I'm not trying to replace chicken with this Whole Roasted Cauliflower Head here. I'm just really truly appreciating the wonder that is a Whole Roasted Cauliflower Head. And in the case of this "a la Brasa" style, the cauliflower is blanketed with a garlicky, limey, spicy sauce that gets dark and caramelized and totally addictive after roasting.
Roasting a whole head of cauliflower is so much more effortless than pulling individual florets and tossing with olive oil with your hands. I may never go back to that method.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower Head, spicy "a la brasa" style takes the essential ingredients of pollo a la brasa marinade, and simplifies them into a thicker, denser spice rub that gets brushed all over the cauliflower. The cauliflower doesn't need to marinate, but it roasts long enough for the outside to develop that deep burnished glow and is tender enough to "carve" like a chicken with nothing but a dinner fork and butter knife.
What is "a la Brasa" Style?
"Brasa" literally translates from Spanish to English as "ember" or "hot coal." Technically, any food that's "a la brasa" is cooked over hot coals. However, Peruvian pollo a la brasa, which is spit-roasted over a wood fire, also has a distinctive garlic-soy-lime marinade that gives the chicken a characteristic dark, burnished skin with a ton of salty umami.
When home cooks make pollo a la brasa in their kitchens, they are rarely using a spit roaster over a wood fire. Instead, they are marinating the chicken in that marinade, then grilling on regular grill grates, or most often, roasting it in the oven.
The marinade is what makes "a la brasa" so good, and on cauliflower, it is OUTSTANDING. Like literally, it really stands out because cauliflower is such a great neutral flavor palette.
Obviously we're not spit roasting the cauliflower so it is truly "a la brasa?" I don't know—chopped cauliflower is not really rice either and noone's getting mad at that.
What You Need for Spicy a la Brasa Style Whole Roasted Cauliflower Head
You obviously need a whole cauliflower head for this recipe, and if you're in a season or place where they cauliflower heads are small, get two!
The rest of the recipe is the spicy marinade, for which you will need:
- Aji Amarillo paste, or other hot sauce like sriracha or gohchujang
- Soy Sauce
- Lime or Lemon Juice
- Dried Oregano
- Ground Cumin
- Salt and Pepper
- Olive or a neutral oil to help the marinade stick to the cauliflower
How to Make a la Brasa Style Spicy Whole Roasted Cauliflower Head
Like skinning a cat, there's more than one way to roast a whole cauliflower head. I've tried them all and the method that's the easiest for me is roasting the whole head in a cast iron skillet covered tightly with foil first to soften it. Then, the foil comes off the cauliflower, the spices go on, and the entire thing roasts uncovered a few minutes longer to get the deep browning on the outside. This roasting method works with or without a marinade like when you're making a simple whole roasted cauliflower head with just olive oil and salt.
This method takes a little longer than boiling the cauliflower in a pot on the stovetop first for only 15 minutes, then roasting, but to be honest, I'd rather not have to wash more pots. The time and effort trade-off there is probably worth it.
Ingredients Resources and Substitutions
Cauliflower. Get the largest, heaviest head of cauliflower you can. Cauliflower used to be considered a winter season vegetable, but it's available year round now. If the heads are small, make two small ones!
Garlic. I max out the fresh garlic for the marinade. If you don't like dealing with fresh garlic, you can substitute 2 teaspoons garlic powder. I normally wouldn't support substituting garlic powder for fresh garlic, but because most of the other flavors are dried spices, garlic powder is fine.
Aji Amarillo Paste. Aji amarillo is a yellow-orange spicy chili pepper that's native to Peru. We don't have easy access to it here in the US, but it's not impossible to buy the paste format in jars online. If you can't find aji amarillo, use any other hot sauce like sriracha or gohchujang.
Soy Sauce. I use tamari, which is a Japanese soy sauce made without wheat, so it's gluten-free. Regular soy sauce is fine. This is the brand of organic tamari I use.
Lime or Lemon Juice. Use whatever you have. The citrus is more there for the acid than the flavor. Which means you could also substitute an equivalent amount of vinegar if you don't have citrus on hand not everyone has just walk out to the backyard and pluck a lemon off a tree like Ina Garten.
Dried Oregano. There are several types of dried oregano. The one you would probably want to use for this is Mexican oregano. However, I have a ton of Sicilian oregano because I love its crazy earthy intensity, so that's what I use.
Ground Cumin. This gives the rub/marinade it's characteristic smoky flavor without having to spit-roast the cauliflower over an actual wood fire.
Olive or a neutral oil to help the marinade stick to the cauliflower
Tools and Equipment to Make Whole Roasted Cauliflower Head
No special equipment required for Whole Roasted Cauliflower. You need:
- sturdy cutting board
- sharp knife to remove the outer leaves and cut the stem flush with the bottom of the cauliflower head
- cast iron skillet or other heavy-bottom shallow pot or baking dish
- aluminum foil
What to Serve with Whole Roasted Cauliflower a la Brasa Style for a Peruvian Dinner Feast
- Aji Verde, ultra addictive spicy Peruvian cilantro jalapeño sauce
- Salsa Criolla, spicy lime-pickled red onions
- steamed quinoa or brown rice
- regular or sweet potato French fries
- crispy smashed potatoes
Make More Cauliflower Recipes for that Good Gut Health
- Oven Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic Cheese
- Cauliflower Parmesan, like chicken parm, but with cauliflower, and a no-fry method
- Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Chickpeas, Walnuts, and Parsley
- Roasted Curried Cauliflower
- Thomas Keller's Cauliflower Gratin, not quite "good" for you, just really really good
Whole Roasted Cauliflower Head Recipe, Spicy "a la Brasa" Style
- 1 large, heavy head of cauliflower, about 3 pounds
for Spice Rub
- 4-6 cloves garlic finely grated or minced
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon aji amarillo paste or other hot sauce like sriracha or gohchujang
- olive oil as needed for texture
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Place whole cauliflower head in a cast iron skillet or shallow Dutch oven, add about ¼ water to bottom of pan, cover entire skillet with aluminum foil or cover Dutch oven with lid, and roast until cauliflower is softened, but not quite fork tender. Mine took about 40 minutes.
- While the cauliflower is roasting, make the Spice Rub. Whisk together minced garlic, soy sauce, lime juice, dried oregano, ground cumin, hot pepper sauce, black pepper and salt. The rub should be about the consistency of ketchup so it sticks to the cauliflower. If it's too thick, add olive oil ½ teaspoon at a time.
- Remove the cauliflower from the oven and remove the aluminum foil or lid. Using a small brush, cover the whole cauliflower head with the spice rub, making sure to get in between florets and underneath. Do not use your hands; the cauliflower is very hot.
- Return the rubbed cauliflower head back to the oven. Roast until the cauliflower is fork tender and the spice rub has darkened and caramlized, about an additional 15-20 minutes.
- Slice the whole roasted cauliflower head and serve with aji verde sauce, salsa criolla, and lime wedges on the side.