As Thanksgiving approaches I’m posting some side dish recipes like this one for Cauliflower in Cheese Sauce. Most sides can benefit from a few minor changes. Given a couple of tricks this will be cauliflower’s best version of itself.
The Secret to nonwatery cauliflower
Too often have I seen cauliflower prepared where it’s floating on a sea of water and covered with slices of Kraft Singles or Velveeta sauce. Amazingly this can actually taste sort of OK. However, with minimal attention to detail it can taste absolutely delicious, so keep reading for the details…
Which are twofold. You must under cook the cauliflower a little and when it’s done let it drain for at least 15 minutes. The steam needs to evaporate and the water should be mostly gone so that it doesn’t end up in the bottom of the dish diluting the cheese sauce. The other detail is putting less cheese in the sauce and more on top.
To start bring some salted water to a boil, put the largest pieces in and boil for a couple of minutes before adding the small ones. This way they’ll all be cooked to the same consistency. That consistency should be such that a fork goes in easily but still meets a little resistance. It will continue to soften as it cools and will cook a little more while under the broiler.
After boiling remove the cauliflower, drain well and assemble in a chafing dish as shown below. You can boil the whole head and just pour the sauce over it as we did when I was growing up. However, laying it out flat has several advantages. It’s easier to serve, it has a higher sauce to veg ratio, and best of all you get that wonderful broiler browned cheese on top.
What kind of cheese and how to deploy it
And as for cheese, it doesn’t have to be fancy. A sharp Cracker Barrel or Tillamook cheddar will taste great. When you look at the recipe you’ll see that I put a little less in the sauce and a little more on top because browned is better.
Now it’s done, and as you can see, small adjustments elevate a boring side dish to first runner up in the Thanksgiving beauty contest.
- 1 medium head cauliflower
- For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. mustard powder
- grating of fresh nutmeg
- 1 crushed clove of garlic
- pinch of cayenne
- 1 cup chicken broth
- ¼ cup cream
- ½ cup grated cheese
- ½ cup grated cheese for the topping
- For the Cauliflower:
- Cut up and boil or steam. Cook the larger pieces for a couple of minutes before adding the smaller ones so all will be cooked the same. This should be about 7 to 10 minutes but watch carefully. They should be just slightly under cooked. A fork should be able to pierce them but there should be some resistance.
- Drain for 15 minutes in colander. This is key. You want all the steam to evaporate & all the water to drain off.
- For the sauce:
- Melt the butter in a sauce pan.
- Whisk in the flour, salt, mustard, cayenne and garlic & cook for a minute over medium heat.
- Slowly add the chicken broth & cream & cook until thickened.
- Add the cheese & remove garlic.
- Place the large pieces of cauliflower in a shallow baking dish and fill in the holes with the smaller pieces.
- Spoon the sauce over it & top with cheese, some paprika and some fresh ground black pepper.
- Run under the broiler until browned.