Although the finished product isn't quite as colorful and flavorful as roasted cauliflower, boiling is a quick and easy way to prepare this cruciferous veggie. It is also a standard way to start mashed cauliflower recipes for a lower-carb, lower-calorie, faster alternative to mashed potatoes.
Selecting and Storing Fresh Cauliflower
Picking out the best cauliflower and properly handling it are important first steps in making it into a tasty dish. Whether you are buying a whole head or a package of precut florets, look for firm cauliflower with tightly compacted curds and a uniform ivory color. The florets should have no discolored brown or wet spots. A whole head should have densely arranged florets, healthy-looking green leaves and no odor. It should feel heavy for its size.
Refrigerate heads of cauliflower intact in an open or perforated plastic bag in the veggie drawer. Don't wash it until you're using it because moisture accelerates spoiling and can lead to mold growth. Keep packages of precut cauliflower sealed until use. Whole heads should last several days to a week, while precut florets usually only have a shelf life of about a couple of days.
You can freeze raw cauliflower if you aren't going to get through it in time, but it should be cut up and blanched first. Lightly salt enough water to cover the cauliflower and bring it to a boil. Toss in the florets, cook them for three minutes and then drain and completely submerge them right away in a bowl or pot of ice water to stop the cooking. Dry them thoroughly and then freeze in an airtight freezer bag or container.
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How to Boil Cauliflower Florets
If you have a bag of precut florets, the hardest part of the prep work is already done. If you have a whole head, quarter it with a large knife and then cut away the large portions of stem and chop what's left into individual florets. Rinse the pieces thoroughly in a colander.
Bring enough liberally salted water to cover the cauliflower to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Add the florets, return the water to a boil and then turn down the burner to medium-high heat. Adding a squirt of lemon juice or 1/4 cup of milk to the water helps the cauliflower end up with a brighter white color.
Cauliflower cooking time varies by the size and freshness of the florets. Boil cauliflower for about five to 10 minutes (possibly a little longer if it's frozen) until it is fork-tender, testing it frequently with a fork to prevent overcooking. The longer it cooks, the softer and mushier it becomes. Drain it and then toss it with some butter or cooking oil, salt and pepper and any other herbs and spices you want to use. Garlic powder and thyme work nicely, as does curry powder, chili powder or Cajun seasoning to add some kick.
How to Make Cauliflower Mash
If you're not ready for the fun to end at boiling, it's not hard to turn boiled cauliflower into a cauliflower mash. Boil it just a little longer than you would if you were eating it straight so that it's soft enough to mash up. Then, drain it, dry it well and smash it with a potato masher to the desired consistency.
Mix in a few pats of butter, salt, pepper and any other seasonings you like. Minced garlic is a nice addition or try it with a seasoning mix like Cajun seasoning, herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.