Knife Skills: How to Cut Cauliflower Into Florets

[Photographs and video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Along with broccoli, cauliflower is unusual in that it's a vegetable with a central nervous system. Okay, not really. But it sure looks like brains up on top, doesn't it? And that's the problem: This irregular shape makes cauliflower a little cumbersome to chop. The key is to get that core out of the way so you can get at the florets. (Check out the video above for a full breakdown.)

Like many other members of the cabbage family (hello, Brussels sprouts!), cauliflower is delicious, cheap, and easily available through the colder months. I like to roast florets with a little olive oil in a really hot oven until they get tinged with dark brown. Sweet roasted cauliflower makes a great side dish, especially when paired with this sweet-and-sour pine nut, raisin, and caper vinaigrette or whipped into this pâté-like dip.

Shopping and Storage

A good head of cauliflower will have tight florets of an even, pale white color. Yellow or brown spots should be avoided, though if they're minor, you can trim them off, no problem. Look at the leaves as well; they should remain tight around the base and appear bright pale green, with no yellow or wilted spots. As cauliflower ages, it'll start to get small black spots on it. These are not mold and are safe to eat, but they're a good indication that the cauliflower is past its prime.

Once you get the cauliflower home, keep it loosely wrapped in plastic or in a vegetable bag inside the crisper. It should stay good for at least a week. After you've cut it into florets, it's best to use it as fast as possible, though florets can also be stored in an airtight container for up to three days or so.

How to Cut Cauliflower, Step by Step

Step 1: Quarter the Head

20170210-knife-skills-cauliflower-05.jpg

Start by cutting the entire head of cauliflower into four quarters, cutting straight down the center through the core.

Step 2: Remove the Core

20170210-knife-skills-cauliflower-07.jpg

Working with one quarter at a time, hold the quarter upright, and use the tip of a chef's knife or santoku to remove the core, leaving as many florets as possible. Discard the core (or snack on it).

Step 3: Break It Down by Hand

20170210-knife-skills-cauliflower-09.jpg

Break down the quarters into large florets. Once the core is removed, they should break apart with very little effort.

Step 4: Cut Uniformly

20170210-knife-skills-cauliflower-10.jpg

Use a knife to trim the large chunks into smaller florets.