Creamiest Mashed Cauliflower

updated Dec 22, 2023
thanksgiving

Mashed cauliflower isn't just a replacement for mashed potatoes — try this hearty side with merits all its own.

Serves8

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Our favorite way to eat cauliflower isn’t as a cauliflower pizza crust or cauliflower rice, it’s an extremely creamy mash. But before we designate mashed cauliflower as just a lighter version of mashed potatoes, let’s consider why it is a side dish with merits all its own.

You can’t over-mash or over-whip cauliflower the way you can potatoes. Without potato’s starch to contend with, you can purée the cauliflower all day with no risk of gumminess.

And then there’s the taste: Mashed cauliflower has an earthy, nutty flavor, which means it offers some complexity to the final dish that really needs nothing more than butter and salt to feel complete.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

What You’ll Need to Make Mashed Cauliflower

  • Cauliflower: This recipe calls for 2 pounds of riced cauliflower. You can buy two packages of riced cauliflower or one large head cauliflower (about 3 pounds) and rice your own.
  • An immersion blender: You’ll need an immersion blender to get smooth mashed cauliflower, or you can transfer the cooked cauliflower to a food processor for puréeing.
(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

When Shopping for Cauliflower, a Few Tips

  • Look for prepackaged riced cauliflower: The best cauliflower for making creamy mashed cauliflower is the prepackaged “riced” cauliflower. Because the riced cauliflower is already cut into tiny pieces, it will cook faster and mash easier without any extra prep work on your part.
  • For frozen riced cauliflower: You can make this recipe with frozen riced cauliflower — just reduce the boiling time as needed until the cauliflower is tender. Frozen will actually be tender faster, as it was briefly cooked before freezing.
  • Steer clear of colorful cauliflower: Although yellow, green, and purple varieties of cauliflower are still available in the fall, their colors don’t hold up well to boiling and puréeing, so stick to white cauliflower for mashing.
  • If using whole cauliflower: Can’t find riced cauliflower? No problem. Making cauliflower rice with a head of cauliflower is easy with a knife or food processor.

How to Make Mashed Cauliflower

  • Sauté the cauliflower before boiling. Unlike potatoes, which require a tender touch to prevent gumminess, cauliflower can take some extra heat when cooking (pun intended). Before boiling, sauté the cauliflower in a bit of butter to deepen its flavor.
  • Just barely cover the cauliflower with water. Using less water prevents the cauliflower from getting waterlogged.
  • Boil until tender. This will take about 10 minutes or so. Sautéeing the cauliflower first helps it cook faster once the water is added to the pot.
  • Save some cooking water. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cauliflower cooking liquid for mashing. This creamier water is a flavorful alternative to using milk or cream for creamy mashed cauliflower.

How Do You Keep Mashed Cauliflower from Being Watery?

  • If your mashed cauliflower is too watery: Try adding in more cooked cauliflower to offset the liquid. You can also place the pot over medium-low heat and try to cook off some of the excess liquid. Stir frequently to prevent the mash from burning.
  • Use less water:Try to use as little water as possible to avoid it becoming waterlogged. We’ve called for two cups in the recipe below, which should just barely cover the cauliflower in a four-quart pot.

Should I Mash or Purée the Cauliflower?

Once drained, the cauliflower can be mashed or puréed, depending on your desired consistency.

  • Mashed: A traditional potato masher will give a chunky, rustic texture.
  • Puréed: Puréeing with an immersion blender is preferred, as you can purée it as smooth or as chunky as you like, and it will create that rich emulsion of butter and cauliflower. In a pinch, a stand blender or food processor can be used to purée the cauliflower as well.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Is There Cream in This Mashed Cauliflower Recipe?

You may notice that there is no actual cream in a recipe titled “creamiest mashed cauliflower.” While we tried testing this recipe with both whole milk and cream, these muted the cauliflower’s nuttiness and didn’t improve the texture of the puréed cauliflower. Instead, a bit of the cauliflower’s cooking liquid is used to create a creamy emulsion with the aid of an immersion blender. This makes the dish lighter in texture without the heaviness of cream.

How To Make the Creamiest Mashed Cauliflower

Mashed cauliflower isn't just a replacement for mashed potatoes — try this hearty side with merits all its own.

Serves 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 (16-ounce) packages

    riced cauliflower, or 1 large head cauliflower (about 3 pounds)

  • 3 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 2 cups

    water

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

Instructions

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  1. Finely chop the cauliflower (for whole cauliflower only). Halve the cauliflower through the stem. Cut a "V" shape around the core to remove the core from each half. Finely chop the cauliflower. The smaller the pieces, the faster the cauliflower will cook and the creamier the finished dish will be.

  2. Melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter butter in a 4-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 (16-ounce) packages riced cauliflower and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower has lightened in color, 3 to 5 minutes.

  3. Add 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon kosher salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook until the cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes.

  4. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the cauliflower.

  5. Place the drained cauliflower and reserved cooking liquid back in the pot. Mash using an immersion blender to desired consistency. Serve hot.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Mashed cauliflower can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat over low heat, adding additional butter if needed.

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.