Cauliflower Cheese is a classic British recipe that is served as a side dish. Tender cauliflower florets are covered in a creamy cheese sauce and then baked until golden. This is a great recipe for getting kids to love cauliflower!
Why you should try this recipe…
With so many children, (and adults), not eating their recommended serves of vegetables, we want to make sure vegetables are loud and proud in all our meals. Cauliflower cheese does exactly this. It is a great dish for either…
- Introducing cauliflower to our little ones or
- Serving cauliflower in a different way (to children that may have rejected the vegetable in the past.)
Here is what you will need to make cauliflower cheese
A fresh cauliflower cut
- CHEESE SAUCE
Flour & Butter – to make a roux that will thicken the cheese sauce.
Milk – the liquid for the cheese sauce
Mustard – For flavour, you can skip it if you prefer.
Cheese – The cheese you use can make a big difference to the overall flavour of this dish. I recommend using a strong tasting mature cheddar. This provides the most flavour and you can, therefore, use less of it in the sauce. You can also add a tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan if more flavour is needed.
I do not recommend using Tasty (Australia) cheese for this recipe, I found that it became overly oily, wasn’t as flavoursome and didn’t melt as well.
More cheese, again a mature cheddar works best, and panko breadcrumbs to add some crunch.
How to Make Cauliflower Cheese – Expert Tips and Tricks
- PREPARE CAULIFLOWER
Break/cut the cauliflower into bite-sized florets. You don’t want to make them too small as they will cook too quickly and become soft and watery.
- COOK CAULIFLOWER
You want to boil the cauliflower until it is tender, but still fairly firm (around 4- 5 minutes). Test with a knife, the cauliflower should cleave to the knife, if it slips off, you have overcooked it. It will still be ok to use but the dish may be more watery which can cause your sauce to split.
Make sure to drain the cauliflower really well to ensure the finished dish is not watery. I often drain and then pat dry with a clean dishcloth. This is especially important if you plan to make it in advance or freeze it.
- MAKE SAUCE
Start by making a roux. Melt the butter in a saucepan, over low heat, add the flour and stir continuously for 3 minutes to cook out the rawness from the flour.
Add the milk gradually. Continuous stirring/whisking and adding the milk slowly is the secret to a good sauce.
To test your finished sauce, dip a spoon into the sauce and then draw a finger through the coated spoon. If the sauce wipes clean, leaving an open space, then your sauce is done and is ready for the cheese to be added.
Stir in the cheese until melted and combined.
- COAT CAULIFLOWER
Place the cauliflower florets in a baking dish that is just large enough to hold the florets in one layer. Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower and gently mix to ensure all the florets are covered. Top with shredded cheese and breadcrumbs.
- BROIL (GRILL) or BAKE
Until it is bubbly, golden and crispy.
What to Serve with Cauliflower Cheese
Cauliflower cheese makes a great meal accompaniment. It is perhaps best known as a side dish for a Sunday roast, but it can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Why not try it with…
- Steaks, roast chicken, roast beef, roast pork, roast lamb or fish. It goes great with all these protein sources.
- Baked potato. The creamy sauce and tender cauliflower make a great baked potato filling.
- Roasted vegetables and sweet potato wedges – Up the vegetable content by roasting some vegetables and wedges at the same time you bake your cauliflower cheese.
Storage and Reheating Instructions
Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Reheat in the oven, microwave or pan until piping hot.
Taste-wise, cauliflower cheese freezes well for up to 2 months. It can, however, become a little watery which in turn will affect the appearance and texture. You can minimize this by…
- Cooking from frozen – Don’t thaw the dish, top with the cheese/ breadcrumb mixture and cook from frozen. Place in a preheated oven at 180C / 355F for around 35-40 mins or until the top is brown and bubbling and the centre is piping hot.
- Not overcooking the cauliflower – When making Cauliflower Cheese for the freezer it is especially important that you do not overcook the cauliflower. It should cleave to the knife when you test it in the boiling water.
- Drain the cauliflower well – and it is also worth drying it in a clean tea towel. Ensuring there is no excess moisture is especially important when freezing.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you overcook your cauliflower it will release water, which can cause the sauce to go watery. If your sauce was thick when it went under the grill/ in the oven it was most likely water from the cauliflower causing it to go watery. Make sure to cook the cauliflower until tender but still firm, drain well and pat dry.
You need to take your time with this sauce. As soon as the flour has lost its raw smell, pour in the milk in small amounts, whisking/stirring the whole time. Patience and adding in small increments are key. If you feel that your sauce is too runny you may just need to simmer it for longer. With time the flour will thicken the sauce. Once you add the cheese you will find that it will also help thicken.
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Cauliflower Cheese Recipe
- 1 Large Cauliflower
- 55g (1/2 stick) Butter
- 36g (4 tbsp) Plain (all purpose) Flour
- 500ml (2 cups) Milk
- 1 tsp Dijon Mustard
- 115g (1 cup) Strong Mature Cheddar (grated) * SEE NOTE 1
- 25g (1/2 cup) Panko Breadcrumbs * SEE NOTE 2
- Remove the base and outer leaves from the cauliflower, break into florets and wash.
- Place the florets into a pan of boiling water and boil for approx 5 mins, until tender. (*SEE NOTE 3)
- Drain the cauliflower in a colander and set it aside.
- Meanwhile, make your sauce.Melt butter in a saucepan and add the flour to form a roux, stir continuously for about 3 minutes.
- Add milk a little at a time, keep stirring/whisking continuously between each pour. Stir out any lumps before adding more milk. Continue adding the milk little by little until all the milk is incorporated and the sauce is thick and glossy.
- Take off the heat and stir in the mustard and three-quarters of the cheese (reserving the rest for the topping.)
- Place the cauliflower florets in a baking dish that is just large enough to hold the florets in one layer.
- Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower and gently mix to ensure all the florets are covered
- Cover with the breadcrumbs and remaining cheese. Broil (grill) until the top is browned and bubbly. (*SEE NOTE 4 for heating instructions if making ahead of time)
- I always use a mature cheddar to make a cheese sauce. I find it produces the best flavour and you don’t have to add so much to get the desired flavour.
- Breadcrumbs are optional, they give a lovely crispy topping and makes the dish look visually more appealing.
- Test the cauliflower with a knife. The knife should go in easily but the cauliflower should cleave to the knife and not fall apart.
- If you are making this dish ahead of time, to serve it later in the day, cover the dish and store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve (do not add the breadcrumbs and cheese for the top at this stage). Preheat oven to 180C / 355F. Cover the top with the cheese and breadcrumbs just before baking and bake for approx 30 minutes. The top should be brown and bubbling and piping hot in the centre.
- If cooking for a baby/ young toddler you can reduce the amount of cheese you add, to lower the sodium levels.