Not just for vegetarians, a whole roasted cauliflower is a beautiful dish to serve to guests but is easy enough to make as a side dish for any meal. The top gets golden brown and crisp and the inside is super tender. Serve it on its own or topped with creamy lemon butter caper sauce.
Remember that time that Frank and I went to Paris for a week, drank all the wine, ate all the cheese, and got a croissant at every bakery we passed? It was only a year ago, but considering the fact that since that trip we’ve had a baby, bought a house, and generally been busy with life, it sort of feels like a distant memory. No matter how distant, I could list every thing we ate at every meal. Oh the food! And though the carbs and cheese and wine (did I mention the wine?) were memorable, there were a few surprises that really stood out. One of them was the whole roasted cauliflower that we were served as the main dish for dinner at Verjus. The cauliflower was perfectly tender, golden brown, and served with a meunière sauce that was rich with butter, lemon, and capers. This recipe, my friends, is a very close approximation. Whole roasted cauliflower is a bit of a revelation. It’s golden and crisp on the outside, tender and naturally sweet on the inside. And really…it’s pretty fun to make. I’ve found a few easy tricks that help to get this one just right – all listed below.
How to Get Golden Brown Roasted Cauliflower
Like most vegetables, the secret to getting a nice golden brown crust while roasting is to get them very dry. The more dry the surface of the vegetable is when it encounters the heat of the oven, the more likely it will brown. And the best place for drying out vegetables is in the refrigerator. The dry cold will help to extract a lot of moisture, so give the cauliflower at least an hour in the fridge and up to two days.
How to Roast a Whole Head of Cauliflower
- Peel off leaves. Slice out the thickest part of the core, keeping the cauliflower florets connected.
- Rinse the cauliflower and place it stem-side down in a colander. Let it dry as much as possible. (The best way to dry it is to refrigerate it for an hour and up to two days.)
- Heat oven to 375 F.
- Add some water to a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven. Place cauliflower in the pan, stem-side down.
- Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Cover with foil or a lid and roast for 15 minutes.
- Remove the foil and increase oven temperature to 500 F.
- Continue roasting until golden brown on the outside and tender inside, 25 to 40 minutes.
Whole Roast Cauliflower – Dutch Oven or Skillet?
We tested whole roasted cauliflower in both a Dutch 0ven and skillet using the same prep and cook time. While I’ve seen people online claim that one way or another is better, they came out virtually identical. Both tender in the middle and golden brown on the outside. The skillet may have had the teeniest bit more browning, but it was almost impossible to see the difference. See for yourself.
Lemon Butter Caper Sauce
The cauliflower is great without a sauce, but who can say no to a rich, buttery, lemon butter caper sauce? When the cauliflower is almost finished roasting, just saute shallots in butter. Add flour and then stock while whisking. Fold in some lemon juice, capers, and chopped parsley. Pour over top, and you have this dish that is nearly identical to the one we were served at a fancy restaurant in Paris.
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet – It’s a classic kitchen workhorse and such a deal. I love my cast iron skillet more than any other pot I own.
Le Creuset Dutch Oven – As I mention above, all you really need to make this recipe is a cast iron skillet, but if you have a Dutch oven you can use that too. This is the one I have.
Wooden Citrus Reamer – Love this little thing. It makes quick work of adding lemon juice to the butter sauce in this recipe.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Butter Caper Sauce
Whole Roasted Cauliflower:
- 1 medium head Cauliflower (~20 oz)
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- Salt and pepper
Lemon Butter Caper Sauce:
- 4 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
- 2 cloves Shallots, finely chopped
- 1 ½ Tbsp All-Purpose Flour
- 1 cup Low-Sodium Vegetable or Chicken Broth
- 1 Tbsp Capers, drained
- 2 tsp Lemon juice
- 2 tsp chopped Parsley
- Peel any leaves off the head of cauliflower. Turn the cauliflower over so the stem is facing up. Carefully “core” the cauliflower with a knife, slicing out the the thickest part of the stem and leaving all of the florets connected. (See photos above.)
- Rinse the cauliflower under cool water and place it stem down in a colander to allow it to dry before roasting. If not roasting right away or for maximum drying (the more dry the cauliflower is, the better it will brown), transfer the colander to the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 2 days.
- Roast: When you’re ready to roast the cauliflower, heat oven to 375 F.
- Brush the bottom of a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven with some cooking oil (to prevent sticking). Place cauliflower in the pan. Drizzle the cauliflower with olive oil and use your hands to spread it over the surface of the cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover the cauliflower with foil (if using a skillet) or with the lid (if using a Dutch oven).
- Roast the cauliflower, covered, for 15 minutes. (This will help to steam the cauliflower to get it tender all the way through.)
- Turn the oven up to 500 degrees F. (Yes - it's super hot! This high heat will give the cauliflower a golden brown crust in a short time.)
- Remove the foil / lid from the top of the cauliflower (do this carefully - it's all hot). Continue roasting, uncovered until the cauliflower is golden brown and the cauliflower florets can easily be pierced with a fork, 25 to 40 minutes (this will vary depending on the thickness of the head of cauliflower, so start checking it at around the 25 minute mark).
- Make sauce: When the cauliflower is nearly finished roasting, melt butter in a small saucepan or frying pan over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until shallots are tender, ~2 minutes.
- Add flour and stir until no dry spots of flour remain and the mixture forms a thick paste. Slowly pour stock into the pan, while whisking. Bring sauce to a simmer and simmer until thick, ~5 minutes.
- Remove sauce from heat and stir in capers, lemon juice, and parsley. Taste and season with some salt and pepper.
- Pour sauce over cauliflower and serve! (The most fun and impressive way to serve the cauliflower is to keep it whole and serve it in the skillet. Slice it into quarters at the table.)
These three are becoming the best of friends.
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