How to Steam Cauliflower

By: Brandi Schilhab

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This simple, steamed cauliflower recipe is so simple and adaptable. It pairs alongside so many protein + starchy side combos!

Glass bowl of steamed cauliflower florets sitting on grey and white marble countertop

Why steam cauliflower?

If you’re anything like me (Brandi), you may be thinking, “Steamed cauliflower? Do I have to?” (Or maybe that’s not your thought process at all, because you did, after all, find your way to this steamed cauliflower recipe …and probably not by chance.) EITHER WAY, I’m here to tell you that steamed cauliflower CAN be really delicious. It can be steamed just enough to be cooked but also hold onto some of its texture (read: it is possible to make not mushy steamed cauliflower). So, if you’re ready to up your weeknight dinner game and add a recipe to your list of go-to easy veggie sides, let’s get to it!

Difference between steamed cauliflower and roasted cauliflower?

Steamed cauliflower is cooked in either the microwave, Instant Pot, or in a pot on the stove (vs. in the oven like roasted cauliflower). Steamed cauliflower tends to be softer in texture and lacks the crispy texture that roasted cauliflower boasts. While roasted cauliflower recipes typically call for cauliflower + EVOO (again, to help achieve that crisp), steamed cauliflower recipes call for only cauliflower and water.

Cauliflower Head vs. Cauliflower Florets for Steaming

Whether you buy your cauliflower prechopped into florets or as a whole head, you’ll want them chopped before steaming. While you *can* steam a whole head of cauliflower, chopping it into florets ahead of cooking allows for the entirety of the cauliflower to soften much quicker and more evenly. 

Ingredients for Steaming Cauliflower

The only ingredient you’ll need here is cauliflower (1 head to be exact)…and water (but is water even an ingredient?)

Cutting board with cauliflower florets ingredients on a marble surface with ingredient labels written in white letters.

Ingredient Modifications

This steamed cauliflower recipe is truly just about as simple as it gets. If you’re looking to jazz it up, go for it!

  • Add parmesan cheese: for a more decadent take on the humble steamed veggie, sprinkle grated (or shredded) parmesan cheese over the cauliflower once it’s cooked!
  • Add seasoning: sprinkle your favorite seasoning blend over the cauliflower just before serving!
  • When in doubt, add lemon + salt: lemon juice and flaky sea salt are almost ALWAYS a great add to a savory dish. If you’re unsure about how to jazz your cauliflower up, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a pinch or two of flaky sea salt. I promise that’ll do the trick!

What seasonings are best to put on cauliflower when steaming?

This recipe doesn’t actually call for any specific seasonings, but feel free to add your favorite blend over top of the finished cauliflower, or just stick to a really simple sea salt + cracked black pepper combo (my personal favorite).

How to Prepare Cauliflower to be Steamed

If you bought a head of cauliflower, you’ll need to chop it into florets before steaming it. To do this, simply…

  • Turn the head of cauliflower upside down on a cutting board, and run your knife down where the core goes through the cauliflower. This will release the core and cut off the leaves.
  • Once the core and leaves are released, use your hands to break the florets apart into bite-sized pieces. Doing this part by hand makes for a fluffier end product! If you find that the stem is too long on any of your florets, use your knife to cut the stem shorter.

How to Steam Cauliflower on the Stove Top

  1. Add water and boil – add 1 inch of water to a medium-to-large pot and bring to boil over high heat.
  2. Add cauliflower – add the steamer insert, then put the cauliflower florets in the insert.
  3. Cook – steam for 6-8 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork.

How to Steam Cauliflower in the Microwave

  1. Add cauliflower – place the cauliflower florets in a microwave-safe bowl with a ½ cup of water.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap – cover the bowl with plastic wrap, or a plate that fits over the bowl.
  3. Cook – steam for 3 ½ (al dente) to 5 (baby-friendly texture) minutes, until the cauliflower is fork-tender.
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Close up of hand holding cauliflower stem with cauliflower florets and cutting board blurred in background
Wooden cutting board with cut cauliflower florets and chef's know with black handle sitting on grey and white marble countertop
Glass bowl of cauliflower florets sitting on grey and white marble countertop
Close up of water being poured over glass bowl of raw cauliflower florets
Cauliflower florets in glass bowl covered with light green plastic wrap sitting on grey and white marble countertop

How to Steam Cauliflower in the Instant Pot

  1. Add water – add ¾ cup of water to the Instant Pot, then place a steamer insert in the pot.
  2. Add cauliflower – put the cauliflower florets in the steamer.
  3. Seal, cook, and release – seal the pot, then set to cook for 0 minutes (any actual length of time will create a really mushy end product!) on high pressure. As soon as the timer goes off, release the pressure and remove the lid.

How to Steam Cauliflower Without a Steamer

If you’re looking for a method that requires NO steamer basket, microwaving your cauliflower is your best bet. This method requires just a large microwave-safe bowl and plastic wrap.

What are the best steamed cauliflower toppings?

I personally love keeping my steamed cauliflower super simple. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a pinch of flaky sea salt, and (if I’m really trying to up the flavor) freshly cracked black pepper are my preference. Play with this recipe, though – add parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and any seasoning you LOVE over top of the finished cauliflower!

Glass bowl of steamed cauliflower florets sitting on grey and white marble countertop

What is best served with steamed cauliflower?

Steamed cauliflower is a really humble, simple veggie side. I typically serve it alongside some sort of protein (think: chicken, steak, or fish) and a starchy side (think: quinoa, potato wedges, or rice!). Because it’s a quick and easy veggie, I’ll also add it to one of our Asian-inspired dinners (think: orange chicken, bourbon chicken, or General Tso’s chicken) to up the veggie content. 

Storing and Reheating Steamed Cauliflower

Store your leftover cauliflower in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and reheat in the microwave until warmed through!

Print

Steamed Cauliflower

This simple steamed cauliflower recipe is so simple and adaptable. It pairs alongside so many protein + starchy side combos!

  • Author: Cassy Joy Garcia
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5-10 minutes
  • Total Time: 15-20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4
  • Category: Sides
  • Method: Stovetop, Instant Pot, or Microwave
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 large head cauliflower (45 cups)
  • Water, exact amount depends on method

Instructions

Stovetop Method:

  1. Add 1-inch of water to a medium-to-large pot and bring to boil over high heat.
  2. Add the steamer insert, then put the cauliflower in the insert.
  3. Steam for 6-8 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork.

Microwave Method:

  1. Place the cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl with a ½ cup of water.
  2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, or a plate that fits over the bowl.
  3. Cook on high for 3 ½ (al dente) to 5 (baby-friendly texture) minutes, until the cauliflower is tender.

Instant Pot Method:

  1. Add ¾ cup of water to the Instant Pot, then place a steamer insert in the pot.
  2. Put the cauliflower in the steamer.
  3. Seal the pot, then set to cook for 0 minutes on high pressure. As soon as the timer goes off, release the pressure and remove the lid.

Keywords: steamed cauliflower

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