10 Reasons You're Making Rice All Wrong
These common mistakes can sabotage a simple rice dish. Here's how to fix them.
Yes, we’ll admit it. We are often tempted by those grocery-aisle pouches advertising easy, pre-portioned, fully-cooked rice in a matter of minutes. But it’s time to ditch the microwavable stuff. While this quick fix can be kept as a backup in your pantry, we always prefer freshly-made rice. Homemade rice is a simple, yet impressive addition to any meal. It can be served as a side to an elegant steak dinner or as the base of a hearty, whole-grain veggie bowl.
Rice is a staple ingredient in a variety of international cuisines, and over time, different cultures have developed signature ways of preparing this simple grain. From Thai-inspired Basil Fried Rice to Southern rice casseroles, from aromatic basmati rice to spice-packed Spanish yellow rice, the grain can be transformed in countless ways.
While cooking rice may seem easy, it’s an art worth perfecting. These common mistakes can leave you with anything from dry, undercooked rice to mushy split grains. Here are the biggest mistakes you’re making when cooking rice– and how to correct them for perfect, fluffy rice.
1. Use the right equipment.
If you’ve long forgotten about that rice cooker gifted from your wedding registry, this is the time to break it out. But you don’t actually need a rice cooker to make perfect rice. Your everyday saucepan or pot can be used to cook rice. Ensure that you select a pot with a thick bottom, which will help distribute heat evenly and prevent your rice from burning at the bottom.
2. Treat each grain differently.
You wouldn’t cook paper-thin linguini for the same amount of time as thick rigatoni. Just like different pasta shapes require different cook times, different grains of rice require different cooking procedures. The main difference in rice grains is the ideal amount of water for cooking.
3. Pay attention to your ratios.
The key to cooking rice well is perfecting the water-to-rice ratio. Different grains of rice require different amounts of water– for example, brown rice requires slightly more water than white rice, and long grains require more water than short grains. As a starting point for brown rice, we recommend using 1 cup of rice to 2 cups of water. Reference our Food Editor’s complete guide to water measurements for different types of rice.
It’s also important to intentionally portion out your rice to only make as much as your dish calls for. We’ll talk a bit later about the dangers of leftover rice.
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4. Salt the water.
Any cooking show fan knows that salting your pasta water is a cardinal rule of most celebrity chefs. The same goes for rice – not only does salt impart flavor, but it keeps the rice grains from sticking together in unsavory clumps.
5. Add extra flavor.
While simply salted rice can be beautiful all on its own, adding spices to your rice pot before cooking will elevate this side dish. Experiment with throwing a stick of cinnamon or strands of saffron in with your boiling water for sophisticated flavor and a lovely aroma.
6. Butter? Yes please.
My mama’s secret to extra-fluffy rice is adding a pad of butter to the pot while the rice steams. After all, everything’s better with butter.
7. Go low and slow.
While you’ll want to bring your water to a boil to start the rice cooking process, leaving the rice to cook on a high temperature will cause your grains to split and ruin their texture. Remember that you want to cook rice with steam, not with pure heat. Reduce the temperature to a simmer for the remainder of the cooking process to let the steam do the work.
8. Don’t bother it.
Resist the temptation to open the lid and check on your rice. This will interfere with the steaming process and leave you with dry, undercooked rice.
Similarly, stirring your rice while it cooks will activate the starches and leave you with clumpy, mushy rice. Your rice only needs a quick fluff with a fork once it’s finished cooking. Constant stirring is what gives risotto its cherished creaminess– a trait that’s not desirable when cooking plain rice. Moral of the story: leave your rice alone while it cooks and let it work its magic.
9. Let it sit.
Don’t serve your rice immediately after it’s finished cooking. Instead, keep the lid on, turn the heat off, and allow your rice to settle in its steam for ten minutes. This trick from our Food Editor will help the heat distribute throughout the covered pan to ensure your rice is evenly cooked.
10. Beware the leftovers.
Although we’re adamant fans of meal prep and repurposing leftovers, rice is one food to be cautious with. Rice carries bacteria that can grow even after the cooking process ends and can lead to food poisoning. To avoid this, Medical News Today offers some guidelines to safely storing rice.
Don’t let your rice sit out at room temperature for more than an hour. If you have leftovers, refrigerate in an airtight container directly after cooking. Don’t reheat rice more than once and dispose of any leftovers after one to two days in the fridge. To err on the safe side, you’re better off cooking only what you need for one serving of rice.
With these ten tips, you’ll be cooking up party-perfect rice in no time. You’ll never be tempted by those microwavable rice packets again.