Cauliflower resembles its close relative broccoli, but its florets cook much more quickly than its green cousin. Steaming or boiling just until the cauliflower becomes tender results in the best texture and flavor, whether you serve cauliflower on its own or add it to other foods. Steaming does a slightly better job of retaining nutrients, some of which are eliminated with the boiling method. For either method, cook the cauliflower within four days of purchase to ensure the highest quality.
Preparation is Key
Firm, tight heads of cauliflower with no signs of discoloration provide the highest quality for both steaming and boiling. Wash the heads with cool water, then cut off the leaves and stems. Although you can boil or steam the head of florets whole, it will cook more quickly and evenly if you cut apart the head first. Break apart the florets with your fingers or cut them apart into pieces of the desired size. Sprinkle the florets with a small amount of lemon juice to keep them bright white during steaming or boiling.
A pot fitted with a steamer basket provides the simplest method for steaming, or substitute a metal colander or sieve if necessary. Fill the pot with about 1 inch of water and bring it to a full boil. Add the cauliflower to the basket and cover tightly. A whole head of cauliflower takes about 20 minutes to become tender, while florets generally require about 10 minutes of steaming.
Boil and Bubble
Boiling cooks cauliflower a bit more quickly than steaming. Add cauliflower to a pot of boiling water, using enough water to fully submerge the cauliflower. Boil whole heads for about 15 minutes and florets for three to six minutes. Check the cauliflower often so it doesn't overcook and become mushy. Drain promptly in a colander so residual heat in the water doesn't overcook the vegetable.
The mild flavor of cauliflower lends itself to almost any seasoning. Toss steamed or boiled cauliflower with butter and season lightly with salt and pepper for a simple side dish. Add chives, sage and garlic for flavor, or cream and cheese sauces for decadence. Toss it with bacon or ham pieces, mix it into a casserole, or add it to a salad. Or mash cooked cauliflower and serve it similar to potatoes.