Rice Rice Baby: A Guide to Rice
Rice! This seemingly basic topic inspires a lot of passion. Learn how to cook rice in this comprehensive guide, built on a never-fail recipe for stovetop white rice you need in your repertoire.
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People get so worked up about rice! Should I rinse my rice? Should I not? If I do, should I use a colander or is that a criminal waste of time and an unnecessarily dirtied dish? Is a rice cooker a kitchen life-saver or a crutch for gadget shopaholics? Should I measure the water with a measuring cup or rely on the distance between my knuckles? It seems like such a basic side dish — why should it inspire such passion and furor?
Maybe rice inspires strong feelings because it’s so simple: With so few steps, there are precious few decisions to make, leaving people ever more invested in feeling that the few choices they do make are the right ones. Or maybe it’s the fact that most of us learned to cook rice from our moms or dads or grandparents. To stray from their instructions feels almost like an act of disloyalty to the ones who nourished us.
We feel strongly about rice here too. So here’s a guide to that most delicious of grains. We’ll tackle all your simmering rice questions and lay out a simple step-by-step method for cooking fluffy rice on the stovetop that’ll never let you down.
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Some tender grains of rice knowledge
Let’s get into the nitty gritty
What’s the best way to make rice?
For sheer flavor and consistent results, with long grain white rice, we like the old tried-and-true stovetop method. The full step-by-step instructions are below. You’ll see our method makes use of a few clever techniques — toasting the rice before boiling and using a kitchen towel to create a steamy environment in the final stages of cooking. But at its heart, our method is a distillation of the fundamental technique that’s been producing great fluffy rice for generations.
Do I need to rinse the rice?
You can certainly rinse your rice if you like, but you don't have to, and our basic method below doesn’t call for it. Many rice-cookers believe rinsing is crucial. However, in my experience, rinsing rice does not make a huge impact on the quality of the finished product. What does matter is using the right ratio of water to rice; adding an appropriate amount of salt, yes; some fat in the cooking environment, I’m all for it. But the marginal benefits of rinsing your rice till the water mostly runs clear? Meh.
I will say this: If you rinse, adjust the ratio of water down to accommodate the residual moisture.
How do you rinse rice?
If you don’t mind dirtying another dish, pull out a fine mesh strainer and run cold water over the rice, swirling it around, until most of the starch has washed off. Or, if you don’t want to dirty another dish, just pour water over the rice in the cooking pot and pour it off gently. The rice should mostly remain at the bottom of the pan (like nuggets of gold in a prospector’s pan), but if you’re antsy, put your hand at the edge to hold back any stray grains that try to escape. Or don’t. Really. It’s OK not to rinse your rice.
Do I need to soak the rice?
For regular long grain white rice, soaking is unnecessary. In fact, it may make your rice too mushy, gummy, or waterlogged.
How long do you have to cook rice?
The cook time for long grain white rice cooked, according to our no-fail stovetop method, takes about 35 minutes.
What’s the difference between white rice and brown rice?
All white rice starts life as brown rice. Like all whole grains, when rice kernels are harvested, they come with a coating of bran and germ around a starchy middle. White rice has this coating removed during processing and is washed and polished before being sold. Brown rice takes longer to cook.
What’s Basmati rice? Or Jasmine rice?
These are both varieties of long grain white rice. Basmati rice, first grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, is widely used in India and neighboring countries. It’s fluffy and elegant, with extremely long grains and a pleasant nutty flavor. Jasmine rice is another common variety of long grain rice, widely used in Southeast Asian cooking; it has a floral aroma and a slightly stickier consistency. Both types of rice can be cooked successfully with the method we endorse below.
What is sushi rice?
Sushi rice is a short-grain (or medium-grain) variety of white rice, more glutinous than basmati or jasmine or other long grain types. “Glutinous,” by the way, is not the same as gluten-y: All rice is naturally gluten-free; the “glutinous” designation just refers to how sticky / starchy the rice is. Sushi rice is seasoned with vinegar and sugar after cooking to add flavor.
How do you make sticky rice?
Sticky rice (aka sweet rice, aka glutinous rice) is yet another variety of short-grain rice. Our method will not work for sticky rice, but here’s one that will.
Is Mexican rice a whole other kinda rice?
Nope! Recipes for Mexican or Spanish rice use regular long-grain white rice, but incorporate tomato (among other things) during the cooking to give it that unmistakable red color.
What’s the best way to store uncooked rice?
Uncooked rice should be stored in a sealed container in a cool, dry place.
How long is uncooked rice good for?
White rice will last basically forever if it’s kept safe from critters, moisture, and other contaminants. Brown rice and wild rice and other whole-grain varieties tend to go rancid at room temperature after a few months.
What’s the best way to reheat cooked rice?
I’m partial to the microwave; if your rice is starting to dry out, you can add a splash of water or an ice cube before nuking it loosely covered with a lid or some parchment paper.
How long does cooked rice last?
