Welcome to Set It & Forget It, a new series about all the ways we rely on our slow cookers, Instant Pots, and ovens during the colder months. Whether it’s a long braise on the stove or a quick burst in the pressure cooker, one thing’s for sure: Comfort food means comfort cooking.
The regality of a whole-roasted cauliflower is indisputable. Whether it's abcV's garnish-bejeweled cauli-crown or Alon Shaya poached-then-baked centerpiece, roasting an entire head of cauliflower is one of the best ways to celebrate the cruciferous vegetable in all its glory.
Not to mention you don't have to deal with the mess that comes with floreting the beast, i.e. spraying it all over your kitchen counter (and floor). It goes without saying, but: Cooked cauliflower cuts significantly neater than raw.
There are a few routes you could go here. You could steam it or boil it or bake it.
But if you've got an Instant Pot lying around, why not pressure-cook it? A single head of cauliflower fits snugly onto the metal trivet of even the smallest 3-quart model—and cooks it absurdly fast.
Did you know that, in the Instant Pot, a whole cauliflower can cook all the way through in just 5 minutes? In the mini model, that's about 3 or so minutes to come up to pressure (longer if you've got a 6-quart or larger) and 2 minutes to actually cook.
After that, you're free to finish your Brassica off in a hot oven, say 450°F, if you're looking for that caramelized burnish. (Which I don't bother with; I love the clean, comforting taste of just-steamed cauliflower.)
It's comforting to know that in 5 minutes I can have an instant side dish to round out all manner of meals, like honey-mustard chicken, grilled baby back ribs, and pan-fried lamb chops. Because as much as I love eating these mains with fresh white rice, my go-to carb, I don't always have the patience to wait for a pot. (Even in the Instant Pot, you still have to soak your rice, wait for the water to come up to pressure, and natural-release ... slowly.)
There is, of course, the question of how to season the cauliflower all the way through. When you're cooking a whole head intact like this, there's less surface area for any seasonings—especially salt—to latch onto.
Shaya gets around this by poaching the whole thing in a heavily salted brine of wine, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes, which penetrates the vegetable to the core. Chef Neal Harden at abcV serves his with various garnishes, including pickled pearl onions and a sharp, gingery tahini sauce, to complement the vegetable's characteristic (and comforting) blandness.
Me? I turn, as ever, to my signature Magic Spice Blend™.
I love the way Magic Spice's barbecued sweetness lends an almost meaty quality to the vegetable, not to mention unutterable savoriness (lip-smacking, if you will). After sprinkling the spice blend all over the cauliflower, then pressure-cooking it, I like to carve it into fat steaks. These steaks get a last-minute dusting of seasoning and a garnish of chunked feta and fresh oregano.
(I once made a Nigella Lawson stew that was finished with feta and oregano. The classic combination makes sense: That little sharpness from the cheese and musky aroma from the herbs complement the spiced, meaty cauliflower beautifully.)
If you wanted, you could serve this over yogurt, like Shaya, or with a tahini sauce, like Harden. But I like it just like this.
Magic Spice Blend
Instant Pot Cauliflower
In a small bowl or jar, stir together the brown sugar, paprika, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, celery seed, and cayenne pepper until well combined. Set aside.
Place trimmed and cleaned cauliflower head on a cutting board and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with the spice blend, taking care to rotate it and cover all sides completely, leaving back about a tablespoon for garnish later.
In a 3-quart Instant Pot, place the metal trivet into the bottom of the pot insert and pour in the water. Place the seasoned cauliflower head on the trivet. Seal the lid and cook on high pressure for 2 minutes. Release pressure immediately and transfer cooked cauliflower to a cutting board.
Cut it into large, thick steaks. Sprinkle with the remaining spice blend. Plate and garnish with feta chunks and oregano leaves.
Serves 2 to 4 as a side dish.