Apr 16, 2018

Tips & Tools: How to Make Perfect Fluffy Rice

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We eat rice every day, twice a day. Before I moved to South Asia I had rarely cooked rice. I had never even used a rice cooker! Googling the subject of cooking rice only revealed numerous methods with less than perfect results. So I emailed my Chinese-American university pal Eileen as to how to properly cook rice. I quickly learned that western methods of cooking rice were overly complicated and prone to failure.

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The first thing my friend recommended was to buy a rice cooker. Well, we had a rice cooker but it had no instructions and we rarely had electricity to even run the thing back then. Now that we have 20 hours of electricity a day I can concur that a rice cooker is one of the most cost-effective gadgets ever. If you cook rice on a regular basis you definitely need a rice cooker. It is the easiest and most time-saving appliance ever, just set it and forget it!

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This is the kind of rice we eat every day!

The technique my friend Eileen taught me to cook rice is the absorption method. This is the most common way to cook rice in Asia. Rather than drowning the rice in water and hoping for the best, one adds only as much as the rice needs to cook, and waits for it to absorb while cooking. -It is the simplest way to cook rice and I have found it gives the most reliable results. The method you use to cook rice also depends on the variety of rice you are using. Indians tend to use long-grain rice and use techniques to create separate grains that remain perfectly intact. The Chinese use starchier medium-grain varieties so that the rice sticks together, making it easier to pick up with chopsticks. I have cooked both a local short-grain pearl rice and long-grain Basmati rice with this absorption method with excellent results for the past 10 years!
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1/2 cup uncooked rice = 1&1/2 cups cooked rice

First, you'll want to determine how many servings of rice you wish to make. I usually estimate one and a half cups of cooked rice per adult for my Indian family then add an extra half cup just in case. Rice triples in volume when cooked so that's one-half cup per person of uncooked rice.
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ONE PART RICE TO TWO PARTS WATER
The second and most crucial part of this technique is the ratio of rice to water. All sorts of variables come into play here: the type of rice being cooked, the age of the rice, humidity levels, how well the lid fits on the pot you use, the temperature of the burner being used, altitude, what phase the moon is in (kidding) - the list goes on. Because of all these variables, this is the step that may require some trial and error. The best place to look for the proper ratio the rice is to be cooked at is the directions on the package the rice came in. (Amazingly enough, the instructions on the back of rice packages are usually correct.) If that is unavailable I usually estimate one part rice to two parts water. Sometimes we buy local rice that comes in a plain burlap sack from a village and sometimes we buy rice from the supermarket that's labeled. If the rice is really fresh (as in recently harvested) it may need a little less water to cook. Rice harvested more than a year previous generally requires more water than recently harvested rice due to decreased moisture content. Cooking rice is game of ratios, so be sure to measure carefully unless you want a bowl full of disappointment.

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This is how rice gets cleaned so there's bound to be twigs, pebbles, or bugs in it!
Third, unless you are using rice that is fortified or enriched you will have to wash it. Rinsing traditionally polished rice alters its texture when cooked. Rinsing removes the thin layer of starch from the surface of each grain and keeps the rice from sticking together thus ensuring perfectly separate grains. Long-grain rice, like Basmati, is always rinsed for this reason. This doesn't have to be an extremely thorough sort of a cleanse. I usually rinse the rice twice over the sink by submerging it in water, swirling the rice with my fingers, then pouring off the cloudy water. Submersion allows any debris like twigs, bran, or insects to float out of the rice also. I have seen recommendations on the internet to rinse rice until the drainage water runs clear- this will never happen no matter how many times you rinse the rice I assure you.
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2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline: the aromatic compound that gives bread, jasmine rice, basmati rice, pandan, popcorn, & bread flowers their characteristic scent
Fourth, you need to decide if you wish to soak the rice or not. Soaking the rice speeds up cooking which affects the flavor of the rice. By letting the rice soak for 15 to 30 minutes, you can decrease the cooking time of most rice varieties by about 20 percent.  2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline is the flavor compound in aromatic rice varieties that is responsible for their characteristic popcorn-like aroma.  2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline dissipates while cooking. The longer the rice is exposed to heat, the less of an aromatic flavor it will have. By soaking the rice and shortening the cooking time, you will get more flavorful results. Some people rinse again after soaking the rice, I do not find it necessary.

