A dish as quintessentially British as fish and chips or afternoon tea, a good cauliflower cheese combines cauliflower with a light, creamy cheese sauce that doesn’t overpower the subtle cauliflower flavor. There are practically unlimited variations for cauliflower cheese, but the basic dish is made with a milky bechamel sauce and cheddar cheese, though you might substitute other cheese, such as Lancashire or Gruyere. Cauliflower cheese is baked as a casserole, so you can prepare it ahead of time and finish it in the oven just before serving.
Things You'll Need
Cut the cauliflower florets from the core and boil in a saucepan over medium heat for about 4 minutes, or until tender-crisp. You can make cauliflower cheese with a whole, cored cauliflower head, but this must be boiled for closer to 20 minutes, often resulting in overcooked florets on the outside by the time the center of the head reaches the tender-crisp stage. Drain the cauliflower well and spread it evenly across the bottom of a baking dish.
Simmer milk over low heat for about 20 minutes, along with your choice of herbs and spices to infuse the milk with flavor. It takes about 2 cups of milk to make enough sauce for 1 head of cauliflower. Optional herbs and spices include cloves, nutmeg, onions and rosemary — or even some dried hot peppers to infuse some spiciness into the milk. This step is optional, but many would argue that a lightly flavored milk in the bechamel sauce is the key to good cauliflower cheese.
Melt butter or margarine over medium-low heat and stir in flour to create a roux. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute to cook off the raw flour flavor. A roux requires equal parts butter and flour. Use 1 tablespoon of butter and flour for every cup of milk used for the bechamel sauce.
Add the milk to the roux mixture a spoonful at a time, stirring until smooth after adding each spoonful. Repeat until you’ve incorporated all the milk. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a few minutes until the mixture thickens to complete the bechamel sauce. Remove the pan from heat.
Stir your choice of grated cheese into the bechamel sauce until completely melted and smooth. Use a single type of cheese, or combine several different types as desired. Try different amounts of cheese until you find what suits your preference, but 1 cup of cheese is typically enough to make cheese sauce for 1 cauliflower head. Other optional ingredients for the cheese sauce include Dijon mustard and nutmeg added to taste.
Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower in the baking dish, ensuring the cauliflower is completely covered with sauce. Sprinkle breadcrumbs or a mixture of melted butter and breadcrumbs over the cauliflower cheese dish, if desired. Instead of breadcrumbs, you might prefer to reserve part of the cheese from the cheese sauce and sprinkle the shredded cheese over top of the cauliflower cheese dish.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the cauliflower cheese for about 30 minutes or until the top begins to brown and the cheese sauce is bubbly.
References and ResourcesThe Guardian: How to Cook Perfect Cauliflower Cheese
BBC Good Food: Cauliflower Cheese
The Guardian: How to Make Cauliflower Cheese -- Recipe
BBC Food Recipes: Cauliflower Cheese
The Kitchn: Building Blocks: How to Make a Roux
Cooking Light: How to Make Bechamel Sauce