The Mystery That Is Rice

24 Jul

My friend Kristen commented on my coconut red curry shrimp post and asked about cooking rice. Which seems like a simple enough thing if you read the back of the rice bag, but can be disastrous with subtle missteps.

It took me awhile to catch on to rice, but these days, it goes pretty well. We eat a lot of it around here and for good reason–it’s pretty good for your body, it tastes good with all sorts of dishes, and it’s pretty cheap. There are a couple of things to remember about it, and if you can do that, you’re golden.

The first thing is that you might have to rinse your rice. By nature, rice is full of starch. Starch + boiling water = sticky mess. Good old American converted rice (think Uncle Ben’s in the orange box) has been rinsed during processing; if you’re using that, you can skip this. But if you’re using basmati, jasmine, short-grain, or any other rice, you’re best to measure it dry, pour it into a mesh sieve, and hold it under your faucet for a few minutes, shaking or stirring so that every grain gets a good shower. Purists put the rice directly into a bowl of cold water and let it soak for a few minutes, and then change the water a few times, but I have not the time nor the patience for that–I’m a working mom. Rinsing under the tap works.

Second trick: You know how the rice package says two parts water to one part rice? Unless you’re using brown rice (more on that in a minute), forget that. You won’t get light and fluffy. You’ll get gummy and mushy (which is great if you’re going for rice pudding, but not so much for savory dishes). The formula that works better is one part rice to two parts water minus 1/4 cup. Making one cup dry rice? You want 1 3/4 cup water. Two cups rice? Three and 3/4 cup water. See? This is true for those wild rice and other prepared rice mixes you buy as well. Try reducing the water called for by 1/4 cup and see what you think. You’ll get fluffier, lighter rice every time.

The exception to this is brown rice. Brown rice needs all that water, so you do want a two-to-one ratio. Two cups water to every one cup rice.

Third trick: Start with cold water. Measure your rice and put it in your pot. Measure the water and pour it over the rice. Stir everything a little bit. And then turn on your burner. Pouring rice into boiling water makes lumps. We want fluff, not lump.

Fourth: Put a lid on the pot and put your burner on medium-high. Don’t go anywhere! Medium-high (instead of high) will keep the bottom grains from burning while the water comes to a boil. Once the water boils–you’ll start to see steam coming from under the lid…

Fifth: Turn your burner down to low as soon as you see steam and shift the pot lid over just a smidge, so you have a little crack of air between the lid and the pot on one side. You want the grains on top to be able to steam (thus avoiding crunchy rice), but you don’t want them to steam into mush. Leaving a little tiny crack between lid and pot will let enough steam stay in to soften the rice, and enough to escape to avoid mush.

Sixth: Stir. Once in awhile. Maybe every 10 minutes. And then put the lid back the way you had it.

Seventh: When you stir and don’t see any water at the bottom of the pot, turn the burner off and take the lid off the pot–steaming is done, so let it all escape. If you’re on an electric stove, move your pot to a cool burner. Fluff your rice up with a fork and leave it there, uncovered, until you’re ready for it.

I don’t add oil or butter to my rice even when a boxed rice mix calls for it. And it’s fine.

Rice is easy to master once you know a few tricks. Let me know if any of this works out for you!

2 Responses to “The Mystery That Is Rice”

  1. Jennifer July 28, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    Or you could always use a rice cooker! 🙂

  2. krishna July 30, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    tried the rinsing and it worked great. i did have to use the full amount of water because otherwise it was still hard in the middle. rice was way fluffier and not sticky. thanks

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