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Fifth, add a little oil, ghee, or butter to the rice and water before cooking. This is optional but it will add flavor to the rice, help keep the grains separate, and prevent dryness if the rice is left standing for more than an hour after cooking. Restaurants usually do this to keep cooked rice tasting fresher and tender longer. I usually only add a little butter or ghee for special occasions such as if we are having dinner guests. Most Indians and Nepalis do not add salt to their rice when cooking so I don't add it either.

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Sixth, cook the rice over medium heat and with the lid on. If the temperature is too high you run the risk of scorching the rice at the bottom of the pot or unevenly cooked grains. If the temperature is too low you'll get a gloopy mess of undercooked rice. Put the lid on and keep it on throughout the cooking process. I recommend only lifting the lid to check the rice after 15 minutes. Do not stir the rice while it is cooking as you risk breaking the grains, releasing more starch, and a mushy mess. You can tell that the rice is completely cooked when all the water has boiled away, there are "fish eyes" or holes in the rice, and you can hear a crackling noise rather than a bubbling noise signifying that the water has completely boiled away.

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The last and most important step: let it rest! Resting is an unskippable step. When the rice has finished cooking remove the pot from the burner and let it sit with the lid still on. Allow the rice to rest for at least 10 minutes after it's done cooking to achieve optimum texture. This rule goes for all types of rice. Keep the rice covered until you’re ready to eat. Just before serving fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. As the Indian proverb goes, grains of rice should be like brothers – close, but not stuck together.
 
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Perfection!
So there you have it: ratio, rinse, soak, flavor, cook, rest, and fluff! Follow these easy steps and you'll get perfect, fluffy, rice every time. This is it - the foolproof recipe to cook rice on the stovetop:

Ingredients:
1&1/2 C long-grain white rice
3 C water
1 tsp cooking oil, butter, or ghee (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) Measure out 1&1/2 cups rice and place into a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cooked rice expands to three times its original size so be sure to choose an adequately sized pot. 
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2) Over the sink add room-temperature water to the rice until it is covered by about an inch. Use your fingers to swirl the rice and water around the pan. Drain the cloudy water off of the rice through your hand. Discard any debris that floats to the surface. Repeat this process one to two more times. 

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3) Add 3 cups water to the rinsed rice and a teaspoonful of oil, butter, or ghee if using. For fluffier rice, the rice should be soaked for at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes prior to cooking.

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4) Cover and place the pot on a burner set on medium heat. Allow rice to cook for 15 to 20* minutes or until water has evaporated and the rice is tender. I usually check on the rice after 15 minutesYou may raise the lid occasionally to see if the water is boiling, see if the water has evaporated, or to listen for a crackling noise signifying that the last of the water has boiled away. Do not stir the rice while it is cooking.

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The little holes you see in the rice are called 'fisheyes' and signify that the rice has been cooked properly.



5) Remove pan from heat. Keep the lid on. Let rice stand, covered, for 10–15 minutes to firm up and absorb the last bit of water.

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6) Remove the lid just before serving and fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. Serve hot. This recipe makes 4&1/2 cups cooked rice.

Helpful Hints:
The same procedure can be used for a rice cooker. Instead of step 4 just place the pot in the rice cooker instead of on a stove burner.

*If cooking at altitudes over 3,000ft/1,000M increase cooking time by 5 minutes.

A special thanks to my dear friend Eileen!

16 comments:

  1. Fantastically useful information about rice cooking. Cooking rice is indeed tough. I think the water to rice ratio is of absolute importance.


    Another common alternate methord of knowing whether the rice is done is to scooping a grain of rice and crushing it between your fingers occassionally. If it gets crushed completly it means it is done. My late mother's tip on rice cooking. Just an additional double check. It is pretty useful for first time cooks to know that things are progressing in the right direction.

    This methord is also the basis of another famous proverb from india connected with rice. Just like one grain of rice reveals the story of the whole pot the behaviour if one person reflects the values of the entire family.

