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Cooking Perfect Rice Every Time

by Benjamin Sauerborn
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Rice has been cooked and cultivated by humans for consumption for well over 5 millennia. It was one of the first crops to be cultivated as humans started to come out of their roles as hunter-gatherers. Today rice is a staple food for over 3 billion people. All of which heavily depend on the grain for survival.  Its cultural, political, economic, and environmental impact cannot be understated. Chances are you cook or at least eat rice often enough, especially if you live in Texas where Mexican cuisine is among the most common. If you cook rice often you likely know how to cook it properly by now. But maybe you’re rice tends to come out sticky, too soft, mushy, and clumped together like overcooked sushi rice. There are a few reasons for that, and there are some really simple ways to avoid it and cook the perfect rice every time.

Rice sticks and clumps up in the presents of warm water because the intermolecular bonds of the starches naturally present in rice break down. This causes the starch to act as a plasticizer to the rice especially turning it into porridge, particularly if it gets even just slightly overcooked. That’s why starches (like cornflour) can be incredibly helpful for thickening sauces or puddings but not so much when you’re trying to cook the perfect rice. Making the perfect rice starts with a quick soak.

Soaking & Rinsing Rice

Soaking rice in cold water can be beneficial for a number of reasons although not all recipes call for it. Soaking rice can decrease the cooking time by as much as 20% which benefits both the nutritional value and flavor of cooked rice. Acetylpyrroline is an aroma and flavor compound present in most strains of rice. The longer the rice is cooked the more of this compound manages to escape particularly through water vapor. By soaking rice in cold water 20-30 minutes beforehand you can cut some of the cooking time off leaving you with more flavorful and aromatic rice. You can soak rice in cold water for up to 48 hours although after a certain point it will stop absorbing the cold water after around 24 hours.

Rinsing rice washes the thin layer of starch off the surface of the rice. This is done primarily to keep the individual grains from sticking together and becoming gummy after the rice has been boiled.  Rinse your rice thoroughly in a mesh strainer until water runs clear through it.

The Correct Amount Of Water

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy method that fits every kind of rice. Some grains absorb more water, some do it faster than others, some do better without a soak while other highly benefit off it. A board rule of thumb for white, long-grain rice is 2 cups of water for every cup of rice. White, medium-grain rice requires 1 1/2 cups of water for every cup of rice, and white, short-grain needs around 1 1/4 cups of water per cup of rice. Depending if you soaked the rice or not you’ll need to simmer it for 15-20 minutes on very low heat. That’ll yield you with 2-3 cups of cooked rice which is 4-6 servings. One serving of cooked rice comes out to around 1/2 cup each.

Brown rice is a little different mostly in terms of how long you have to boil it. Brown rice is where soaking really comes in handy because it has a layer of bran on the outside that is harder for the water to penetrate. Soaking brown rice for 1-2 hours prior to boiling will yield much better and faster results. I found that although rinsing brown rice isn’t near as important as white varieties it still leaves a pretty desired effect. Rinsing should be the first thing you do, even before soaking. Give the rice a quick rinse after because as you soak rice, some of the starches will be extracted. For long-grain brown rice, use 1 1/4 cups water to 1 cup rice. For short-grain, use 1 1/2 cups water. Here are a few more specific species of rice and how much water you should use when boiling them:

Type of Rice Amount of Water per Cup of Raw Rice Approx. Simmering Time Yield
Long-grain white rice 2 cups 15-20 minutes 2 cups
Medium-grain white rice 1 ½ cups 15-18 minutes 3 cups
Short-grain white rice 1 ¼ cups 15-18 minutes 3 cups
Long-grain brown rice 2 cups 40-45 minutes 3 cups
Short- grain brown rice 1 ½ cups 50 minutes 3 cups
Basmati Rice 1 ½ cups 15-20 minutes 3 cups
Jasmine Rice 1 ¾ cups 15-20 minutes 3 cups
Wild Rice 2 cups 45-50 minutes 2 ½ cups
Converted Rice 2 ¼ cups 20 minutes 3 cups
Sushi Rice 1 ⅓ cups 18-20 minutes 2 ½ cups

Cooking

While timing is critical, the method is equally important. After you’ve rinsed and soaked your rice the first important step is to add cold water to the rice. Hot or warm water will activate any starches left of the rice and has the same undersized effect. For that same reason, you should never stir the rice either. Add cold water to the pot then stir in the rice. Adding the rice, water, then the salt will require you to stir to dissolve the salt, just add the salt to the water first. At this point, you could also add things like vinegar or stock. Slowly add the rice and give it a very light swish to evenly distribute the rice. Place the pot onto a low flame, place a tight lid on the top and let it come up to a simmer. Never bring the water to a full boil.

Steaming & Rest

Towards the end of the cook when most of the water is gone is also critical. Steamed rice has a far better texture than anything boiled so ideally, the rice would still be slightly hard even with a small amount of water in the pot. The rice grain will trap steam in between them and continue to cook it so it’s also important you let the rice rest for 5-10 minutes before fluffing it with a fork.

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