I ALWAYS LOVE cauliflower with caviar, a combination perfected by Joël Robuchon in the 1980s. The Jade Tiger Abalone, maybe the most interesting mollusk, arrives from the fishmonger still in its turquoise iridescent single shell. Before you cure them in salt, let your abalone rest in the refrigerator for two days, covered in a damp cloth—it makes for a more tender result.
Back in its vessel, cooked and mixed with cauliflower puree, the mollusk now reads both briny and rich. Under a sprinkling of caviar, another briny salty touch, and hard-boiled eggs, a vodka beurre blanc finishes this Russian-themed appetizer.
Alongside the abalone on the plate are different cauliflower preparations: pureed, pickled, in florets, and in crispy tempura. Mixed lettuce planted throughout the dish mirror delicate seaweed moving with the tide—a delicious underwater landscape.
Scrub the abalone with a stiff brush while rinsing with cold water to remove the black skin from the flesh. Using a spoon, remove the abalone from their shells. Trim and discard the entrails. Place in a nonreactive container with the salt, toss to coat, and cover. Refrigerate, covered, for 12 hours.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the shells. Boil for 30 minutes, strain, wipe the shells clean, and reserve.
Combine the chicken stock, heavy cream, and mustard in a large saucepan and bring to a light simmer. Rinse the salt from the abalone, pat dry, and add to the liquid. Cover and cook at a low simmer for 2 hours. Remove from the heat and cool the abalone in the liquid; strain. Slice the abalone crosswise into ⅛-inch-thick diagonal slices and arrange them back into their original shape. Reserve, chilled.
For the Cauliflower Puree and Concassé
Trim and reserve 16 small florets and 3 large florets from the head of the cauliflower. Roughly chop the remaining cauliflower and combine with the milk and chicken stock in a medium saucepan with a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 20 minutes.
Strain the cauliflower and transfer three-quarters to a blender with the crème fraîche and lemon juice. Puree until smooth and season with the Tabasco and salt and pepper. Coarsely chop the remaining cooked cauliflower into concassé, transfer to a small bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Reserve the puree and concassé, chilled.
For the Cauliflower and Romanesco Florets
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and place a bowl of ice water on the side. Trim the romanesco into at least 16 small florets. Boil the romanesco florets and the reserved 16 small cauliflower florets for about 2 minutes, until tender, then chill in the ice water. Strain and pat dry.
Transfer the pickling liquid and peppercorns to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat, cover, and infuse for 10 minutes. Add half of the boiled cauliflower and romanesco florets and chill in the liquid.
For the Cauliflower Tempura
Fill one-third of a medium saucepan with canola oil and heat to 350°F. Using a mandoline, slice the large cauliflower florets into at least eight -inch slices. When ready to serve, dip the cauliflower slices into the tempura batter to coat; fry in batches until crisp and golden. Strain onto a paper towel–lined plate and sprinkle with salt.
For the Vodka Beurre Blanc
When ready to serve, in a small saucepan, combine the shallot and 3 tablespoons of the vodka. Simmer until almost dry. Over low heat, stir in the cream and whisk in the butter piece by piece (the sauce will thicken). Do not boil or it will separate. Add the remaining tablespoon of vodka and season with salt. Reserve, kept warm.
Arrange a rack on the top shelf of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Transfer the cauliflower puree to a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until heated through. In another small pan, bring the butter, chicken stock, and remaining boiled cauliflower and romanesco florets to a simmer, stirring, until heated through and the liquid is reduced to a glaze. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the abalone shells face up on a baking sheet and divide the cauliflower concassé into the bottoms. Top each with an abalone, slightly fanning the slices. Cover with foil and bake for 5 minutes, or until the abalone is heated through; remove from the oven and spoon the vodka beurre blanc onto the tops of the abalone to coat. Bake until the sauce is shiny, 2 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle the abalone with crushed black peppercorns, chives, and hard-boiled eggs.
For each serving, place 2 abalone on opposite sides of the plate and top each with ½ tablespoon of caviar. Place a few spoonfuls of cauliflower puree in the center and arrange 2 glazed romanesco, 2 glazed cauliflower, 2 cauliflower pickles, 2 romanesco pickles, and 2 tempura-fried cauliflower slices around. Garnish with 3 pieces of baby lettuce.