How to Make Perfect Rice
By Niloufer King
How often and how much rice you cook depends in
part on where you or your parents were born. Rice
eaters joke about the puny half-cup serving size
suggested on boxes of rice in the United States.
cooked rice is tasty, light, and fluffy.
The grains are distinct and tender but not mushy.
Aside from differences in culture, many people shy
away from rice due to a fear of cooking it. (Hence
the popularity of instant rice, which offers "perfect"
rice - in exchange for flavor and texture.) While
exactly how rice cooks changes from variety to variety,
even from batch to batch (brown rice cooks longer
than white, for example; old rice absorbs more water
than new) getting consistently good results is not
impossible. In fact, the method that works best
is practically the same as the one on the back of
the box. But what the back of the box neglects to
mention is the importance of letting the rice rest
before serving it.
Winnowing, washing, soaking
These days, most
rice comes free of dirt, gravel, and chaff so there's
rarely a need to patiently pick through it. Washing
rice is another matter. Talc is still sometimes
used as a milling aid and should be rinsed off in
a few changes of cold water. Though rice with talc
should be labeled as such, better rinse if there's
the slightest doubt. Some people also find that
rinsing washes off loose starch, making the rice
Whether you soak
rice depends on time and tradition.
Apart from habit, the reasons for soaking rice are
to shorten the cooking time and to allow for maximum
expansion of long-grain rice, particularly basmati.
A soak also makes the grains a little less brittle
so they're less likely to break during cooking.
But for most everyday meals, you can skip this step
and still get good results. If you do soak your
rice, be sure to drain it thoroughly or you'll be
using more water in cooking than you intended.
The absorption method: simple and reliable
Tip some rice into a large pot of boiling water,
adjust the heat to keep the rice just dancing to
the surface, and check it now and again by taking
a bite. When the rice is resilient without a trace
of central hardness, the water get poured off and
saved for soup. To make the rice dry and fluffy,
tip it back into its pan, cover it, and cook it
further over very low heat.
The absorption method.
In this more streamlined process, the rice is cooked
in a measured amount of water so that by the time
the rice is cooked, all the water has been absorbed.
As the water level drops, trapped steam finishes
For every cup of rice, use 1-1/2
to 2 cups of water (less if the rice is washed first).
You'll need to experiment a little to find the amount
you like best, but in general, use the larger amount
for long-grain rice, the lesser for medium and short.
Keep in mind that more water gives you softer, stickier
rice--great for stir-fries. Less water will keep
the grains more separate and result in firmer rice,
a good style for rice salads.
Use a sturdy pot
with a tight-fitting lid. You want a pot with
a heavy base for the most even cooking, and one
that's big enough to provide plenty of room
above the rice for steam. A tight lid keeps the
steam in. If your lid fits loosely, put a clean
kitchen cloth between the lid and the pot. (Be sure
to fold it over onto the pot so it doesn't burn.)
The cloth also absorbs the water that would normally
condense on the inside of the lid and fall back
down into the rice, so this is also a good trick
to get drier, fluffier rice.
A bit of butter
or olive oil will also help keep the grains from
sticking together, while a little salt adds flavor.
Once all the ingredients are combined, cover
the rice and let it simmer. On an electric stove,
use two burners: bring the rice to a boil on a hot
burner and then immediately slide it to a burner
set on low to continue cooking at a slow simmer.
After about 12 minutes, the liquid should be
absorbed, and the rice still al dente. If
you served the rice now, you'd find the top layer
drier and fluffier than the bottom, which can be
very moist and fragile. Here's where you need patience.
Let the rice sit off the heat, undisturbed with
the lid on, for at least 5 minutes and for as long
as 30. This results in a uniform texture, with the
bottom layers as fluffy as the top. That a pot of
rice actually improves with a rest also gives you
more flexibility for cooking the rest of the meal.
Fluff the rice
gently with a fork or chopstick.
Gentle handling will keep the individual grains
from breaking up into mush.
Fixing not-so-perfect rice
If you follow these guidelines, perfectly cooked
rice is attainable. But it's an imperfect world,
and the telephone has a way of ringing at inopportune
moments. So here are ways to fix rice that has turned
out less than perfectly:
The rice is still very chewy or hard in the middle
after the allotted time.
Add just enough
water to create a little steam, 1/4 cup or less.
Put the lid on and cook the rice on very low heat
for another 5 minutes.
The rice is cooked but too wet.
Uncover the pot
and cook over low heat to evaporate the water. Or
gently turn the rice out onto a baking sheet and
dry it in a low oven.
The grains are split and the rice is
Use the rice for
rice pudding and start over if you have the time.
The bottom layer of rice has burned.
Run cold water
over the outside of the pot's bottom to keep the
burnt flavor from permeating the rest of the rice
(don't add water to the rice itself).Tip out as
much rice as you can salvage.
You can avoid such problems by breaking the cardinal
rule of rice cooking ("never lift the lid") and
actually looking to see how it's doing. I for one
have done so and lived to tell the tale. A quick
peek will tell you if most of the water has been
absorbed and that it's time to let the rice sit
off the heat. The point is to keep the lid off for
just a flash.
What about rice
If you ask about
the favorite local method or vessel for cooking
rice, invariably, the answer is "Why, a rice cooker,
of course." Rice cookers, which can cost $25 to
$200, may be worthwhile if you cook a lot of rice.
But, like cooking rice on the stovetop, it takes
experience to find the amount of water that works
best for your favorite rice.
Rinse, strain, boil, and then simmer
Be sure to thoroughly strain rinsed or soaked
rice. Excess water can make your rice mushy.
Combine the rice and water and bring to
a boil. Use 1-1/2 to 2 cups of water per
cup of rice. If adding salt or fat, swirl
the pan to mix them; rough stirring could
break the rice
Lower the heat to a simmer--bubbles gently
bursting on the surface--and cover. Let
white rice cook for 12 minutes. Then let
the rice rest off the burner, covered, for
at least 5 minutes and as long as half an
How To Make Sticky Rice (Khao Neow)
Sticky rice is, in many parts of Asia, the rice
of the "common people". In many Asian societies,
sticky rice is considered somewhat "lower class",
but this comes not from the quality of the rice,
but from the fact that it is usually eaten
with bare hands. In Thailand, sticky rice is very
common in the North (Nua), and in the Northeastern
(Issan) part of Thailand. It is usually eaten with
a series of smaller dishes consisting of sauces,
curries, cooked vegetables. The typical way of eating
sticky rice is to take a small lump and make it
into a ball, using the fingers on your right hand.
Using the left hand is considered very impolite
in some cultures here because the left-hand is used
in the bathroom for cleaning oneself. The ball of
rice is then dipped into your choice of sauce, curry,
etc., then eaten.
First, you need to get the correct type of rice.
You need to purchase "glutenous rice". Regular Jasmine
rice or other types of regular rice will not work
properly. Soak the glutinous rice in water for about
4 hours. Set up a steamer, wrap the rice in muslin,
and steam for 15 minutes. Turn the muslin-wrapped
rice over, and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
Be careful not to over-cook the rice, or it will
become quite mushy. The consistency you're looking
for is slightly sticky, but not watery. The rice
should hold together, but individual grains can
still be easily separated.