How to Perfectly Steam Cauliflower

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

Steam cauliflower has always been one of the best ways I enjoy the cauliflower dish. It involves the use of steam to cook the cauliflower and it is way better than roasting and boiling as it tends to retain the nutrients of the cauliflower.

it is also super nutritious and easy to prepare, adding ingredients like salt, pepper, olive oil and butter also helps in bringing out that unique flavor of the cauliflower. Although this dish is known for its distinct flavor and its ability to enhance other dishes, I have often noticed people having difficulties properly steaming this vegetable.

So, for today’s post, I will be sharing the best tips on how to properly steam cauliflower. But before we go into that let’s focus on some important information about the cauliflower vegetable.

The Vegetable – Cauliflower

Cauliflower is one of the plants that reproduce by seed, according to research it is said that that the cauliflower is one of the vegetables that are of the species Brassica oleracea of the family Brassicaceae.

The head of the cauliflower is the only you can eat and it contains a sort of white flesh called curd or white florescence meristem. The only difference between cauliflower and broccoli is that broccoli has flower buds as the eatable portion.

More so the origin of this vegetable dates far back to 12th centuries in one of the numerous islands in Cyprus discovered by Arab botanist Ibn al-‘Awwam and Ibn al-Baitar. Cauliflower was eventually introduced into western Europe where it is sometimes called colewart. There was a huge trade in western Europe for cauliflower seed as at that time.

News about how delicate and tasty the cauliflower is soon got to France and by the 16th century it was introduced to France from Genoa, although it was rare in France the cauliflower still holds a reputable place in very few gardens because of their delicacy.

It also did not show up on grand tables until the period of Louis XIV. The now-famous cauliflower was later introduced to the people of India from England in the year 1822.

Cauliflower is further classified into four major groups and they are namely:

Italian: the Italian cauliflower is a specimen that basically differs in appearance and color ranging from white, brown to green, yellow and also purple. They are usually biennial and annual in type and it is the ancestral form from which all others were obtained.

Northern European annuals: This category of cauliflower is usually used in Europe and most likely North America during summer time. They were introduced into Germany in the 18th century and includes ancient cultivars like a snowball and the rest of them.

Northwest European biennial: this specimen of cauliflower is used in most part of Europe during winter and was developed in France as far back as the 19th century, it also includes ancient cultivar like that of Roscoff and anger

Asian:  The Asian specimen is more like a tropical flower that is basically used in most part of China and India. According to history, it is said that this category of cauliflower was developed in India at around the 19th century or thereabout and it includes ancient varieties like the early Benaras.

Varieties and Colors of the cauliflower

Varieties of the cauliflower are usually associated with its colors and there are basically hundreds of them in the world but for the purpose of this article, I will be listing a few.

There are numerous colors of the cauliflower as it ranges from the usual white color consisting of a white head and green leaves to orange which contains beta carotene (orange pigment containing provitamin A compound).

This trait of the orange cauliflower practically relates to a field found in one of the many fields in Canada and it has varieties such as the Cheddar and Orange Bouquet.

There’s also the green cauliflower that’s available in commercial quantity in the US and Europe. They have been in existence since the 1990s. The green color cauliflower has varieties such as Green Goddess, Vorda and Alverda.

Cauliflower also has colors in purple which are greatly influenced by the presence of anthocyanins (a water-soluble pigment that is usually found in many other plant-based products). Its varieties include Graffiti and purple cape.

However, there are instances where small flower buds attached to broccoli are sold with the name purple cauliflower but they usually are not the same standard with the purple head cauliflower.

Health Benefits of Cauliflower

Cauliflower contains a high level of vitamin c which helps with the production collagen. It also contains that helps in keeping the bones healthy.

Cauliflower also contains phytonutrient like indole-3-carbinol that has basically helped with the liver as it helps to detoxify the body system.

It contains chlorine that helps gastrointestinal health, cauliflower also fights off infection in the body as contains glutathione (an antioxidant)

According to research consuming cauliflower helps to protect cells from any form of DNA damage and also deactivating carcinogens due to the presence of sulforaphane. Cauliflower also helps in lowering high blood pressure.

Steps to Identifying a Fresh Cauliflower and Properly Cutting it.

Step 1: before steaming a fresh cauliflower, you need to be able to identify one and spotting a fresh cauliflower is quite easy as they are pure white in color and completely wrapped in bright green leaves that are usually crisp in nature. More so, you should at all times pay close attention to the base of the vegetable.

No matter how dirty the top of the cauliflower may be the base should be as white as snow as it is the best way to identify how fresh the cauliflower is. Also, take note of floret top that is usually along the outside of the head, they should be closely pact as the loose ones with wide gaps in between usually indicate the beginning of spoilage in the cauliflower.

Step 2: cut the green part of the leaves that are attached to the head of the cauliflower using a very sharp knife. Ensure to cut off the leaves that are close to the base of the stem.

