How to cook cauliflower

How to cook cauliflower

Cauliflower is a brassica or cruciferous vegetable – also known as the cabbage or mustard family – joining the likes of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and (unsurprisingly) cabbage and mustard greens. It is packed with vitamins B and C and high in fibre. Most of the UK’s cauliflowers are grown in Lincolnshire and whilst it is harvested in spring and autumn it is generally available year-round. While you’ll be most familiar with a white cauliflower, heritage purple and orange varieties are now available along with the magnificent bright green and geometric looking romanesco cauliflower.

Cauliflower
Cauliflower
Romanesco
Romanesco

What to look for when buying cauliflower

A cauliflower’s outer leaves provide natural protection for the white florets (or 'curds', as they are sometimes known). Look for heads with firm, white florets without blemishes – if they do have the odd black or brown patch, simply cut these off and discard (the rest of the vegetable should be fine). The leaves are a great indicator of the vegetable's health; ideally they should be firm and vibrant green with no yellow or black spots. If the leaves and stalks (or ‘ribs’) are healthy, avoid wasting them – they can be shredded and stir-fried, simmered in stocks or roasted with the rest of the vegetable. 

Waste away: leaves and tops

Take a look at a few ideas for making the most of cauliflower leaves and stalks.

How to boil cauliflower

Like all vegetables, cauliflower retains the most of its nutrients when eaten raw or lightly steamed or boiled. Here is a quick and simple method to boil it.

1

Remove the leaves and trim down the stalk at the bottom. You can reserve the leaves for stock or another dish, but here we're only interested in the florets and stalk. Cut the head into florets all roughly the same size, then dice the stalk into 2cm pieces

2

Place a large pan of salted water over the heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling, add the cauliflower and boil for 5-7 minutes or until the cauliflower can be easily pierced with a knife

3

Drain then toss with a knob of butter, plenty of salt and pepper and some chopped herbs. Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot

10 of our favourite cauliflower recipes

Get inspired and make the most of this beautiful brassica.

How to roast cauliflower

Roast cauliflower is a fuss-free way of cooking the vegetable and can easily be marinated in a variety of herbs, spices and seasonings to provide extra flavour. Here is a simple recipe to roast it as a side dish. You can switch up the spices if you fancy – a sprinkle of turmeric, chilli flakes or smoked paprika all work wonders.

1

Preheat an oven to 200ºC/gas mark 5

2

Remove the outer leaves of the cauliflower and wash them. Cut the head of the cauliflower into florets, halving any of the larger ones so they are all roughly the same size. Slice the leftover stalk and chop into roughly 2cm pieces

3

Place the florets and stalk into a roasting tray and toss with a good drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of cumin seeds. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes

4

Lightly toss the washed leaves in olive oil then add to the tray after 15-20 minutes or once the cauliflower is soft and starting to brown. Roast for 5 more minutes to crisp up the leaves then serve hot

Cauliflower flavour pairings

Cauliflower flavour pairings

Cauliflower with cheese is arguably the one of the best flavour pairings out there. A creamy white sauce complements the almost melting texture of a slow-baked cauliflower, and the sharp tang of a strong cheddar is a welcome addition to the mild flavour of the vegetable. For the same reasons, a sharp, crisp apple will often accompany a creamy cauliflower pureé – see Nigel Mendham's cauliflower starter recipe for an excellent example of this. Mustard (which is also part of the brassica family) is another common pairing –  a good dollop is usually added to a cheese sauce and it is of course English mustard and cauliflower that are the main ingredients to one of Britain's finest condiments, piccalilli. 

Piccalilli recipes

Cauliflower is the shining star of piccallili – a time-honoured British relish full of mustardy, crunchy goodness. Take a look at some of our favourite recipes for it.

Cauliflower cheese evolved

Cauliflower cheese iterations

Cauliflower cheese is an iconic British dish most commonly served as part of a roast dinner – but the delicious flavour combo doesn’t have to be confined to a Sunday afternoon! Chefs have created all sorts of recipes using the humble classic as inspiration; from croquettes and fritters to purées and soups.

Cauliflower does the classics

Cauliflower and scallops

Cauliflower is a scallops best friend

You will find scallops paired with cauliflower on menus across the country – and for good reason. The mild and earthy flavour of cauliflower complements the subtle and salty taste of scallops just perfectly, not to mention the pale creamy colour of both can create some really stunning looking dishes.

Whole roast cauliflower

Plant-based cauliflower recipes

Plant-based cauliflower

Cauliflower is often used in plant-based cooking. Its size makes it great for cooking whole or slicing into big wedges or ‘steaks’, providing you with a nice substantial meal. The versatile veg can even be blitzed up and cooked as a vegan alternative to mince or a gluten-free alternative to couscous.

Cauliflower steaks

Cauliflower steaks

Cauliflower ‘steaks’ enjoyed a real boom in popularity in the late 2010s, seen everywhere from high-end restaurants to supermarket ready meals. Despite angering a minority of meat-eaters, this excellent marketing strategy really did thrust the humble cauliflower into the spotlight! A cross-section cut of a cauliflower is a beautiful thing, and it provides a canvas for a variety of ingredients, dressings and sauces to make a delicious vegetarian or vegan main course.

Cauliflower as a 'grain'

Spiced cauliflower

Spiced Cauliflower

Cauliflower’s mild flavour and porous texture makes it an excellent vehicle for spices. It also holds its shape well once cooked, which means it is ideal in slow-cooked saucy dishes such as curries. Rohit Ghai demonstrates how versatile the vegetable is in his cauliflower khasta dish, in which he makes a pickle and a chutney as well as marinating florets in a spiced yoghurt before scorching them to create a delicious filling for a filo parcel similar to a samosa. Selin Kiazim roasts wedges in a marinade of two different Turkish chilli pastes in her iconic vegetarian dish served at her restaurant Oklava in London.

All kinds of fritters

All kinds of fritters

Cauliflower has a great structure for deep-frying, making it an excellent candidate for fritters. Ben Tish fries florets in an Italian-inspired lemon and anchovy batter and serves with a punchy garlic aioli for dipping. For an extra crispy fritter, Valeria Necchio deep-fries it in cheese and breadcrumbs and serves them with a perfectly sharp parsley dip.

Hearty salads

Hearty salads

Cauliflower is a great salad ingredient for when you want something a little more substantial than a plate of leaves. It can be marinated and roasted, blitzed up to resemble couscous or simply finely shaved and served raw for a bit of crunch.

Experimental cauliflower

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