Instant Pot

How to Cook a Whole Head of Cauliflower in 5 Minutes

Senior Editor Eric Kim has fallen in love with his Instant Pot. Here's yet another reason.

by:
October 18, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

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.

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Top Comment:
“Thanks for the feedback, M. This is very helpful for those who don't have the 3-quart model; agreed that in the future I should provide cook times and measurements for the other models, as well. This recipe was specifically for the mini IP, which I will reiterate does come up to pressure super fast! Thank you for reporting back; boursin sounds wonderful with this.”
— Eric K.
Comment

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.)

Instant Pot cauliflower is a weeknight superhero. Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

How to Cook Cauliflower in the Instant Pot

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.)

Looks like a brain, tastes like dinner. Photo by Eric Kim

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.

"Eat me." Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Ingredients

Magic Spice Blend

  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Instant Pot Cauliflower

  • 1 small head cauliflower, trimmed of leaves and stem cut as close to florets as possible
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
  • Small handful chunked whole feta, for garnish
  • Small handful fresh oregano leaves, for garnish

Directions

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.

Have you ever cooked cauliflower in the Instant Pot? Let us know in the comments below.

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Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

4 Comments

M October 24, 2019
Made this last night. I used your seasoning, plus a chevre/boursin mix I had in my fridge, and toasted pine nuts. It was delicious, and in no way "hideous." That said, your Instant Pot times are still WAY off in general, and on sizing.

I cooked a head of cauliflower in my 6 QT IP, which comfortably filled the interior. It took over 11 minutes to come to pressure -- over double your estimation for total cooking. Add in 2 minutes of cooking, plus a minute or two of steam release, and it was 15 minutes, or 3 times your length. My timing is in line with the average time it takes for IPs to come to pressure.

Obviously you get better times with the lower model, but both timing and amounts need to be scaled for other models. The brand generally suggests "about a cup" of liquid is needed to get pressure. 1/4c was definitely too low for the 6 QT, and I added a few extra splashes until the water thinly covered the entire bottom of my pot. A 2-minute cooking time also produced a cauliflower that was slightly undercooked in spots. Hopefully 3 will do the trick.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 24, 2019
Thanks for the feedback, M. This is very helpful for those who don't have the 3-quart model; agreed that in the future I should provide cook times and measurements for the other models, as well. This recipe was specifically for the mini IP, which I will reiterate does come up to pressure super fast!

Thank you for reporting back; boursin sounds wonderful with this.
 
M October 25, 2019
Frankly, since this is a series, just explicitly talk about your 3 QT model, rather than IP overall, and leave a note in recipes about what times or amounts should be increased for bigger models, and note if other sized models have been tested. Because, essentially, you're selling the ease of your experience with your small one, and readers can decide if they think it'll apply to their bigger model.
 
gideon B. October 18, 2019
instant pot vegetables are hideous no matter how hard you try hide that with spices etc. Also, by the time it come to pressure and cooks etc, might as well do it properly in the oven