Hog Rotten

How a Croque Monsieur became part of a lovely cauliflower dish.

velveeta.pngAs a kid, I loved scalloped potatoes, but drew the line at potatoes—or anything—au gratin. My brother and I called them potatoes hog rotten. In Ohio at the time, scalloped potatoes were made with milk. To make potatoes au gratin, cheese was added, usually orange cheese, probably Velveeta.

I looked to Julia Child for a definitive answer on the issue of scalloped and au gratin. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) there is a recipe for Gratin Dauphinois [Scalloped Potatoes with Milk, Cheese and a Pinch of Garlic) Julia writes in the preface, “There are as many ‘authentic’ versions of gratin dauphinois as there are of bouillabaisse.” She goes on to say, “Although some authorities on le vrai gratin dauphinois would violently disagree, you may omit the cheese. If you do so, add 2 more tablespoons of butter.”

By 1999 the cheese had disappeared entirely. In Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, the recipe for Julia’s Pommes de Terre Dauphinoise makes no mention of cheese, either in the recipe itself or in the Scalloped Potatoes introduction.

In a search for Potatoes au Gratin on epicurious.com, I got no results. (I don’t like epicurious anyway.)

Cook’s Illustrated has everything; and yes, they do have a recipe for Scalloped Potatoes with Chipotle Chile and Smoked Cheddar Cheese. But they just throw cheese on top of scalloped potatoes to finish. That’s no help to me, looking for a cheese sauce. Of course there is Mornay Sauce, but that’s not what I had in mind.


“What does any of this have to do with Cauliflower?” you may wonder. Well, I had a small head of cauliflower and a hunk of cheddar cheese and I wanted to make steamed cauliflower with a cheese sauce. I thought the cauliflower was beautiful. I wanted to cook it whole and pour cheese over it, so the cheese oozed down the sides to envelop it.

swp_2.jpgYou know, like the Sherwin-Williams Paint Logo: Sherwin-Williams Covers the Earth.

I couldn’t find a recipe for the cheese sauce I had in mind. There are plenty of recipes for Cauliflower au Gratin, but all of them take the cauliflower apart. I didn’t want to do that. I thought of the February day last year when we ate at Le Petit Robert on Polk Street. I had a Croque Monsieur, which prompted me to do some research and make it at home. I looked up the sauces for Croque Monsieur and came up with two ways to make my Cauliflower. Way One is what I did. Way Two is just a Mornay Sauce.

Cauliflower Hog Rotten

Way One
Taken from the cheese part of a Croque Monsieur recipe.

1/2 lb. Gruyère, diced
2 Tablespoons white wine

1. Place the cheese and wine in the top of a double boiler and melt over hot (not boiling) water. [I don’t have a double boiler. I used a stainless steel bowl floating on a sauce pan of simmering water.]
Steam the Cauliflower until al dente. [Actually did it in boiling water. About 6 min]

Split the Cauliflower and place each half on a plate. Pour the sauce over.

Way Two
Taken from the cheese sauce part of another Croque Monsieur recipe.
1 small head of Cauliflower

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup flour
2 1/4 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg
2 cups (about 3/4 pound) grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese

Start by making the Mornay sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, and mix briskly with a whisk for 2 minutes.

Still over low heat, add 2 cups of the milk, continuing to whisk briskly. When the sauce comes to a boil, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add 1/2 cup of the Gruyere to complete the Mornay. Remove from the heat, and let cool.

Steam the Cauliflower until al dente.
Split the Cauliflower and place each half on a plate. Pour over the sauce.

Good eatin’ and good lookin’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s