Making a good cauliflower cheese seems easy enough … until things go wrong (mushy cauliflower, watery sauce, a crust that doesn’t brown …). Follow the tips here and you’ll get a golden bubbling cheesy dish you’ll love.
Cheese Sauce 2 level Tbsp butter 2 level Tbsp plain flour 300ml (US 10 fl oz / UK 109.5 fl oz)milk ¼ tsp salt Dab of French mustard ½ cup tightly packed grated vintage cheddar cheese 1 medium cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets ½ cup tightly packed grated vintage cheddar cheese 2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese 2 Tbsp panko or fresh breadcrumbs
1 Have ready a large bowl filled with icy water. Plunge cauliflower into a large saucepan of boiling salted water. Leave for 3 minutes only. Drain cauliflower and immediately plunge it into the bowl of icy water. Leave it to chill down for 1-2 minutes, then remove from water and drain. Spread cauliflower on a tray lined with paper towels and leave until dry.
2 Make the sauce next. Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan, then remove pan from heat and stir in the flour. Bend in the milk a third at a time using a small wire whisk. Return pan to the heat, blend in salt and mustard and stir constantly until it is boiling. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring, then remove pan from heat and beat in the cheese. Cover pan with a lid.
3 Preheat oven to 220°C (425°F). Transfer cauliflower to a shallow-ish gratin dish. Season with salt. Spoon the sauce over the cauliflower – don’t worry if it is very thick (it’s how you want it), and if there is a skin on top of the sauce, whip it in and don’t worry if it looks a little lumpy because it will cook out. Try to cover all the cauliflower. Scatter with cheese and panko crumbs.
4 Put the cauliflower on an oven tray to catch drips then cook for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling. Cool briefly before serving.
The cauliflower should only be blanched in the initial cooking or it will be overcooked by the time it is taken out of the oven. Plunging the drained cooked cauliflower into icy water cools it down and stops it cooking in steam and softening as it stands. It must be thoroughly drained before assembling with the sauce. The sauce should be cooked for 2 minutes after it comes to the boil, to cook the flour, but must be stirred constantly – a wire whisk is more effective than a wooden spoon for getting into the corners of the pot and preventing lumps from forming. Do not reboil the sauce once the cheese has been added because it will go stringy (it can be warmed through carefully if you prefer to work with flowing sauce). The sauce should be nice and thick (measure the ingredients), and it should taste delicious (taste it!). Bland cheese will make a bland sauce. Cheap high fat cheese will make an oily sauce and a greasy topping. Cover pan with a lid once sauce is made to prevent a skin forming, but if you forget, whisk in the skin as it will cook out! Cauliflower cheese does not like sitting around once it is made – it can go watery. If this happens, pour off the watery liquid. Cauliflower cheese reheats well, especially if spread out in an oven dish – liquid will dry off and the crispy bits will become even crispier!