Lauren Groveman a recipe for delicious living

Cauliflower, Sautéed with Caramelized Onions...and Braised in Stock

(October 12, 2006)

Lila asked Lauren:
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I just came back from the local farmer's market and I saw a big head of yellow cauliflower. I wanted to buy it because it was just so beautiful! But, then I remembered that I've never cooked fresh cauliflower, so I decided not to make the purchase. I thought I'd write and ask you for a good (and easy) way to cook cauliflower. Also, is the yellow kind the same as the white, in terms of taste and the way to cook it? Thanks.

Lauren says...

Whether cauliflower is creamy white, vibrant yellow or even bright purple, it all tastes pretty much the same. Each sub-breed (within the overall breed) will have different amounts of natural sugars, which will affect the taste slightly. When sautéing, the cooking time could also vary, depending on the color. Any vegetable with a deeper hue (darker pigment) is more susceptible to early browning (which could cause burning). This is because the darker color grabs heat a bit more aggressively. The overall condition of the head of cauliflower will also affect cooking time since the older a specimen (the longer it's been sitting around the market) the weaker it's cell walls and the quicker it will surrender its texture when exposed to heat (whether being sautéed or simmered briskly). Having said that, the younger a vegetable is when harvested, the less overall cooking time it will need.
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There are a few of ways to cook cauliflower.

First, get the vegetable ready:
If planning to cut the cauliflower into flowerettes, first rinse and dry the head. Remove any discolored parts (a vegetable peeler works well). Peel off and discard any green leaves from the bottom of the head. Then, turn the head over, core side up, and use a knife to cut the core out. Discard the core. Keeping the head in the same position, use the knife to release the flowerettes, allowing 1 to 1 ½ inches of the stalk to remain attached. Use the knife to cut any large clusters into smaller ones.

If looking to get your preparation started early in the day (or as much as two days ahead) you can blanch the cauliflower flowerettes in boiling salted water, uncovered, for about 3 minutes. Then, you'd drain the vegetables and immediately plunge them into a large bowl of ice water, to stop the cooking process. Then, once cold, you'd drain the cauliflower and blot the pieces dry with paper towels. At this point, you can pile the parboiled vegetable into a heavy-duty freezer bag and stick it in the fridge for up to two days (I usually line the bag with some paper towels to absorb any lingering moisture.) Then, all you do is give the blanched cauliflower a quick sauté in some hot extra-virgin olive oil, with some minced garlic, salt and pepper. Then, when piping hot throughout, you'll toss in some chopped chives or flat-leaf Italian parsley.

You can also parboil a head of cauliflower whole. Blanch the trimmed head in boiling salted water, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes. Then refresh it, as described above. This is wonderful, when covered in a Mornay sauce, sprinkled with breadcrumbs and baked until the head is totally tender, the sauce is bubbling and the crumbs are golden (a recipe for this will be coming soon!).

Regardless of the color, this is way I usually cook fresh cauliflower. I sear the raw flowerettes in melted, slightly browned butter along with some caramelized onions. Then, once the cauliflower is turning golden, I add a bit of stock, cover the pan and turn the heat down low and simmer…Oh, OK, OK, here's the official recipe for my Sautéed Cauliflower with Caramelized Onions.

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Cauliflower, Sautéed with Caramelized Onions...and Braised in Stock

Yield: serves 4 to 6


Cauliflower has a real affinity for onions. And, when cooked together in some browned butter, this side dish is a real winner. Please, don't be put off by the optional addition of mashed anchovies since they add a subtle, yet savory, taste dimension. If desired, the butter in this dish can be totally replaced by extra-virgin olive oil. To make this dish even more substantial, toss it with some freshly cooked bow-tie pasta, tossed in a skillet with some hot extra-virgin olive oil, some hot red pepper flakes and chopped garlic.

    Special Equipment

  • 12-inch, heavy-bottomed, deep-sided skillet, with a lid

  • 6 tablespoons butter (divided), or use extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 anchovy fillets, drained and minced
  • 1 large head cauliflower (white, yellow or purple), trimmed and separated into flowerettes
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup stock or water (use a type of stock that complements your entrée)
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons mince chives or flat-leaf Italian parsley

1) To cook the onions: Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a 12-inch, heavy-bottomed, deep-sided skillet, over medium heat and, when hot and bubbling, turn the heat to low and let the milk solid in the butter turn light golden, stirring occasionally. Stir the onions into the butter and turn the heat up to medium-high and let the onions cook, stirring occasionally, until they become softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stir in the anchovies, if using, and continue to cook the onions until they become light golden, about 5 more minutes.

2) To cook the cauliflower and serve: Push the onions to the perimeter of the pan and place the remaining butter in the center, using high heat. When the butter is melted, add the cauliflower, bulbous side down. Sear the cauliflower until golden, and then turn the pieces to allow them to develop a few golden pockets on their other sides. Scatter in the garlic and add the stock to the pan, apply the lid, and turn the heat down to low. Simmer the cauliflower until its nice and tender but not mushy, 4 to 5 minutes. Uncover the pan, raise the heat back up to high, and stir the cauliflower and onions together. Let the vegetables cook, uncovered, over high heat, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is very savory looking, 2 to 3 minutes. Fold in the chives or parsley, along with some salt and pepper to taste. Serve piping hot.

Timing is Everything

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  • The cauliflower can be trimmed and separated into flowerettes, three days ahead and kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
  • The onions can be chopped one day ahead and kept in the refrigerator, well covered.
  • The dish can be assembled through step one several hours ahead and left on a cool burner, at room temperature.

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Lauren Groveman recipes have been featured in many national magazines and local newspapers. Her books "The I love to Cook Book: Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking for Family and Friends" and "Lauren Groveman's Kitchen, Nurturing Food for Family and Friends" are available through Lauren hosts an hour-long, "live" weekly radio show, Food Family & Home "Matters," on 1460 WVOX.

For in depth information on Lauren Groveman as a writer, teacher, TV & radio host, as well as her recipes and cooking tips visit her website at

Lauren is a Larchmont resident. She is happily married and blessed with three wonderful children.