This classic cauliflower gratin (also known as cauliflower cheese) is the perfect devise to sneak veggies to picky eaters! Coated in a creamy white sauce and smothered in cheese, this cauliflower bake is a smash hit as a side!
A TRADITIONAL SIDE DISH
Prior to writing this post, I had always thought cauliflower gratin was a classic French dish. I mean, gratin, right? It turns out I was wrong!
Traditionally, this classic cauliflower gratin goes by another name: cauliflower cheese. And you know what? It’s an English dish!
Can you blame me for thinking it was French though? I mean, look at their classic ham and cheese melt: it’s blanketed in béchamel and covered in cheese.
Whatever the case may be, this is a traditional side dish and a popular one around the table, too!
CLASSIC CAULIFLOWER GRATIN VIDEO TUTORIAL
This classic cauliflower gratin is easy enough to make, but here’s the demonstration so I can show you how it’s done. If you’re a fan of the “silent film mode”, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to my YouTube channel!
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WHAT’S A GRATIN?
A gratin can be three things:
A dish that's topped with crispy breadcrumbs.
Something that's smothered in melted cheese.
A combination of breadcrumbs and melted cheese on top of a dish.
When it comes to cauliflower gratin though, it almost always means that it’s coated in a creamy, white béchamel sauce before getting the gratin treatment. That’s just what people have come to expect.
Apart from cauliflower, other popular gratin dishes include potatoes (think scalloped potatoes), zucchini, eggplant, and leeks. Almost anything can be turned into a gratin!
RELATED: Brussels sprout skillet with bacon and parm
WHAT KIND OF CHEESE SHOULD I USE FOR A GRATIN?
I always say that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to cheese. However, when I say cheese, I do mean cheese.
My mom used to sneak broccoli into my diet by pouring a highly processed orange goo that she melted straight in the jar. She meant well, but this is not cheese, and neither are the little squares that come individually wrapped in flimsy plastic!
If you swear by these products, I challenge you to research a few of the ingredients listed on their labels.
Now that I’ve finished ranting about non-cheese, I was saying that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to cheese.
My rule of thumb is to use whatever you have on hand (this is one of my 10 frugal kitchen tips). If that means it’s cheddar, I’ll start shredding until I’m happy with the quantity (pssst! Unless I’m baking, I rarely measure anything!).
If it’s a good day in my fridge and I have multiple cheese options to choose from, I will often create a blend. Here are some of my favourites to work with:
Cheddar (mild, medium, old, applewood smoked, you pick!)
Swiss cheese (like an Emmental or Gruyère)
Comté (a French cheese that's very similar to Emmental)
Gouda (a smoked gouda would be fantastic!)
I wouldn’t say no to melting brie on top either. The fact is, I could talk about cheese all day. I actually came pretty close when I was writing about building a cheese board! Okay, that’s enough, let’s move on.
WHAT DO I DO WITH THE CAULIFLOWER?
First things first, you’ll want to get that baby cleaned up. Soak it in a vinegar or baking soda water solution for 10-15 minutes, then rinse it clean. Chop off the end, pull away the green bits at the bottom, then cut it into bite-sized florets.
If you have a steamer, I really recommend steaming the cauliflower so the nutrients don’t leach into the water. Moreover, boiling the cauliflower for too long increases the chances of ending up with a watery dish.
If steaming the cauliflower isn’t an option, by all means, boil it, but keep an eye on it. Once it’s tender, be sure to drain it right away! If you have everything prepped and ready to go, your cauliflower and white béchamel sauce should be done at the same time.
HOW DO I MAKE THE WHITE BÉCHAMEL SAUCE?
Béchamel is one of the five mother sauces that everyone should know how to make. As a side note, the five mother sauces are béchamel, hollandaise, velouté, tomato, and Espagnole (a brown sauce).
All it takes to make this white sauce is butter, flour, milk and spices.
You’ll start off by melting the butter in a medium saucepan. When it starts getting bubbly, stir in the flour and cook it for about a minute over medium heat, stirring the whole time.
This simple combination is called a roux, which is used to thicken sauces and gravies.
At this point, you will want to switch over to a whisk because you’re going to need it when you add the milk.
