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How to Perfectly Steam Cauliflower

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

When I need to add another vegetable to a dish or salad, one of the most reliable solutions is to steam cauliflower. Using steam to cook the cauliflower has advantages over roasting and boiling, as steaming lets the cauliflower retain all its nutrients.

Super nutritious and easy to prepare, cauliflower and the flavor of the cauliflower can be enhanced just by adding ingredients like salt, pepper, olive oil and butter. Although this vegetable is known for its distinct flavor and its ability to enhance other dishes, I have often noticed people having difficulties properly steaming it.

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 as a vegetable.

The Vegetable – Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a plant that reproduces by seed. The cauliflower is also one of the vegetables that are of the species Brassica oleracea of the family Brassicaceae.

The head of the cauliflower is the only part 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 that are also edible.

The origin of this vegetable dates far back to the 12th century in one of the numerous islands of Cyprus, where it was 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 of cauliflower seeds at that time.

News about cauliflower 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 held a reputable place in some gardens.

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 differs in appearance and color ranging from white to brown, green, yellow and even 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 North America during summer. It was introduced in Germany in the 18th century and includes ancient cultivars like the snowball.

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

Asian:  The Asian specimen is more like a tropical flower that is predominantly used in most parts of China and India. According to history, it is said that this category of cauliflower was developed in India in around the 19th century or thereabouts, 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 hundreds of them throughout the world; but for the purposes of this article, I will only be listing a few.

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

This trait of the orange cauliflower relates the many fields of 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. It has been in existence since the 1990s. The green color cauliflower has varieties such as Green Goddess, Vorda and Alverda.

Cauliflower also comes in purple; this type’s color is related to 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.

There are instances where small flower buds attached to broccoli are sold with the name purple cauliflower, but they are not the same (and frankly not as good as) the purple head cauliflower.

Health Benefits of Cauliflower

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

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

It contains chlorine that helps gastrointestinal health. Cauliflower also fights off infection in the body, as it 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. 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. 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 packed, as 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. Cut off the leaves that are close to the base of the stem.

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

Step 3: try as much as possible to cut out the 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 without 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 any brown or discolored parts of the cauliflower, as they tend to alter the nutritious taste that 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. You don’t want to cook for a long time, because in doing so you’re not preserving the nutrients of the cauliflower. 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

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

When prepared properly, cauliflower is a super nutritious and tender vegetable. There are so many ways to cook this amazing vegetable, but steaming remains one of the most preferred methods, 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, and 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 it on the stove over high heat and allow to boil, then gently lower your steamer basket into the stockpot, ensuring that it dips or touches the boiling water.

Don’t have a steamer basket? No need to panic. Simply use a wire mesh colander, but make sure 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 the florets are assembled in a single layer, but if that is stressful and too difficult, then simply make sure that they are evenly distributed in the steam basket.

Once this is done, carefully cover the stockpot and allow the gathered steam to 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. Try not to overcook.

Properly cover the stockpot and steam basket by placing the lid on 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 check the cauliflower after 5 minutes; on occasions where the cauliflower seems tough you should simply cover the pot and continue cooking. Larger florets usually take longer to cook especially when you are trying to steam a head of cauliflower all at once.

So, your cauliflower all cooked, carefully remove from the steamer basket and place on 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 others 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 by using a microwave. To steam cauliflower in a microwave, the first step is to spread the cauliflower in a microwavable dish with the florets arranged in a single layer.

Add about 3 tablespoons of water. The purpose 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 or plastic wrap.

If you still don’t have one then you can try using a ceramic plate to cover the dish; just 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 because you need to trap the steam to cook 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 with 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 less water you need. Also keep in mind that the water is there to steam not boil 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, ensuring that it fills up ¾th of the pot. Put on the heat of the stove and turn to medium-high. When the lid of the pot is hot, decrease 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, when your cauliflower florets are ready, remove excess water if there is any left and season with pepper, salt and butter. Serve immediately.

Second method

Pour some quantity of water into the pot and allow to boil, then place a colander in the pot ensuring it does not touch the boiling water. If the colander does not properly fit into the pot, you will have to hold it in place. Use a mitt for this.

Carefully place the cauliflower florets inside the colander in a single layer, then 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; if they aren’t, 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 a 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 check the florets to see if they are thoroughly cooked.

Others ways to steam cauliflowers include the following:

In an oven

First, preheat the oven to about 200 degrees 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 until they are tender enough and season with salt and pepper and voila 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, cooking the 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 a little water. Tightly close the lid and turn on the heat. Allow the florets to steam until you hear the first whistle, then turn off the heat and run the cooker immediately through cold water so as to eliminate any remaining pressure. The cauliflower is now cooked and ready to serve.

Note: these methods are 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; this leads to depleting its nutritious nature and it also tends to make it mushy.

The time it takes to effectively 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. If it falls apart then you are good to go.

Recipes Involving the Usage of Steamed Cauliflower

Fresh steamed cauliflower can be eaten with some salt and 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-bought or homemade pesto with steamed cauliflower.

You can also enjoy the tasty and tender vegetable 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 the cauliflower Alfredo sauce and mushroom cauliflower alfredo pasta.

Conclusion

There are a lot of benefits that come with steaming the cauliflower, and it is also the perfect way to get the best out the cauliflower, so it is very important that you know how to steam cauliflower perfectly. With the information above, you will now be able to add cauliflower cooked to perfection to any dish!

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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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