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16 September, 2007

How to cook rice

This may seem to be an odd topic to cover, but if I've reached my mid-thirties and only just achieved satisfactory results, perhaps it's worth mentioning to others.

This is for everyday cooking rather than for a special occasion; perhaps precise care over quantities would produce better results, but this is more than adequate for normal purposes.

  • Firstly, use decent-quality rice. It doesn't need to be anything special, but avoid the very cheapest stuff or anything labelled 'easy/quick cook'. Personally, I don't bother with tasteless American long-grain rice either, and only use basmati. It's part of your meal, not mere packing material; it's supposed to have a flavour.
  • Plan your cooking to allow time for the rice to rest before serving. This is very important. Ideally, have the rice ready and staying warm in a covered pan well before the other components of the course. Never seek to drain the rice and serve it immediately.
  • Boil water in a pan. Don't add the rice to tepid water then bring it to the boil, boil first.
    The quantity of water is debatable, and I've yet to get that quite right. Something like double the amount of rice (by volume!) seems to work. Ultimately, I doubt it matters if use slightly too much, as any excess will be drained off well before the rice is ready to eat.
    A drop of oil is supposed to prevent the grains sticking together. I haven't experienced that problem, so omit the fat.
    My view is that if an individual wants salt, he/she can add it to the served meal. I don't put any in the water.
    For a change, I occasionally add a small amount of turmeric/saffron to rice intended to accompany an Indian meal, or a little five-spice for a Chinese meal. Use just enough for a subtle effect, as the intention isn't to mask the rice's own flavour or affect that of the main dish.
  • Add an appropriate quantity of rice. The dry rice will tend to clump together as it hits the water, so stir it once (stirring liberates starch into the water), then put a tight-fitting lid fully onto the pan – don't leave an air gap.
    If supermarket-bought, do not rinse the rice first. That's only necessary if it's dirty or poorly processed, containing husks and other foreign bodies. It is not necessary to wash the starch out of fairly fresh rice.
    When the water returns to the boil and tries to bubble around the lid, drop the heat as far as it will go and let it simmer. My mother struggles with this stage, as her electric hob doesn't cool quickly enough. I'm not sure what to suggest; get a gas hob like mine?
  • Cook the rice for a little less time than indicated on the packet; if the packaging says twelve minutes, try ten. Don't keep removing the lid during cooking, but when you think it's ready, test it by removing a little rice with a fork or spatula.
    Visually, grains ready for the next stage should be slightly larger than when dry but roughly the same shape; if they're much larger and have splayed ends, they're overcooked.
    In the mouth, the rice should be al dente: firm (slightly firmer than you'd want to eat – remember, it's not supposed to be ready to serve yet) but not crunchy. Soft is bad.
  • Drain the rice. I hold the pan over a sink and pour until the continuous flow of excess liquid separates into drips; the rice doesn't need to be absolutely dry. Don't bother draining it in a sieve or similar, as it'd need to go straight back in the pan for the next stage. If there wasn't any excess water, well done!
  • Put the lid back on the pan, and let it rest for five minutes, longer if possible. This is the key part, as the rice is still cooking, absorbing all the remaining liquid. However, rice which was already fully-cooked in the water will already be saturated, so this stage won't work. Drain it sooner next time!
    Don't apply more heat, so turn off the gas or use a different ring of an electric hob (i.e. not the one still at over 100°r;C).
  • When you're ready to serve the meal (or to start cooking fried rice), remove the lid and lightly fluff the rice. It really shouldn't stick together; any starch should have gone back into the grains, which should be absolutely dry.
  • Enjoy.
    [****, that sounds cheesy, but you know what I mean.
    Whatever you do, don't add cheese to your rice.]

my own favourite needs only a micro variation on normal:
1. thai jasmine rice
2. wash the rice BEFORE boiling it, running it and slooshing it around in a mesh-thing under a hot tap until the water runs clear through all parts of it
3. cook to preferred consistency then immediately dump into the mesh thing over the sink and ignore until it cools down a bit
n. it's all light and fluffy yet meaty and delicious.

Posted by Saltation at September 20, 2007 09:39 PM
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