Air-Fryer Cauliflower Recipe

Why It Works

  • Cutting the florets into similar sized florets guarantees the cauliflower cooks through evenly.
  • Tossing the cauliflower with a combination of oil and water ensures tender and crisp florets.

As a kid, I was disgusted by cauliflower. I’d insist on removing it from my plate before even considering the rest of my meal. I know I didn’t give the vegetable a fair shake, but then again, the only cauliflower I knew was bland, pale, faintly sulfurous, and nearly always either under- or overcooked.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I learned the joys of nutty, rich, roasted cauliflower. Roasting it at a high temperature creates a crisp exterior with a tender—but not mushy—interior. The high heat also ensures that those unpleasant sulfurous compounds don’t form. Today, cauliflower is a staple in my dinner rotation: It’s easy to make, pairs well with just about everything, and can be dressed up with a favorite seasoning blend, fresh herbs, or a simple sauce I already have on hand. 

On a busy weeknight, my favorite way to roast cauliflower is in my air fryer. I just press a few buttons, and the air fryer is ready to go. There’s a reason why the appliance is such a popular powerhouse: It’s basically a tiny convection oven that circulates air efficiently to promote browning on food, which is why it’s so great at quickly and perfectly roasting vegetables.

Though cooking cauliflower in the air fryer isn’t complicated, there are a few tips and tricks to help you make flavorful cauliflower that’s both crisp and tender. We asked seasoned recipe developer Julia Levy to methodically test air-fryer–roasted cauliflower by cooking batch after batch until she’d perfected the process. Here’s what you need to know.

Tips for Making Great Air-Fryer Cauliflower

Cut into evenly sized florets. Keeping all the florets roughly two inches in size creates more surface area for crisping, while also allowing for more uniform cooking. Cutting up cauliflower into florets is relatively easy, just make sure to remove the fibrous center core, then cut with the natural branching system of the florets to minimize waste.

Serious Eats / Morgan Hunt Glaze

Add moisture before cooking. In her air-fryer roasted broccoli recipe, Genevieve points out that for perfectly roasted broccoli, keep moisture at a minimum, but with roasting cauliflower, the opposite is true. Cauliflower and broccoli look similar at first, and the goal is the same when you’re roasting them in your air-fryer—sweet nuttiness from browning and caramelization—but cauliflower is denser than broccoli, and needs to be treated differently to achieve florets that are tender inside and crisp and on the outside.

To cook, flavor, and crisp up the cauliflower in the air fryer, we learned that tossing it with oil and water does the trick. Oil and water together might seem counterintuitive, but here’s what happens: The water steams the dense vegetable initially to soften it, and when the water evaporates, the oil provides optimal heat transfer for browning. The result is cauliflower that’s creamy on the interior and lightly crisped outside.

Crank up the heat. As with other brassicas, high heat is what you’re after here in order to get the most flavor out of cauliflower. 

Serious Eats / Morgan Hunt Glaze

Keep it simple or dress it up. While crispy air-fryer cauliflower is fantastic with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and the oil it’s cooked in, it’s also a great canvas for your favorite seasonings. Gussy it up with a blend of Madras-style curry powder, garlic powder, and cumin before roasting, finish it with a blend of fresh herbs and lemon, or toss it with an easy Buffalo-style hot sauce. See the Variations section below the recipe for detailed ideas on dressing up your air-fryer cauliflower. You can also incorporate the cooked cauliflower into a quiche or salad or toss your favorite pasta with it. Personally? I like to turn mine into a warm salad with a zesty lemon vinaigrette.

This recipe was developed by Julia Levy; the headnote was written by Leah Colins.

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