This may be a common way of visualising the various events and diary-dates of one’s life and not worth commenting on but when drifting through my memories I tend to recall most sharply what I ate and what I wore — that night was the Chorizo Wellington, that evening was the vintage black velvet jumpsuit, that party was the Lemon Prosset when I tried to make a double batch and it didn’t quite set, and so on. And so, it is with earned confidence that I can claim I’m very sure I’ve never actually had buffalo sauce, or any buffalo-adjacent dish in my life, and it is with unearned confidence that I present today’s recipe for Stovetop Buffalo Cauliflower Mac and Cheese. Does dousing something in buffalo sauce make it, well, buffalo? Possibly not. But, does this taste good? You already know!
As someone who grew up guided by the Baby-sitters Club I was already chapter and verse on mysterious, out-of-reach American foods. I have since gained the rueful wisdom that some of those foodstuffs are better in the realm of imagination than actual consumption (e.g. Twizzlers: tasted like oiled pleather). Happily, buffalo sauce lives up to the claims of its wide enjoyment. It’s spicy, yes, but in an invigorating and necessary way. I couldn’t eat more than a bump of cayenne pepper comfortably on its own — in this sauce the cayenne is stabilised by vinegar and fat to the point where guzzling it from the bottle is not out of the question. And in this recipe it’s used to coat fried, crisp florets of cauliflower which are then stirred through a luxuriantly saucy batch of macaroni cheese: the cauliflower itself almost velvety beneath its browned surface, the comforting white sauce tinted peachy-orange and submerging the pasta.
I haven’t gone so far as to strenuously include the components of ranch dressing, which often accompanies chicken wings cooked in buffalo sauce — one American culinary hurdle at a time, thanks — but the garlic and dried herbs echo its flavours a little, and if you have dill or chives growing you’re welcome to chop and scatter them over the finished dish. There’s so much going on — the pearly nuttiness of the cauliflower, the pickle-brine tang and clean propane heat of the buffalo sauce — that you could get away with not adding any cheese at all, if that makes life easier. It’s better with, I’m sorry to confirm, and just choose a solid workhorse grate-and-melt cheese here, but I’d still happily eat it without. (To that end, be my guest if you want to crumble in some blue cheese, which is also customarily eaten with buffalo wings.) Combining spicy, zingy flavours with creamy, rich flavours is an obvious win, but it’s a joyously delicious win nonetheless, and the consolatory soft mellowness of pasta and white sauce is the perfect heated pool for all that liveliness to swim in.
I can reliably be found corrupting mac and cheese to the point where it’s a conceptual figurehead at best, but the results have always served me well; with that in mind if this is your kind of vibe I also recommend trying my Chilli Corn Macaroni, my Triple Pickle Macaroni, or one of the most glittering jewels in my crown, the Thai Yellow Curry Mac’n’Cheese.
Stovetop Buffalo Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Comforting yet abundantly flavoursome, this combines macaroni cheese with buffalo sauce-drenched fried cauliflower without using any extra pans than usual. Add more buffalo sauce as you wish, this dish can handle it. Recipe by myself.
- 1/2 a head of cauliflower (roughly 250-300g)
- 2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta water
- 3 tablespoons plain oil, eg rice bran
- 5 tablespoons bottled buffalo sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s) plus extra for serving
- 200g macaroni, or small pasta shape of your choice
- 50g butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup/250ml milk
- 1 cup/250ml chicken stock (or, 250ml water and one stock cube)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried celery
- 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
- 100g grated cheese (optional, but obviously good)
1: Break the cauliflower into florets, and slice each floret lengthwise to maximise flat surface area on each small piece of cauliflower for browning. Stir the two tablespoons of cornflour and the half teaspoon each of white pepper and salt in a bowl or container and toss the cauliflower pieces in this mixture to lightly coat.
2: Heat the three tablespoons of oil in a wide frying pan, and fry the cauliflower pieces — shaking off any excess cornflower — in a single layer. I let them cook undisturbed for two minutes, then I turned the pieces over and placed a lid on the pan and let them sit for another two minutes — the idea being that steam builds up inside the pan and helps the cauliflower cook through — and then removed the lid and continued frying for another two minutes, turning any pieces that still needed browning. Use this timing as a guide and keep an eye on the cauliflower, as your stovetop may be faster or slower than mine, but by the end of this, the pieces should be cooked through and well-browned. Turn off the heat and remove the cauliflower to a bowl (I used the same one that held the cornflour, discarding any excess) and stir in three tablespoons of the buffalo sauce. Set aside.
3: Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, then add a generous amount of salt (about two teaspoons) and tip in the 200g macaroni pasta, letting it boil for about 10-12 minutes or until tender.
4: While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce by melting the 50g butter in the same pan that you cooked the cauliflower in (no need to clean it, but wipe out any excess oil with a paper towel if need be), then stir in the three tablespoons of flour to form a paste, stirring it for another minute over medium heat. Slowly add the 250ml each of milk and chicken stock, pouring in a little at a time and stirring briskly and thoroughly to prevent lumps. At first, the butter-flour roux will immediately absorb the liquid, but it will slowly loosen up and form a sauce as you go on. Once you’ve added all the liquid, let the sauce simmer, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the remaining two tablespoons of buffalo sauce, the half teaspoon of dried celery, and the two crushed garlic cloves. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the 100g grated cheese if using.
5: By this point, the pasta should be al dente. Drain it and tip the cooked pasta into the sauce (and if the pasta cooks before you’re done with the sauce, just drain it and set aside) along with the buffalo-sauced fried cauliflower.
Serves 2 with leftovers, or up to 4 as a side dish. I drizzled over a little extra buffalo sauce and sprinkled over some more dried celery to serve.
Notes: I used soy milk here but whatever milk you’re used to should be fine; if you don’t have any butter for the sauce you could substitute three tablespoons of olive oil.
God is Alive, Magic is Afoot by Buffy Sainte-Marie. Season 2 of Yellowjackets ended last week and I feel spiritually bereft (and Succession ending for good three days later didn’t help). This show has so many spectacular 90s needle drops which is to be expected, what did take me by delightful surprise was hearing Buffy Sainte-Marie’s haunting and crisp vibrato in this 1969 song — unsettling, beautiful, incantatory, with the lyrics taken from Leonard Cohen’s achingly scriptural poetry.
Simple Passing by Hammerbox. It’s genuinely preposterous how good the soundtrack to the 90s computer game Road Rash was, and what a gift that soundtrack was to impressionable young minds such as mine. I need a full oral history of how it came to be! Til then I am yet to discover the precise combination of supplements that will grant me the same level of energy that this song — from said soundtrack — generates.
Debaser by Pixies. Don’t ask me to choose my favourite Pixies song (or my favourite anything, that is, unless you have forty minutes to hear my answer) but…this could be the one, somehow the more incoherent their lyrics become the more clarity they present, right? I can’t even begin to explain the exhilaration that courses through me while listening to this.
Soave sia il vento, from Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte; on Friday night I channelled my inner Frasier Crane by attending NZ Opera’s production of this show. It was captivating, as you can imagine from this brief trio performance with all its buttery harmonies.
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