    Apple

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    Replies
    1. Hi Apple,
      We westerners have over-complicated the whole process of rice to the point that it is ridiculous. It is not that hard but as a result people are afraid to cook rice in the west & preboiled/cooked rice is available in supermarkets.

      I've gotten to where I can smell if the rice is cooking properly or not.

      Your mom's technique reminds me of the western adage: one bad apple spoils the barrel.

      Delete
    2. I have a humble suggestion to make. Sticking on the topic of rice, if you could make a post on how to cook the perfect nutritious khichri with vegetables, may be with a dash of desi ghee, it would be quiet fantastic. I think the ratio of water, lentil, rice and vegetables would be quiet interesting.

      Apple

      Delete
  2. I always do one part rice to two parts water. It never fails me.
    Those rice cookers are advertised all over India, I love going in the hardware shops and looking at the strange implements we don't have here in the the UK. xxx

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    Replies
    1. Hi Vix,
      Only once with some sort of poncy jasmine rice has 1:2 ratio ever failed me- otherwise it has worked every time!
      They're just now bringing the fancy Japanese & Korean "fuzzy logic" rice cookers here now- not sure if I trust'em!

      Delete
  3. over 30 years ago i had co-workers from vietnam (just google workers from vietman in the GDR - its a strange story). at that time i only knew to cook rice in a plastic sack with holes in lots of water..... but the vietnamese girls told me their reduction method: heat oil or butter in the pot, put the dry rice in and stir until all rice ist covered in fat - than add cold water and some salt. the ratio here is 1cup rice to 1,5cups of water. stir and when the water starts to cook reduce heat, put a lid on and wait 12-15min.
    in winter i just wait until it cooks - then i place it on the hot tiled oven.
    this method never fails me.
    oh - and i use a (self made) 50:50 mix of basmati and parboiled rice mostly.....
    xxxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Beate,
      In VietNam they like their rice a little stickier to eat with chopsticks. Here in Nepal & India very fluffy rice is preferred because they eat with their hands. (Personally I like rice that's a little bit sticky but I'm wayyyy outvoted here!)

      Delete
  4. Bibi thanks, I made Tonight rice using my rice cooker and following your instruction. I didn't know that I had to put a little butter and rest for 15 minutes.That made all differences and taste was excellent.I had my 3 elderly relatives for meal.For some reason I bought brown rice a huge bag last week.Maybe healthy and was a huge mistake.Basmati is my and family favourite.Anyway we all watched some cooking show on TV, quite moronic but my elderly relatives enjoy all the drama and contestants One was cooking rice and never washed rice.Unbelievable.Take care.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Hope,
      You're welcome!
      My family would never eat brown rice- they would consider it insulting!
      Amazing if anyone would go on a cooking show & not know how to cook rice!

      Delete
  5. Brilliantly simple instructions, Bibi, especially Step One: Buy a rice cooker. Step Two: Read the instructions on the rice package. Step Three: Let the rice rest! My little rice cooker lives on an asbestos mat on the counter in the utility room, sitting next to the slow cooker. In the cabinet above is stacked my stash of Kohinoor ready-to-cook curries. Lacking a competent maid, this set-up has served me well. (And, yes, I do keep a jar of ghee in the 'fridge for rice that seems dry.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Beth,
      I was soooo happy when we had electricity so I could use a rice cooker! Our rice cooker is an ancient Panasonic that occupies it's own corner in our kitchen.

      Delete
  6. Yup, that's the method I use too. It works every time. My friend Mi Mi was horrified when she got to university and saw how the ethnic British students cooked rice - I think her words were along the lines of 'boiled it until it was practically congee'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mim,
      The gloopy mess you get when cooking rice with western methods is definitely very congee-like!
      I'm not sure why we make it so difficult?

      Delete
  7. Amazing blog and very interesting stuff you got here! I definitely learned a lot from reading through some of your earlier posts as well and decided to drop a comment on this one!

    ReplyDelete
  8. That's how we do it unless a recipe specifies something else like boiling or par boiling and then steaming. I'm not terribly picky about rice, but this ndoes seem to give the most consistent results.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Goody,
      Amen! Works 99.9999% of the time for me too!

      Delete

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