3 large heads of cauliflower
Canola oil for drizzling, plus 3 Tbs
Salt and pepper
1 sweet onion, peeled and finely diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
⅛ tsp red pepper flakes
12 oz (355 ml) Russian imperial stout
8 fl oz (237 ml) vegetable stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 Tbs butter
1 lb (454 g) ripe cherry or grape tomatoes
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
3 Tbs olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1 Tbs sherry vinegar
6 leaves fresh basil, chopped
Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Split all three cauliflower in half. Remove the outer leaves and trim off the cut end. Drizzle the halves with canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Place cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper.
Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until florets appear to be dark golden brown. Rotate cauliflower halves as needed, depending on your oven. Remove from the oven and cool. Once the cauliflower is cool to the touch, cut off all the florets.
In a 5-quart (4.7 l) Dutch oven, heat the 3 Tbs canola oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes, or until lightly translucent. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the red pepper flakes and stir for 30 seconds.
Add the cauliflower florets and stir to coat. Add the beer, stock, and thyme. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15–20 minutes uncovered. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter while seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
For the dressing, while the cauliflower is braising, toss the tomatoes and shallots with 1 Tbs olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place onto another lined baking sheet and roast at 425°F (218°C) for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
When the tomato mixture has cooled, scrape the mixture and all the juices from the baking sheet (there is awesome flavor there!) into a large bowl. Add the sherry vinegar, chopped basil, and remaining 2 Tbs olive oil. Use a metal whisk to break up the tomatoes and incorporate into a rustic sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the cauliflower into four wide bowls and garnish with the tomato dressing.
Beer Tasting Notes: Imperial stouts are generally grouped two ways: American or British. The major difference is that American versions tend to have more hop character, from aroma to bitterness, than their British counterparts, which more frequently feature malt subtlety and yeast esters. Each version will include varying levels of roasted malt character, various dark-fruit notes, and a somewhat bittersweet finish, often with noticeable alcohol notes due to the high ABV. The beer can be dark reddish-brown to jet black, with a tan to dark brown head. Aromas will include chocolate, coffee, and a touch of fruity esters for both styles. American versions will have significantly more hop character whereas British versions will tend to have more dark-fruit character both in aroma and flavor.
For both versions, the mouthfeel should be big and viscous, if not chewy. It should feel smooth, with a hint of alcohol notes, and not syrupy. Classic American examples include Bell’s Expedition Russian Imperial Stout, North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout, and Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout. British classics are Samuel Smith Imperial Stout and Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Stout.
What the Beer Does for the Dish: Beer choice makes all the difference in this recipe. If we start with the British version that’s more malt forward with more dark-fruit notes and a touch sweeter, you’re going to get a dish that melds well. It’ll be a bit roasted, a touch floral from the herbs, with a touch of heat from the alcohol and red pepper flakes, and a bit of sweetness from the beer itself with a nice subtle acid from the sherry vinegar. It’s a dish to be eaten by a fire, relaxing under a blanket—comfort food.
If you shift to an American version, this is where Emeril would say, “Bam!” The increased level of bitterness does a lot of different things—the sweetness of the tomatoes, butter, and stock become background flavors, the red pepper flakes become more intensely spicy, the herbs become much more pronounced, and the cauliflower char is spectacularly paired with the intense bitterness of the beer. Either way, you have a vegetarian dish totally worthy of a great beer pairing.