I usually eyeball the milk, but when you’re getting started, it’s good to know what the proportions look like.
For the next few minutes, you’re going to be whisking and waiting. Your patience will pay off, however, because you’ll start noticing the sauce thicken.
Soon you will have a pot of velvety béchamel that almost has the consistency of thick cream. It will bubble gently, practically begging you to coat the cauliflower in its warm embrace. Do it.
BRING IT ALL TOGETHER
At this stage, you should be able to pierce the steamed cauliflower with a fork. If this is the case, transfer the cauliflower to your baking or casserole dish.
Pour the béchamel on top and toss it together, ensuring an even coating. If you want to add breadcrumbs, you can toast some up in a bit of butter or bacon grease (oh, yes) for extra crispy goodness.
Finally, add the cheese. If your dish is broiler safe, pop it under the broiler; if not, make sure to preheat your oven to 375ºF/190ºC when you’re getting started.
When the cheese is golden and bubbly, it’s ready to serve!
CAN I MAKE THIS CLASSIC CAULIFLOWER GRATIN IN ADVANCE?
You sure can! If you’re making this for a big feast or a potluck, you can make it a day in advance. If this is the route you go, you’ll definitely want to put it in at 375ºF.
WANT TO MAKE IT A MEAL?
This classic cauliflower gratin makes a beautiful side dish for fish and roast meats. Whether it’s to go with a roast chicken, a Sunday pot roast or juicy pork chops, it’s an easy side that won’t take up too much of your time. All that’s left is to serve up something green, like a fresh salad with a homemade vinaigrette, or this bacon parmesan brussel sprout skillet. What are you going to make it with?
THANK YOU FOR DROPPING BY THE KITCHEN!
I am delighted that you decided to stop by the Kitchen today! I hope I’ve imparted you the confidence to try making this classic cauliflower gratin for your next sitdown family meal or potluck party.
My hope is that you have fun playing with cheese combinations and even spices or herbs if you want to put your own mark on this dish. Just let me know how it goes for you in the comments below, will you? I do so love hearing from you!
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CLASSIC CAULIFLOWER GRATIN INGREDIENTS
For an 8″ baking dish (4-6 servings)
1 cauliflower head, in bite-sized florets
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1.5 cups milk
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1.5 cups of cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, swiss, Monterey jack, etc)
CLASSIC CAULIFLOWER GRATIN INSTRUCTIONS
If using a dish that isn't broiler-safe, preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC
Prepare a steamer and add the cauliflower.
While the cauliflower cooks, melt 2 tbsp butter in a medium saucepan.
When the butter begins to bubble, add 2 tbsp flour and stir to combine and keep from scorching. Cook for about a minute.
Whisk the milk into the roux (the flour and butter mixture) and season with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir until it thickens; this takes about 5-7 minutes.
Test the cauliflower by piercing it with a fork. If it's tender, transfer it to the casserole dish and toss with the béchamel sauce.
Cover the lot in cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or stick it under the broiler until the cheese is golden and bubbly.
PRINTABLE CLASSIC CAULIFLOWER GRATIN RECIPE CARD
Classic Cauliflower Gratin
- 8" casserole dish
- 1 cauliflower head in bite-sized florets
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1.5 cups milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- pinch of nutmeg
- 1.5 cups of cheese cheddar, mozzarella, swiss, Monterey jack, etc
- If using a dish that isn’t broiler-safe, preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC
- Prepare a steamer and add the cauliflower.
- While the cauliflower cooks, melt 2 tbsp butter in a medium saucepan.
- When the butter begins to bubble, add 2 tbsp flour and stir to combine and keep from scorching. Cook for about a minute. Whisk the milk into the roux (the flour and butter mixture) and season with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir until it thickens; this takes about 5-7 minutes.
- Test the cauliflower by piercing it with a fork. If it’s tender, transfer it to the casserole dish and toss with the béchamel sauce.
- Cover the lot in cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or stick it under the broiler until the cheese is golden and bubbly.
- This dish does well with a layer of crispy breadcrumbs
- Try out different cheese blends. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to cheese!
- Cauliflower gratin can be prepared a day in advance and kept refrigerated until ready to bake.
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