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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. Well – I loved it! No anchovy sauce or chilli vinegar here in China so I used Tabasco and chopped anchovies. And I steamed the caulk so it didn’t make the sauce watery. And it wasn’t convoluted at all! 😉

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Shelley

    Oh bacon bits make it heavenly! Love the idea of adding mustard. We are having cauliflower cheese tonight so I’m going to give the mustard a go. Thanks.

  3. Used a different recipe; added bacon bits and mustard for interest and zing.
    I also dried off the cauliflower in a tea towel before placing it in the baking dish; end result WOW a relief after my last effort where I too produced runny tasteless stuff!!

  4. Danny

    Hi, Boo, and thanks for your feedback even though it is negative.
    I don’t know about being pretentious or the meaning of “confiluted” but I much prefer this scrummy version to the bog standard cauli cheese. Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste. It made me an overnight convert and I would not put anyone off trying it once at least.

  5. This recipe is awful, by using this confiluted recipe you are only serving to complicate a classic dish which is brilliant in its own right. you need to stop being so pretentious and tarnishing the minds of amateur chefs everywhere. boooooooooo!

  6. David Sherman

    Good recipe but not daddy – created about 5yrs ago another good idea when having pork – use walnuts, cranberries and plenty of stilton!! Also plenty of red onion and finly diced leek is always a crowd pleaser.

    Heston

  7. jubilant cerise

    Sounds delish! Hope I can find anchovy essence and chilli sherry here so I can make this too! If not, do you think a mashed bit of regular anchovy, plain sherry and fresh/dried chili would do instead?

  8. Julia Guthrie

    I love cauli cheese but do dispair over the watery-ness sometimes. I shall most definately be trying something like this now!!:)

  9. I love cauliflower cheese but the others hate it, so I don’t get to make it very often!

  10. Rebecca

    mmmm, sounds yummy. Cauli cheese is an all round favourite in this house too – the baby is particularly fond of it but then she seems to like anything with cheese in! I’ve never tried using anchovy essence before but will definitely give it a try now!

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