Do not throw away the leaves as they are useful cooking most especially the fresh ones, they are majorly used in cooking stews and can be roasted or probably eaten raw as salads. They can also be used as vegetable stock.

Step 3: try as much as possible to cut out that huge stem that appears just before the spot at which the cauliflower splits into separate florets. The cut-out stem can be used for vegetable stock.

Note: this step is avoidable as you can simply cut off the individual floret with touching and removing the excess stem but if you try it this way you will notice how difficult it is compared to the first step.

Step 4: cut the florets from the main stem separately by simply turning the head upside down in such a way that the cut off stem faces upward. With the use of a very sharp kitchen knife cut out the single branch. Slice the branch of the vegetable at the spot where the florets meet the main stem.

Also, ensure that you carefully cut off brown or any discolored parts of the cauliflower as they tend to alter the nutritious taste of the fresh cauliflower normally has. Small sized cauliflowers like baby cauliflowers can be cooked without cutting them.

Step 5: if you notice that the florets are still large after trimming them simply cut them again into smaller sizes as large florets usually take a lot of time to cook and this does not in any favors preserving the nutrients of the cauliflower. So, therefore, the shorter time it takes to cook the vegetable the better.

Step 6: finally put together all the cauliflower florets in a colander and thoroughly rinse them with water. Afterward, drain with paper towels.

The Best Way to Steam Cauliflower for the Best Results

So, we have looked at quite a lot about the cauliflower and I think it’s time we discuss the main topic of the day which is the best way to steam the cauliflower.

When prepared properly the cauliflower is a super nutritious and tender vegetable. There are so many ways to cook this amazing vegetable but steaming remains by far one of the most preferred methods of preparing since it allows for preservation of the flavor and nutrition of the cauliflower. The best way to steam fresh cauliflower is either by the usage of a stove, microwave or pan.

To steam the cauliflower the following ingredients are required to add taste: 1 head of fresh cauliflower, water, salt and black pepper (ground) to taste, butter.

Steaming cauliflower on the stove

The stove happens to be one of the most common kitchen appliances for steaming the cauliflower. To steam cauliflower in a stove, pour water into a large stockpot place on the stove over high heat and allow to boil then gently lower your steamer basket in the stockpot ensuring that it dips or touch the boiling water.

Don’t have a steamer basket? No need to panic. Simply use wire mesh colander but make it fits perfectly into the stockpot without slipping into it.

Next up carefully place the cauliflower florets gently into the steamer basket, spread them evenly in layers and ensure they are uprightly arranged with the tops sort facing an upward direction and the stems in a downward direction.

Try as much as possible to ensure that florets are assembled in a single layer but if that is stressful and too difficult then, simply make that they are evenly distributed in the steam basket.

Once this done carefully cover the stockpot and allow the gathered steam thoroughly cook the vegetable. Once you notice that the florets are tender simply use a fork to pierce to confirm that they are properly cooked, ensure that it is not overcooked.

Properly cover the stockpot and steam basket by placing the lid correctly as this is basically what traps the steam inside and as you must have noticed by now the steam is what cooks the cauliflower florets.

For small to medium sized florets it usually takes about five minutes to cook so ensure you check the cauliflower after 5 minutes but on some occasion where the cauliflower may too tough you should simply cover the pot and continue cooking. Larger florets usually take longer to cook most especially when you are trying to steam the head of cauliflower all at once.

So, your cauliflower is all cooked, carefully remove from the steamer basket and place in a clean plate. Add other ingredients like salt, pepper, and butter to season.

You can also choose to enjoy the steamed cauliflower by drizzling with soy sauce, cheese (parmesan) or better still season with spices like parsley, lemon pepper, paprika and the rest of them depending on how you would want it to taste.

Steaming Cauliflower in the Microwave

Aside from steaming cauliflower using the stove top another amazing way to steam the cauliflower is the use of the microwave. To steam cauliflower in a microwave the first step to take is to spread the cauliflower in a microwave dish make sure they are evenly distributed or if possible, try as much as possible to arrange florets in a single layer.

Add some quantity of water able 3 tablespoons. The aim of adding water is to produce steam that will eventually cook the cauliflower. Try not to add too much water so that you don’t end up boiling the vegetable.

Once this is done cover the dish with the microwave-safe lid, that is if it has, if it doesn’t simply use a plastic wrap.

If you still don’t have one then you can try using a ceramic plate to cover the dish but make sure you find one that completely fits the mouth of the dish. As you should know by now covering the dish properly is an important part of preparing this dish as it basically traps steam that cooks the vegetable.

Microwave for at least 4 minutes and occasionally check florets after the first 2-3 minutes. Also, ensure that you open the lid away from your face so that the hot steam doesn’t burn your face as it comes out.

Serve warm and season with salt, pepper to taste etc.