Cooked rice can last for three or four days in the refrigerator. The freezer is also a terrific way to keep rice long term. Sealed in airtight bags, with the excess air squeezed out, it’ll be good to eat for four months or even longer. Just thaw in the fridge before reheating.
Are there other good ways of making rice?
Sure, you have nothing but options in the world of rice. We provide an Instant Pot rice recipe below. Rice cookers are a godsend to busy cooks, since you can set them and forget them and hold cooked rice in them for a long time. I’ve met proponents of the “pasta water” method, which relieves you of the need to measure anything, since you cook the rice like pasta in an abundant quantity of boiling water and drain it when it’s done. The benefit of our preferred method is that you get fluffier grains that tend to stay more separate than with other methods, thanks to the first step of toasting the rice.
What is the right ratio of water to rice?
Just under two cups of water to one cup of rice. But, as with all things, it depends. Some rice varieties (like Basmati) are thirstier than others and may need a larger amount of water. If you rinse your rice, some residual water will cling to the grains, so you’ll need to add less.
What about measuring water with my knuckle?
Many people swear by this method and I don’t doubt you can achieve excellent rice by adding water to your rice until the liquid level is one knuckle above the surface of the rice. In general, however, I feel that the adoption of standard weights and measures that are not subject to the endless variety of human body parts provide a more reliable and repeatable cooking experience.
Step-by-step instructions for No-Fail White Rice (stovetop method)
No need for fuzzy logic or a single-use appliance to get perfect rice every time. A pot, a little butter, some rice, some water, some salt — that’s enough to fill your bowl with rice any night of the week.
Step 1: Measure out your ingredients
Life in the kitchen (and elsewhere) is easier if you get your cooking station organized ahead of time — arranging what the French call your mise-en-place. Get out your medium saucepan and its tightly fitting lid. Measure out your dry rice, wet water, buttery butter, and salty salt so you can proceed in an orderly fashion.
Step 2: Toast the rice in fat
Melt the butter (or heat the oil, if you’re avoiding dairy) in the saucepan and add your dry rice. Cook for a few minutes until the grains turn slightly white.
Toasting rice; photograph by Rachael Nusbaum
Step 3: Add salt and water and bring to a boil, uncovered
Carefully pour in your water — it’ll go nuts when it hits the hot fat, so protect yourself! Add salt and bring the whole deal to a boil over high heat, uncovered.
Step 4: Cover and simmer until cooked
When the pot is at a rolling boil, reduce the heat to low and put a tight lid on the pot. Set your timer for 18-20 minutes and let it be. Don’t peek! No lifting the lid till the timer goes off!
Rice cooking in covered pot; photograph by Rachael Nusbaum
Step 5: Fluff and rest, covered tightly
Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork, separating the grains to help reduce clumping.
Fluffing the rice with a fork; photograph by Rachael Nusbaum
Turn off the heat, cover the pot tightly with a clean towel, and put the lid back on. Let it rest for another five minutes.
Steaming the rice by covering with a kitchen towel; photograph by Rachael Nusbaum
Step 6: Enjoy!
You’ve got rice! Eat it!
Recipes for rice, with rice, and about rice!
Now that you’re a no-fail rice expert, put your knowledge into action with these recipes that build on your rice foundation.
The recipe our whole article is based on. Don’t let anyone tell you that a rice cooker is the only way to go. This stovetop “pilaf” method is the real deal.
Fine! You don’t want to navigate a burner, so pull out the Instant Pot. Note: Since the pressure cooker is a totally sealed environment and this recipe calls for a rice-rinse, you’ll need less water than with a stovetop recipe.
This recipe takes our basic rice method and makes it a full meal by inserting some bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and sauteed aromatics to the start of the process.
Here’s another classic one-pot rice meal that builds on the basic stovetop template, but adds in frizzled onions and hearty lentils to flesh out a satisfying dinner.
Bibimbap is a classic Korean rice bowl. Step 3 in this Yummly original recipe suggests cooking the rice according to the package instructions; I propose adapting our No-Fail White Rice recipe instead.
Another one-pot masterpiece, this Cajun Jambalaya features rich complex flavors from browned andouille sausage and seared chicken thighs.
Got a whole chicken ready to use? Poach it and then use the cooking liquid to simmer your toasted rice. Serve with a sliced cucumber and one or two of the sauces specified in the recipe; you will be a happy chicken rice camper.
Day-old cooked Jasmine rice is the perfect consistency for Chicken Fried Rice. This Yummly original recipe provides an endlessly customizable template for a stir-fry rice dish that comes together in minutes.
Another great option for leftover rice: Mix in some seafood and sour cream as well as a few judiciously chosen fruits and veggies. Delightful.
Creamy Rice Pudding Recipe (Using Cooked Rice)
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for dessert. I used to make a no-cook rice pudding by covering cold rice with whole milk and adding a couple of teaspoons full of sugar. Here’s a recipe for rice pudding that improves on that formula and uses up a couple cups of leftover rice from the fridge.
More rice, please
Check out the grain-themed articles ahead.