Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How to Cook Rice

Rice as it's beginning to simmer.
When I was young, I spent a number of years in Asia. One day, I asked an Asian friend who cooked professionally to instruct me how to make rice. When she was able to stop laughing enough to catch her breath, she very kindly taught me "how it's done."

Now, I realize that some of the people reading this post will think, like my friend did, that the whole discussion is ridiculously silly - everyone can make rice! But, I find that A LOT of Americans tell me they avoid making rice because it always turns out "mushy" or for some other reason they find cooking it daunting. This post is for you!

First you must choose your rice. According to the children's book, "All About Grains" by Vic Parker - which I read to my daughter last week - there are 40,000 types of rice grown around the world. I usually keep 3 or 4 kinds in my kitchen. Here they are with short, vaguely accurate stereotypes of how you might think of them:

1. Long Grain White (American Everyday Rice), Long Grain White Rice is THE rice to cook if you want standard American Rice. When cooked properly, you get a tender, fluffy, non-sticky grain. I'm not a big fan of it, except in select situations. It is good for Pilafs and Soups.

2. Short Grain White (East Asian Rice), this is my hands-down favorite for eating straight from the pot, snacking, and all-round rice enjoyment. It is a typically sweeter, chewier, stickier grain than is Long Grain Rice. I usually buy the "Calrose" variety. Sometimes, in American groceries it is not in the rice section! It may be in the ethnic section at your grocery, or in some towns you may even have to go to an Ethnic shop to buy it. It is easiest to pick up with chopsticks. Although technically Sushi rice is different from Short Grain White, I find Short Grain White a quite nice substitute for making an everyday Sushi (after all, I'm a home cook, not a Sushi Chef!).

3. Basmati (South Asian Rice) is extra fluffy & tender and long grained. It is drier than Short Grain or Long Grain Rice, fluffier, less sweet - and smells like Popcorn when it cooks! It is the normal rice to pair with Indian food, and is generally considered a "better" rice by Indians and some American Gourmets. There are lots of varieties of Basmati Rice, so if this is a favorite variety of yours, it is worth investigating the differences.

4. Long Grain Brown (American Health Nut Rice ; ).  This is a chewier, nuttier, healthier rice than it's companion, Long Grain White. It is a whole grain,  good for a bed under beans, in Rice Salad, or in a Rice Bowl or Rice Breakfast Bowl.

Each of these varieties may be made on the stove top or in the microwave. The three White varieties are all made similarly. The Brown variety requires a different method, and a longer cooking time.

White Rice on the Stove Top
This is the method for Short Grain White, Long Grain White, or Basmati

Grab a 2 quart pot and pour desired amount of rice into your pot. (usually  1 1/2 to 2 cups to start - a little less than 1" in the bottom of the pot- huge quantities of rice are more prone to gumminess, and require specialized instructions. But, you really don't need to measure anything here).

Rice and Water are the ONLY ingredients that should be in the pot. No butter, lard, margarine, bacon, salt, soy sauce or anything else is needed to make great rice. Just rice and water.

Rice may be rinsed or not, according to your preference. Rinsing removes added vitamins, and causes a less-sticky grain. Not rinsing preserves stickiness, and vitamins.

Checking the depth of the water so rice & water
are properly proportioned.
Add water till the water is twice as high as the rice. Put your index finger down into the rice, the rice should be half as high on your finger as the water is.

Set the pot with Rice and Water on a burner set to high. Bring water to a boil. At this point, you may stir once, if you really must.

Reduce heat and cover. The heat should be JUST ENOUGH to gently simmer the water, with the faintest wisp of steam rising from the edge of the lid. Since the water may foam at first, you might want to stand over the pot for a couple of minutes to make sure it is producing that tiny wisp of steam and neither boils over nor stops simmering. Too much heat will boil the water away too rapidly, and cause the bottom of the rice to scorch (as will too little water).

Leave the pot lid on! Do not lift, do not peek, do not stir for 20 minutes. (Basmati Rice cooks in 15 rather than 20 minutes). Set the timer. Resist the temptation to look. Really. ; )

When the timer goes off, do NOT lift the lid & peak, or stir, or look. Remove the pot from the burner, and set the timer for 10 more minutes. When we call white rice "steamed" - this is what is meant. These 10 minutes are when the rice is steaming.

Finally, after the 10 minutes, lift the pot lid and delicately "fluff" the rice with a fork. The rice may well be moist at this point. Allow the top to dry for a few minutes, and fluff again.

It is now ready to serve : )

White Rice in the Microwave
Microwave rice cooker on a plate, ready to cook.
Use a Microwave Rice cooker, or a large microwave-safe glass bowl with high sides covered by a microwavable dinner plate.

Measure into your cooker 3 cups white rice, and
 3 3/4 cups water. Cover.

Place on a deep plate in your microwave (if the liquid boils over a tiny bit, which it sometimes does, the plate will catch it).

Cook on high for 16 to 17 minutes.  (Here I use the same cooking time for White or Basmati White Rice)

Allow to stand covered 10 minutes more before removing cover and fluffing with a fork - as above.

Brown Rice on the Stove Top
Follow the directions for White Rice, EXCEPT
Measure into Pot 2 cups Brown Rice, 3 cups Water.
Cook for 40 minutes, and leave covered for 10 more.
This produces a perfect, chewy, non-mushy brown rice.

Brown Rice in the Microwave
Follow the directions for White Rice in the Microwave EXCEPT
Use 1 Pound bag (or 2 1/2 cups) Brown Rice and 4 1/4 cups water
Microwave on High for 30 minutes, and leave covered for 10 minutes more.

That's it!

OH- If you have leftovers (or want to cook rice ahead), store in the Freezer. For some reason, refrigerated rice tends to get hard and stale, while frozen rice stays fresh (I don't understand it, I've just observed it for more than 20 years now). Just reheat with a lid, and you'll have trouble telling that it wasn't freshly made.

Enjoy! : )


  1. Hi there! As a mediterranean I mainly use round rice for soups, paella and risottos. It's delicate to get the 'al dente' right but absorbs flavors better than long rice. As for the steaming, you've got a point. It's absolutely essential on round rice if you're doing plain boiled rice. I'll try this on long long or basmati too. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the input : )

    I don't understand the term "round rice" - do you mean short grain ? It's kinda round. Or Arborio? (I have no experience with Arborio, I've only read about it)

    Which Mediterranean country's cuisine do you cook? I think of Paella as Spanish, but Risotto as Italian. The Mediterranean is a BIG place! : )


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