Steaming cauliflower without a steamer

There are basically three ways you can steam cauliflower without a steamer and they include the following:

First method

Use a pot that has a very tight lid and a thick and heavy bottom for this method. Pour in some quantity of water about 1-2 inches into the pot and take note the tighter the lid the lesser the water and also have it in mind that the water is required for steaming and not boiling the cauliflower so it shouldn’t be too much.

Next up carefully place the cauliflower florets in the pot with the larger pieces at the bottom and the smaller ones at the top, ensure that it fills up ¾th of the pot. Put on the heat of the stove and regulate to medium-high and when the lid of the pot is hot regulate the heat to medium-low.

It’s usually not advisable to frequently open the lid as this may cause loss of steam which will, in turn, affect the floret. So, make sure you get the timing right. Finally, your cauliflower florets are ready, remove excess water if there are any left and season with pepper, salt, and butter. Serve immediately.

Second method

Pour in some quantity of water into the pot and allow to boil, place a colander in the pot ensuring it does not touch the boiling. If the colander does not properly fit into the pot probably because of the rim too small you will have to hold it in place. Use a mitt to effectively do this.

Carefully place the cauliflower florets inside the colander in a single layer, once this is done cover the pot immediately to prevent loss of steam and turn down the heat. Occasionally check florets after every 5-10 minutes to ensure that they are properly cooked and if they are not, continue steaming until they are thoroughly cooked.

Third method

Pour water into the pot as usual. For this method make balls of aluminum foil (about 5 medium sized balls) and toss them into the water.

Place baking tray or any heatproof plate on the aluminum foil to prevent water from touching the tray or plate. Gently lower the cauliflower on the tray and cover the pot with a lid.

Allow the water to simmer for about 5-10 minutes and the florets to see if they are thoroughly cooked.

Others ways to steam cauliflowers include the following:

In an oven

Firstly, preheat the oven to about 2000 F. pour some quantity of water into the pot heat on a stove and allow to boil. Pour the boiled water into a bigger pot that will fit in the oven.

Next up cover the mouth of the pot with a baking rack, and place the cauliflower florets on top of the rack. To prevent steam loss simply cover the florets, rack and the mouth of the pot properly with an aluminum foil. Allow the florets to cook in the steam until they are ready.

Steaming in a pan

Pour about a one-quarter inch of water into a large pan and allow to boil. Add a small quantity of salt and the cauliflower florets into the water and properly cover the lid. Steam till they are tender enough and season with salt and pepper and viola the cauliflower is ready to serve.

Steaming in an electric rice cooker

Pour in some quantity of water to the bottom of the cooker followed by the rice cooker basket. Once that is done carefully lower the cauliflower florets into the basket and tightly close the lid on the cooker.

Next up, turn on the heat and allow the florets to steam for at least 5-10 minutes. Occasionally check the cauliflower and pour in more water if needed, cook florets until they are tender. Turn off the heat when they thoroughly cooked and serve immediately. You can also choose to add ingredients like oil and other herbal spices while steaming.

Steaming in a pressure cooker

Gently lower the cauliflower florets into the cooker and add some quantity of salt and little water. Tightly close the lid and turn on the heat. Allow the florets to steam until you hear the first whistle then shut turn off the heat and run the cooker immediately through cold water so as to simply eliminate any remaining pressure. The cauliflower is now cooked and ready to serve.

Note: these methods also applicable when you want to steam frozen cauliflower.

How long does it take to steam cauliflower?

This is a question that is frequently asked as most people tend to overcook the cauliflower and this eventually leads to depleting its nutritious nature and it also tends to make it mushy.

The time it takes to basically steam the cauliflower depends on how you want it to complement the dish you are making. That’s if you are preparing with another dish.

But ordinarily, it usually takes about 15-30 minutes to steam the cauliflower. For cauliflower rice, you might want the vegetable to have some sort of texture still so simply check after every 10-15 minutes until is cooked the way you want it.

Cooking cauliflower also depends on its size as it usually takes longer for a large-sized cauliflower to be cooked compared to a small sized one. To know when the cauliflower is tender enough simply pierce with a fork and if it falls apart then you are good to go.

Recipes Involving the Usage of Steamed Cauliflower

Uncooked fresh steamed cauliflower can be eaten with some quantity of salt and probably a drizzle of olive oil. But cooking in combination with a flavorful sauce is also another way of enjoying this amazing vegetable. It can also be incorporated in recipes that call for cauliflower like the store brought or homemade pesto to steamed cauliflower.

You can also enjoy the tasty and tender vegetables by coating it with cheese sauce. Steaming cauliflower is basically the first step-in preparing recipes like the creamed cauliflower, cauliflower mashed potatoes, and the famous cauliflower cheese casserole.

Others ways to enjoy the cauliflower is trying it the cauliflower Alfredo sauce and mushroom cauliflower alfredo pasta.


There are a lot of benefits attached to steaming the cauliflower and it is also the perfect way to get the best out the cauliflower so therefore it is important that you know how to steam cauliflower perfectly. This post however I believe has done justice to that.

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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