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How to Cook Whole Cauliflower

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How To Cook Cauliflower Perfectly Every time with Maximum Flavor

After roasting a whole cauliflower for the first time, I've come to review it as one of those transformative experiences. The end result is great, but the process of taking a bland, tender vegetable like cauliflower and turning into a visual and tasty masterpiece is unlike cooking any other vegetable.

The other side to it though is roasting cauliflower at least for me is akin to my golf swing, i.e. The thrill of the chase to repeat that one great swing is the same thrill I get in planning and executing a whole roasted cauliflower recipe. Roasting a whole head of cauliflower is really easy; the results are amazing.

I won't bore you and cite the number of cauliflower recipes on the site as I'm sure more are coming. I also won't share that my whole roasted cauliflower recipes are some of the more popular ones for the entire site.

I will say, I love cauliflower and cooking cauliflower brings great joy. It never hurts when something highly tasty is also good for you as long as you don't off it up. This is where this post helps. I will detail how to cook cauliflower in a way that nets maximum flavor without compromising it's inherent goodness.

For his new album Oxnard, which is mad fire btw, Anderson Paak said he wanted to produce an album that suits different moods, vibes, people, etc. The album doesn't disappoint and is one of the best I've heard in a while, and easily my favorite for 2018 which has been a great year for music.

Rather than pick one track, dive into the entire album and find what works for you. Similar to "Oxnard" cauliflower is one of those vegetables that can be molded for any mood, person, flavor, or occasion.

Why Roast Cauliflower Whole?

Why would anyone think to roast an entire fat head of cauliflower you might ask.

There are many reasons to roast any large vegetable whole, but the flavor is chief among them. Cauliflower doesn't have much flavor in its raw form, but there are subtle elements of an earthy sweetness that gets enhanced and intensified by roasting which draws out the moisture-producing something entirely more delectable for vegans and meat-eaters alike. If this isn't enough to convince you to try roasting cauliflower whole, then consider the ease of prep and cleanup.

How do you season the interior of the cauliflower?

Most whole cauliflower recipes involve a highly flavorful sauce and/or intensely seasoned toppings. Often I feel like the cauliflower is just a tool or vessel for carrying the sauce vs. the sauce/seasonings being an enhancer.

What's often neglected in this approach, is the interior of the cauliflower which actually makes up the majority the actual vegetable. I see this as a major missed opportunity almost to the point of annoyance.

Being the flavor-phile that I am I went on a quest to identify a solution and maximize flavor by any means necessary. My research led me to the Milk Street website and Chef Alan Shaya who found an easy yet ingenious way to deliver flavor throughout the entire cauliflower. The answer - poaching, a familiar low involved technique for cooking meat and eggs.

A seasoned poaching liquid works by making the cauliflower more malleable as the heated liquid breaks down the hard, crunchy vegetable which helps it absorb the seasoning. You can be as simple or as elaborate as your mind desires in terms of the liquid as the different examples I've provided show.

cauliflower poached in liquid

How do you avoid a dry cauliflower?

Complaints regarding roasted whole cauliflower usually relate to exterior dryness and excess browning combined with non-fully cooked interior. Net net the cauliflower cooks too fast on the outside long before the inside is complete. Poaching kills two birds with one stone as it provides both enough moisture and pre-cooking to solve for dryness and undercooking.

Step-by-Step Roasted Cauliflower

  1. Poach the cauliflower in a seasoned liquid of your choice
  2. Allow the cauliflower to drain properly
  3. Lightly season the exterior of the vegetable
  4. Roast the cauliflower
  5. Baste the cauliflower with its rendered juices as in this jerk whole cauliflower recipe.
whole roasted cauliflower being basted with pan juices

Additional tips for cooking whole cauliflower

  • All cauliflower types work but if available choose a colored one as they present beautifully, giving the impression you worked extremely hard
  • Choose smaller cauliflower heads, as larger ones can lead to an overcooked exterior and undercooked interior
  • Don't skimp on the salt when poaching
  • Don't leave the cauliflower in the poaching liquid too long (5 minutes is enough) as you don't want it to absorb too much water which will impact texture. Similarly let it drain adequately (10 minutes) before roasting
purple cauliflower on a table
Roasted Portabellas and Green Cauliflower

How Do You Braise Cauliflower in the Oven

Braising whole cauliflower head is easy. You follow the same approach as you do with meat, i.e. brown the cauliflower first, saute the vegetable aromatics, add braising liquid and slow cook.

whole yellow cauliflower in pan topped with leeks and green onions

How to cook cauliflower on the Grill

Roasting is without a doubt the most popular method of cooking cauliflower. After getting my cauliflower skills up, I've decided to take my game outside. This Smoked Cauliflower recipe highlights cauliflower's potential and demonstrates some boundary-pushing. The flavor that the smoke imparts is unbelievable. The jerk spice complements the smoked vegetable in a very similar fashion to jerk chicken. Now being the jerk chicken aficionado that I am I'm not saying jerk cauliflower is better or as good, but it is mmmm delicious.

Smoked cauliflower is also great topped with Alabama White BBQ Sauce.

Jerk Smoked Whole Cauliflower

What Flavors work well with whole cauliflower?

Jerk definitely works as already mentioned. A great aged cheese is also a great pairing. This cheesy Parmigiano Reggiano Roasted Cauliflower is tremendous and cheesy AF! It's poached in cheese broth and then roasted and topped with fresh Parmigiano.

whole roasted cauliflower topped with parmigiano reggiano cheese.

If you want tanginess go for wine or lemon juice (or both) in the poaching liquid. Also, don't forget salt is your friend when poaching. The play though is to decide whether to keep the cauliflower the star or not. My preferred approach focuses on the former, but it's your call. At the end of the day, master the approach first and you will produce a cauliflower with a caramelized and sweet exterior and butter soft, well seasoned interior. In closing, when in doubt about flavors, view the cauliflower as a nice chunk of meat or roasted chicken and flavor similarly like this Roasted Jerk version below.

whole roasted jerk cauliflower in a skillet

Serving Your Whole Cauliflower

Now that you've mastered cooking whole cauliflower all that's left is for your to serve it properly and show off your impressive skills. Once roasted the beautiful head to a serving platter. Depending on approach, use the pan drippings to make a rich sauce/gravy to top the cauliflower heads. Cut the roasted cauliflower into thick wedges and then knife and fork it on your plate.

Cooking Whole Cauliflower

Roasting an entire cauliflower can be a beautiful thing. Now that you know how to cook cauliflower, try any one of those included in this post or venture out and make your own leveraging the learnings here.

If you roast a cauliflower whole, please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.

You can also keep up with my food exploits as well as original recipes! You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. If you like any of the music you find on the site, visit me at Spotify to find curated monthly playlists.

For other cooking lessons oriented posts, checkout How To Cook Perfect Lentils  or Making Perfect Rice.

whole roasted cauliflower

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Chloe MacKean

Wednesday 28th of November 2018

I LOVE cauliflower! And i'm so glad that it's having a comeback right now. I've never managed to nail roasting it whole though so thanks for this post.


Wednesday 28th of November 2018

Chloe, you're welcome and enjoy!