The Watery Mistake To Avoid When Making Cauliflower Au Gratin

There's nothing that isn't more delicious after being drenched in creamy cheese sauce, including versatile cauliflower. The ivory-colored brassica is remarkably neutral in flavor, making it a great family meal choice even when there are picky eaters in the house. And honestly, baking cheesy cauliflower au gratin is one of the greatest ways to get your daily vegetables because it seems like a rich treat. The only pitfall is soggy cauliflower that's too wet when combined with the sauce — which in turn will water down the sauce and ruin the texture of the whole dish.

Crunchy raw cauliflower does need some pre-cooking before it's baked with cheese sauce, otherwise it will be too firm when the cheese is bubbly and brown. Most recipes recommend blanching the cauliflower in boiling water for a few minutes for this initial stage, but it's important to pay close attention to this step. The watery problem happens when the cauliflower is either overcooked or not drained well enough after a quick blanching.

Strain, drain, and dry your cauliflower well

Overcooking vegetables causes their structure to break down, releasing nutrients into the water. They will also release more moisture when overcooked, making everything soggy. If you overcook the cauliflower before it's cooked in the cheese sauce, your dish will have a disappointing soft texture with watered-down sauce. Although there are some tricks to apply if you overcook vegetables, your best bet is to aim for undercooking the vegetable a little. Think al dente texture, which should mean a maximum of 5 minutes, but probably more like 3 minutes of cooking time for your florets. Another option would be to choose a dry heat method for precooking the cauliflower, like roasting, and since you'll have your oven on to bake the au gratin dish anyway, it's a smart move.

If you decide to blanch the cauliflower, drain it well. All the nooks and crannies in the florets create lots of pockets for water to be absorbed. Shake your colander a few times to jostle out as much water as possible. You could even return the cauliflower to the warm, empty cooking pan to help it dry. Every little drop of water you can avoid will help your finished au gratin be thicker and mouthwateringly luscious — it's worth the extra effort to be sure you dry the cauliflower well.