I admit that I’m somewhat of a Luddite when it comes to cooking rice. I do it in a pot. All my friends look at me and laugh as if I’m a fool. Why bother with such an old-fashioned method when a fuzzy logic rice cooker will make perfect rice every time?
It’s simple. The rice cooker takes up too much space on my counter and cooking rice in a pot keeps me on my game. Each pot is a little different but the fun challenge is honing your intuition to get is right for each meal. Plus, the kitchen smells great when a pot of rice is cooking. But many people have dreadful fears about cooking rice. With just two ingredients, it’s the simplest thing to make but also the easiest thing to mess up. And, all the bizarre myths about the cooking process are enough to drive someone to a box of Uncle Ben’s converted rice!
Rice was the first thing I learned to cook, and over the decades, I have had a number of revelations. Here they are to help you shine:
Note: The pointers below apply to cooking polished long-grain rice.
Should rice be rinsed before cooking?
Definitely. Get rid of natural-living notions that you are washing away precious nutrients when you rinse rice. The amount lost is minimal. Rinsing rice actually rids the grains of surface starches, prevents clumping, and yields a clean, fresh taste. 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.
Should rice be rinsed until the water runs clear?
No. The water actually NEVER gets clear. 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. If you use a precise water-to-rice ratio, drain the rice in a sieve before putting it in the pan.
Can you lift the lid during cooking?
Yes! The rice won’t be ruined. You can lift the lid several times during the cooking process to check on how things are doing. If the rice cooks up dry, flick in a little water with your fingers and replace the lid. The rice will cook up a little more. I imagine that in the past, pots were not well insulated and lids didn’t fit tightly. Lifting the lid may have released too much heat. Our pots and pans today are not the ones that our parents or grandparents cooked on in the past.
Does measuring the water level with your finger work?
No, unless it happens that you have just the right amount of rice in just the right size pot. I currently cook 1 cup of rice in a 1 quart pan and use my finger to measure the water level. When the finger is inserted into the pot so that it touches the top surface of the rice, the water level reaches only half way up the first knuckle of my finger. If I measures using the full knuckle approach, I’d end up with glue.
The best way to measure the water is to cook your rice in more or less the same pot every day. You’ll learn to eyeball and measure the water level over time. Start out first with a precise measurement using measuring cups and when you’re confident, use the finger.
How much water should you use?
There is no set rule on how much water to use. The proportions depend on the amount rice you are cooking, the type of rice, and how you like your rice cooked. In general, I find that the
1 ¼ cups water for each cup of long-grain rice yields firm, chewy, dry rice. Rice labeled new crop is from a fairly recent harvest, which means that it has not had as much time to dry. Because of its relatively high moisture content, it typically requires slightly less water.
If the packaging provides a ratio, try it, but I caution you against using a 2:1 or 3:2 ratio of water to polished rice. It will be mushy. Continue to experiment with your favorite pan or rice cooker insert until you arrive at a formula that works for you.
Should rice be salted?
Only by way of stock and other seasonings, if you happen to be using them for something special. Otherwise, there’s no need to add salt to everyday rice. There’s plenty of salt in Asian foods to flavor the rice.
What is steamed rice?
Sticky rice is steamed, and once in a rare while, I run across a recipe for steaming long grain rice. But the process of cooking rice is technically boiling. It’s not glamorous sounding but it’s the truth. Long-grain rice is not typically cooked over moist steam heat. in a steamer. It’s put into a pot with the water.
Have any tips to add or questions to ask? Feel free to chime in!
Related information: How to cook perfect rice (step-by-step instructions)