The smooth creamy cheese sauce pairs well with cauliflower, making this cauliflower cheese recipe the perfect accompaniment for a Sunday roast. A sharp cheddar helps counteract the richness of the sauce.
What is Cauliflower Cheese?
Cauliflower cheese is often served alongside a roast chicken. It’s a British family favourite and has numerous variations of its recipe. However, the basic preparation is to add cooked cauliflower to a classic cheese or mornay sauce and then finish under the grill.
A cheese sauce, or mornay sauce, is made with a typical white sauce, also known as a bechamel. A classic bechamel sauce is one of the five mother sauces in traditional French cuisine. Cheese and mustard are added to a finished bechamel to make a cheese sauce.
Cooking Cauliflower for Cauliflower Cheese
While it sounds simple, taking care when preparing the cauliflower will pay off hugely. I’d recommend keeping the florets quite large so they don’t overcook when first boiled and then placed beneath a hot grill. This is an important step, as overcooked cauliflower will turn the thick, creamy sauce into a thin, watery mess and leave your cauliflower cheese tasting bland.
I’ve prepared the cauliflower using florets, as it’s easier to cook and manage. However, the classic culinary way of making this side dish is to trim the stalk and cook the whole head of cauliflower in salted water before smothering in cheese sauce and grilling.
How to Make a Cheese Sauce
To make a bechamel sauce, we need to make what’s known as a roux, which consists of equal parts of flour and butter. I have a basic recipe detailing how to make a roux and a comprehensive bechamel guide. However, slowly whisk in the warm milk once you’ve made the roux and stir until thick.
Next, finish the becahmel sauce with grated cheddar, English mustard, and a pinch of nutmeg. Stir until the cheese has fully melted. Pour the cheese sauce over cooked cauliflower and place under a hot grill. Top with extra grated cheese and grill until golden and bubbling.
What Cheese Should I Use?
I’m not a huge cheese fan and have simple tastes. I’m using a mature cheddar with a sharper, stronger flavour, but any cheese you have on hand would work. However, be aware that different cheeses have different attributes, so I’d recommend using one you’re familiar with, flavour-wise. I would not recommend a mild-tasting cheese such as mozzarella, as they lose flavour when melted into a bechamel.
- 1 Large Cauliflower outer leaves removed and cut into large florets
- ½ Onion Peeled
- 4 Cloves
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 10 Peppercorns
- 500 ml Whole Milk
- 50 g Butter
- 50 g Plain Flour
- 100 g Strong English Cheddar + Extra for the Top Grated
- 1 Tsp English Mustard
- Pinch of Freshly Grated Nutmeg
- Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and cook for 8-10 minutes until the cauliflower is tender. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, add the milk, cloves, bay leaves, and peppercorns in a small pan. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
- In a separate pan, melt the butter slowly. Whisk in the flour and whisk until a smooth paste forms. Cook for 2-3 minutes, but do not allow the flour to brown.
- Remove the onion and spices from the milk and discard.
- Using a ladle, slowly whisk in the warm milk. Whisk in 1 ladle of milk to the roux until well combined and smooth. Cook and whisk for 10 minutes until the sauce reaches the desired thickness.
- Preheat an overhead grill to hot.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese and mustard powder. Stir until the cheese has melted. Season to taste with salt and a pinch of nutmeg.
- Place the cooked cauliflower in a heatproof casserole dish and cover with cheese sauce. Top with the reserved grated cheese.
- Place the cauliflower cheese under the grill and grill for 3-4 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and the top is golden brown.