Cauliflower 101: How to Buy, Store, and Cook It
Cauliflower has boomed in popularity these last few years, arguably usurping kale as the #1 chic vegetable. But did you know all the wonderful ways you can prepare it? A superstar chef shows you the way.
His now-wife didn’t like it when they met: “When I started dating her, although she ate nearly everything in the world, cauliflower was not on her list of go-to items. I was like, ‘Is this gonna work out?’” The author of a whole cookbook devoted to vegetables, he decided to change her mind: “I cooked cauliflower every way you could imagine for her to fall in love with it and me. It worked; she loves me and it now—depending on the day!” Here, Anthony shares his best cauli cooking tips.
Per The New Food Lover’s Companion, “Choose a firm cauliflower with compact florets; the leaves should be crisp and green with no signs of yellowing.” Anthony notes that you might spy hues of purple, yellow, green, or white. Ideally the head has no blemishes, but if there are small brown flecks, no problem; cut those off. Just make sure the head doesn’t look “a little banged up or a little old,” he says. And flip it over to look at the stem end, to see that it’s “been freshly cut and is in good shape.”
“Refrigerate raw cauliflower, tightly wrapped, for 3 to 5 days,” says the FLC.
Blanch, Don’t Boil
Avoid boiling cauliflower unless you’re going to quickly blanch it cold water, suggests Anthony. “The danger is, when you [boil] cauliflower for a long time, that’s when you really get those cabbage-y sulfurous aromas. By blanching rather than boiling, with a short time in and out of salty water, it leaves a bit of texture and you don’t get a lot of heavy aromas.”
“Steaming is great,” says Anthony. “I like biting into big pieces of it because you get to experience how thick it is and how it smashes easily in your mouth.” He suggests serving it steamed “with light sauces, salsa verde, crushed peppers, or Mexican pepper and onion salsas.
Anthony will often lightly pickle cauliflower “to make it lovable, especially mixed with other veggies.”
The chef loves to roast “a cross-section of a whole head, which makes it hearty like a steak, maybe topping it with—at Gramercy—quinoa and dates and toasted nuts. The caramelization helps make it more lovable, preserving the thickness to show off the texture.” (Here’s a good recipe for that!) He’s also partial to combining it with crispy roasted breadcrumbs, capers, raisins and lemon, which he calls “a classic.”
You can, in fact, eat cauliflower raw. “I like to thinly shave it and toss it in salads with cooked cauliflower,” says Anthony, for a mix of textures and flavors. He’ll add lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and pair with bitter greens such as radicchio.
“If I were really thinking about speed,” says Anthony, he’d stir-fry, adding “a couple handfuls of peppers or zucchini or something else that cooks quickly, then liquid” to a pan set over high heat, adding a bit of water “for steam that allows it to tenderize really quickly.”
Don’t sleep on cauliflower soup! It’s one of the most delicious ways to consume the veggie. By keeping the cauli out of the oven you’ll avoid browning and a less attractive color, suggests Anthony. Think of white foods: sautéed onions, shallots, garlic, leeks, cream or lard. That said, he notes that the “caramelization produced by roasting is definitely delicious,” so if you’re finishing soup with chopped herbs or toasted pumpkin seeds, why not roast? Finish a well-blended soup with salt, pepper, a little drizzle of olive oil, or maybe croutons.
Eat the Stems and Tiny Leaves
“I eat the whole stem, most of the time,” says Anthony. “Turn the whole head upside-down and use a paring knife to cut in a circular way around the stem, leaving the core or main stem intact. You can then cut that into rounds or lengths, matchstick cut or leave it whole.” Cook whole stems in the embers of an open fire, or split it in half for the grill. (I’d add that you can slice the main root stem thin and roast it!) “Stems connected to florets generally cook in same amount of time,” he says, “and I do eat all the tiny leaves, which are delicious, to save for salad or add to soup at very end.”
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Bon Appétit, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen.