butter does; I suppose it contributes a richness of flavor, but I think you could probably attempt this without it and it'd still be good. We dumped the broccoli into a bowl and gobbled the whole head up in a matter of minutes. Broccoli! I'm back.
I know, I know, I said this would be brief. But there's one more thing: head over here if you want to read an interview I did a few weeks ago with the folks at Cookthink who asked me all kinds of interesting questions to which I mostly just replied, "uh, tomatoes?"
Oh, and on that subject, I took a tomato canning class up at Stone Barns this past weekend, thanks to the lovely Sherri Brooks Vinton, and now I'm adequately armed to make good on that threat to can my own tomatoes, so watch this space, folks. I'm going to do it and it's going to be awesome and then you're all going to do it too. Who needs imported canned (BPA-laced) industrial tomatoes? Not us, no sirree.
And with that, I'm off. We'll be in Italy for the next ten days visiting my mother (how can it be that my grandfather won't be there? I don't even believe it): eating frosty slices of watermelon, getting books all salty at the beach, and trying our very best to do nothing else at all. We have to take two airplanes, a bus, a train, and a car to get there and even still I'm so ready that I'm practically jumping out of my skin. I'll see you all in September.