To paraphrase a wise man, rice is great if you’re hungry and want to eat 2,000 of something. But cauliflower rice is not actually rice. It’s... raw cauliflower chopped up into thousands of itty-bitty pieces. It’s still a vegetable at any size, though, and that’s a good thing if you’re following a trendy diet, trying to limit carbs, or looking for ways to trick yourself into eating healthier. It’s a bad thing if you’re expecting it to act or taste like rice, because it can’t. It’s cauliflower, for chrissakes. Not magic.
As my colleague Dennis Lee unfortunately found out after trying the new Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice at Chipotle, cauliflower rice can be overcooked not only on the stove, but also while it’s sitting on the plate. As long as it’s warm, cauliflower will gradually release moisture (steam!) like all cooked things do. This doesn’t cause a major perceptible difference when cauliflower is in big chunks, but when it’s pulverized, there are tens of thousands of surfaces for water to weep from.
When you put hot food on a bed of real rice, the starches in the rice suck up any extra moisture to be found while the rice stays firm and fluffy, tying your dish together. Put that same food on top of cooked cauliflower rice, though, and that extra moisture doesn’t get absorbed. Instead, it blends with the moisture from the cauliflower, and you’re minutes away from mush. Moral of the story: stop thinking of cauliflower rice as “rice,” and start approaching it as its own thing. Teeny weeny cauliflower bits are still delicious!
If you want to make cauliflower rice, just chop some up, pulse it in a food processor until it’s in small pieces, and that’s it. You don’t have to do a damn thing to it after this point, and in fact, you won’t want to if you’re looking to eat it in a burrito or under a big, comforting bowl of goulash: the residual heat from the other ingredients will do all the cooking for you, so go ahead and throw it in raw.
If you’re making it as a side dish that will stay on the side, saute your cauliflower bits quickly in a large skillet over high heat with a little butter or oil, stirring constantly, and remove to a plate just before you think it’s done; the exact timing will vary depending on how much cauliflower rice you’re making, but it shouldn’t take more than a minute or two. To preserve an al dente texture, spread it out on a plate to allow the steam to quickly escape, and then let it sit for another minute so it can partially cool and stop cooking. Then, just as with regular boiled rice, you can toss it with whatever you want: fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro, soy sauce and ginger, or butter and salt. It won’t be a perfect replacement for rice, but that’s okay. It is what it is, and it’s still damn tasty.