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Best ever cauliflower cheese recipe

Photo: Fresh cauliflower head

Photo: Fresh cauliflower head

Ten years ago I cooked a rather poor cauliflower cheese for Danny. His response was lukewarm.
“If you make this again it would be great with a baked potato.”
He was never a great one for suggesting a baked potato meal. Potatoes are important and for him and shine as a side dish.

He didn’t mention the watery sauce. Or the flabby cauli. And he didn’t help himself to more.

Making a great cauliflower cheese that would not need a baked potato became a secret challenge. Over the years I have progressed and now make a cauliflower cheese to satisfy one of the hungriest men in my universe. We eat a version of this at least once a week and you will find several recipes on this blog. The secret is to make a really thick béchamel and not overcook the cauliflower. The magic happens when you add a few ingredients to the sauce that can lift it from good to great with just a few swirls of a wooden spoon.

I do add cubed ham or bacon beneath the cauliflower to acknowledge that deep and wide carnivore seam that I trace in my partner. But if you are a fish eating vegetarian this can be omitted without the dish loosing appeal. The essential ingredient is the anchovy essence. This gives the sauce an unbelievable fillip. You cannot taste the anchovies just a hint of wonderful scrummyness that makes you want to grab a spoon and relish just a little more. But don’t be tempted to double the quantity. Anchovy essence is an ingredient that can pull a dish round in a trice but an excess can ruin it within the time that it takes to grab the bottle and spoon.

I play with our CC recipe, every time that I make it. Last night Danny put down his fork and said.
“This is the best cauliflower cheese that I have ever tasted. From the crispy cheese and breadcrumb topping to the ham at the base. The cauliflower is good and the sauce is wonderful.”

Bizarrely this is now one of our more expensive meals, probably weighing in at around £1.00 a head. In the olden days when we ate much more meat this was a cheap meal. But I wouldn’t strike it off the weekly menu as it’s a meal that we both love, is truly satisfying and only uses a handful of meat.

Best ever cauliflower cheese recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • A small handful of chunky cut ham/ gammon or bacon (Tesco sells packs of cooking bacon which are ideal if you are on a budget and don’t have ham or gammon to hand).
  • 150g of grated cheap cheddar cheese
  • 50g of grated blue cheese (we used half priced Stilton)
  • 50g of butter
  • 80g of plain white flour
  • 550ml -750ml of milk (depending on how thick you want your sauce to be)
  • 1 tsp of garlic granules (or a chunky clove of garlic crushed and chopped very fine- if you use chopped garlic cloves add at the roux stage)
  • I tsp of anchovy essence
  •  half a tsp of chilli sherry (this does not make it hot, just sultry)
  • 1 large handful of homemade dried breadcrumbs
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Start off with your ham/ bacon. If you have a block of ham you just need to cube it. If you have bacon, chop and fry it gently to cook through and set aside.
  2. Heat the butter and, when it has melted, add the flour. Let this roux simmer for a minute or so to get a nuttiness. Add the milk gradually, stirring constantly so that the roux absorbs all the milk before you add the next splosh. In this way you should avoid lumps. When all the milk has been added let the sauce simmer for ten minutes to thicken. (My sauce was very thick at this stage).
  3. Meanwhile wash the cauliflower divide into similar sized florets and add to a large saucepan of boiling water. Simmer for about eight minutes (testing after five) until cooked but with a bite. Drain through a colander and set the colander on the original saucepan, in a warm place to drain as you continue to make your sauce.
  4. Add two thirds of the grated cheese to the thick béchamel sauce and stir until it is absorbed. Add the chilli sherry, garlic granules and anchovy essence. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground white pepper.
  5. Put the ham/gammon/bacon in the base of a large shallow dish. Arrannge the cooked cauliflower over this and pour over the sauce.
  6. Sprinkle dried breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese over the surface of the dish and place under a medium grill for about five to seven minutes to brown.

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22 Comments

  1. Michelle in NZ

    And maybe over the Winter here I’ll learn how to proof read!

  2. Michelle in NZ

    Oh, yum, in non-enormous quantities even my dodgy designer innards can cope with this.

    Bath Oliver reciper feedback: the texture is wonderful, from one who has never tasted a Bath Oliver cracker. The flavour from the linked recipe is nowt. Suggest if what you’re used to has malt in it then find some malted floiur or extract.

    I plan to add saome salt and replace the aninule fat with olive or avocado oil. Not becasue I’m a veggie (far from it) but because I prefer their flavour.

    Recipe makes a lot, however, if not fussy about shape you can use the whole lot. The dough, being yeasted, is very forgiving with rekneading and rerolling the off cuts.

    I popped mine back into a cooling oven to ensure all were dried out.

    Verdict: a great base recipe, I’ll work on developing flavour/seasoning to suit me.

    Sorry for the length of my comment, is a recipe well worth working with, suggest try a half quantity first.

    Happy Hellos from Autumn downunder in Wellington, NZ, Michelle xxx

  3. We do like cawliflower cheese.

  4. JuliaB

    We had roast gammon for tea last night. I was wondering what I was going to do with the left over 2 slices – now I know. Thanks Fiona!

  5. Veronica

    mmm, I always add bacon or prosciutto to my cauli cheese, but I’d never have thought of anchovy essence and chilli sherry. Will definitely try one or both of these next time!

  6. magic cochin

    I agree with Kate – Cauli Cheese always needs baked potato or a chunk of crusty bread.

    I do like additions though. Onions, bacon and mushrooms go down well. And like Pamela, I add mustard powder to the cheese sauce.

    Celia

  7. kate (uk)

    However good the cauli cheese, baked potato with it is a must in this house – and chutney.One of my favourite winter meals.

  8. barbara

    Hello – what a lovely recipe. I had never heard of anchovy essence and wonder if I can get it here in Portugal. Must try my loval supermarket. Thank you for the suggestions.
    Regards
    Barbara

  9. Great recipe! I feel I could have it right now and it’s only 8.42 a.m.!

  10. Pamela

    I love cauliflower cheese, especially with hidden extras! I didn’t eat it for a long time because of my lactose intolerance and a cheese sauce contains a double whammy. However if I use lacto free milk and extra mature cheese I can get away with it now. Your sauce sounds good, I usually add a teaspoon of mustard powder with the flour when I make the roux but I like the sound of your seasonings.

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