Whether you cook long-grain rice in an electric rice cooker or a saucepan, practice and consistency are the keys to doing it well. The following tips will put you on the path to cooking a good pot of rice every time.
What is perfect rice?
That’s something to be debated. I like my grains to retain their individuality but not be dry. The cooked rice should be soft but not mushy. It should taste clean and sweet and have a wonderful fragrance. Rice is a wonderful canvas upon which you can put other textures and flavors. It should be great on its own (I sprinkle a little fish sauce on plain rice on many occasions!) but also be ready to play nice with other dishes.
You may enjoy rice that’s more stick-to-your-ribs, and you can achieve that by cooking a medium grain rice, such as what’s enjoyed in Japan and Korea. If a dry rice is preferred, basmati may be your ticket. For Vietnamese and other kinds of Southeast Asian and East Asian cuisines, basmati is a little too dry for most uses. However, I’ve found that it is quite nice for fried rice!
My everyday rice is Thai jasmine long grain rice. Currently, I buy Phoenix brand at the Chinese market. For information on shopping for long-grain rice, visit the the Basic Vietnamese Kitchen page.
The pan for making rice
If you elect to cook rice on the stove top, choose a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Since rice more than triples in volume during cooking, the amount of raw rice should fill no more than one-fourth of the pan. For example, use a 1½- or 2-quart pan for 11/2 cups of rice, and a 2- or 3-quart pan for 2 cups of rice.
Amount of rice to cook
One (1) cup raw rice yields 3 ½ cups cooked rice, or enough for 3 light eaters. To be sure you have enough rice, prepare 1 ½ cups raw rice for 3 or 4 people and 2 cups raw rice for 4 to 6 people.
Time required to cook a pot of rice?
Plan on 30 minutes from the moment you turn on the heat to when the rice is cooked. For that reason, I start my pot of rice first before preparing other dishes for our everyday meals. Rice will keep warm for about 30 minutes so if it takes roughly 1 hour to make dinner, you'll be set.
For a dinner party, I start the rice right before or soon after guests arrive so that it can cook while we're sipping wine or cocktails and nibbling on snacks. You can keep a pot of cooked rice warm in a low (250F) oven too after it's done cooking.
How to wash rice
Whether you are rinsing the rice in a pan, a rice cooker insert, or a bowl, use plenty of water and always start by stirring the rice in circles with your fingers or by rubbing it gently between your palms to loosen the starches.
Don't expect the water to get clear. It NEVER does. It starts out opaque and cloudy and becomes less murky. Aim to repeatedly rinse the rice with fresh water until the water is nearly clear. The photo above is the water from my last rinsing. It is not clear. If you use a precise water-to-rice ratio, drain the rice in a sieve before putting it in the pan.
How to cook rice in a pot:
Rice is typically cooked by first boiling with the pan uncovered, and then lowering the heat, covering the pan, and simmering. During the initial boiling, I employ the northern Viet technique of stirring the rice several times to ensure even cooking. To cook a pot of rice:
1. Bring the rice and water to a boil (or near boil) over medium-high or high heat. Tips on how much water to use are in "Myths and Truths about Cooking Rice."
2. Give the rice a stir with chopsticks to loosen the grains sticking to the bottom.
3. Lower the heat to medium so the rice simmers vigorously. Cook the rice, stirring 2 or 3 times, for a few minutes, or until most of the water appears to have been absorbed and the surface looks glossy and thick. You may also see small craters in the surface.
4. Decrease the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
5. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit for 10 minutes to firm up and finish cooking.
6. Uncover, fluff with chopsticks or a fork, and then re-cover and wait for 5 minutes before serving. The rice will stay warm for 30 minutes. Right before serving, fluff the rice again as it may have settled a bit!