Cauliflower is so not a basic B (or V), especially when you know how to cook it right. While there are a myriad of ways to prepare cauliflower— ricing, blending, sautéing, stir-frying—we’d argue that roasting cauliflower is by far the best way to turn this mild-tasting veggie into an umami-rich delight. (Because in 2024, we’re saying no to bland, tasteless veggies.)

What is it about roasting cauliflower that is so dang good? Blame the Maillard reaction—a chemical reaction between amino acids (like protein) and reducing sugars when exposed to high heat that results in a browned color and that classic rich, caramelized taste. That’s why Ann Ziata, a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, says she’s totally #TeamRoastedCauliflower any day. “I really like it to crisp up and get beautiful browning,” Ziata says.

To learn how to roast cauliflower like a pro, Ziata shares some of the best ways to give this nutrient-packed veggie the flavor it deserves.

How to prep cauliflower for roasting

A huge key to roasting cauliflower successfully is to prepare it well. Your first step is to make sure the vegetable is properly cleaned. “Don’t presume your cauliflower is clean,” Ziata says. “Give it a nice rinse in a bath of cold water.” Pay special attention to the nooks and crannies in the crown and florets, which can trap dirt. Ziata adds that you don’t necessarily need to soak the cauliflower for long. Running water should be more than enough to get the vegetable clean.

Once your cauliflower is clean and patted dry, it’s time to cut it. “A perfectly-cut piece of cauliflower is a bite-size floret,” Ziata says. To get the perfect floret, you’ll need two knives—a chef’s knife and a paring knife. “Start by using the tip of a chef’s knife to cut out the stem. Then, use a paring knife to cut florets—think little trees—that are about one to 1.5-inches big,” Ziata says. The key? Keeping the florets from dismantling into a million tiny pieces. “Try to keep the natural rounded ends of the florets intact by cutting only through the stem,” she says.

Of course—like most things in life—no two heads of cauliflower are the same, so striving for perfection isn’t the goal. Instead, similar-sized florets are more than fine and will help ensure the veggies evenly cook as best as possible. “Every head of cauliflower is a little different, so your cuts are never going to be perfectly uniform; as long as they are the same size, it’s okay if they are slightly different shapes. The important thing is that they will cook evenly and be bite-sized,” Ziata says.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to prepare a cauliflower steak recipe, you’ll want to prep (and slice) the vegetable a little differently. “Trim off any excess stem from the cauliflower head,” says Ziata. (Compost it or save the stem to cook later—it’s edible too!) “For small heads of cauliflower, slice the round head lengthwise or crosswise into three-quarter-inch wide steaks. For larger heads, cut in half or quarters lengthwise, and then cut the wedges crosswise into steaks,” she says. Although the stems will generally keep the florets secured together, there may be some small pieces that detach. That’s okay. “Separate them and use them for something else,” she says. Keep in mind that steaks really lend themselves to marinating and then roasting. Or if you’re feeling extra jazzy, it’s a great cut for a grilled cauliflower recipe, too.

How to roast cauliflower like a professional chef

Once you’ve finished your cauliflower prep, you can move onto the fun part: roasting it! You’ll need a big sheet pan or two for this, depending on how much cauliflower you plan on cooking at once.

The trick to nailing the Maillard reaction with roasting is to maximize the amount of heat exposure on the surface area of the cauliflower to achieve a nice, golden char. (In other words, don’t overcrowd the pan.) “Spread the cauliflower out in a single, even layer, to ensure the florets have space between them on the baking sheet,” Ziata says. “Use two sheets if you need to make room for everything. If the pieces are too close together, they will steam and not caramelize,” she says.

Wondering how long to roast cauliflower to get that dreamy crispiness? Well, it all depends on how big your cauliflower pieces are and how hot your oven runs. Generally, Ziata says you can expect to achieve some nice charing after about 15 to 20 minutes in a 375ºF oven.

On the flip side, if you have minimal time to prep, you can also roast your head of cauliflower whole. “If you’re roasting an entire head of cauliflower whole, you may wish to roast it covered with a little marinade so the inside steams nicely, and then remove the cover or foil [at the end] to let it brown. Otherwise the small bits on the outside will burn before the inside is finished cooking,” Ziata says. In a 350ºF oven, this can take about an hour or so—removing the foil halfway through.

Best seasonings for making roasted cauliflower 

Although a drizzle of EVOO will always do the trick, there are tons of tasty chef-approved ways to season plain ol’ cauliflower. “Cauliflower can stand up to strong, pungent ingredients,” says Ziata. Think of it as a blank slate for anything you want to taste. “For seasonings, think chilis, garlic, ginger, parsley, cilantro, and miso, and bold spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, and smoked paprika. It’s extremely versatile and will work with a ton of different flavor profiles.” If you’re feeling uninspired, this roasted turmeric cauliflower recipe is calling your name.

While Ziata likes cauliflower in a number of ways, there is one roasted cauliflower seasoning combo that stands out for her. “Roasted cauliflower with olive oil, sumac, salt, and pepper, served with a bright chermoula sauce with fresh herbs and lemon juice,” she says. If you’re ready to enjoy all of the benefits of cauliflower in the most delicious way possible, here’s exactly how to make Ziata’s swoon-worthy recipe:

Sumac-roasted cauliflower with chermoula recipe

Yields 4-6 servings

For the cauliflower:
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
2-3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 Tbsp sumac
1/4 Tsp sea salt
Pinch of black pepper

For the chermoula sauce:
2 Tsp ground cumin
1 Tsp ground coriander
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups parsley leaves
1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves
1/2 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp paprika
1 Tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets with oil, sumac, sea salt, and black pepper. Spread the florets in an even layer on a parchment-lined sheet tray.

3. Roast until golden and crispy, about 15 minutes.

4. While the cauliflower is roasting, blend all the chermoula sauce ingredients in a food processor until mostly smooth; leave a little texture. Serve over cauliflower.

Looking for another way to enjoy cauliflower? Say hello to this delicious vegan buffalo dip:

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