Rice is an essential staple that makes up a balanced diet. It’s also filling and requires little effort to cook.
However, it’s also easy to mess up rice. Too much water can result in a pile of mush. If you don’t have enough water, the rice will end up dry and grainy.
Steps to Cook Rice Properly
- Rinse rice* in a pot with at least double the amount of water as there is rice.
- Drain water and rinse at least three times
- Toast the rice on a pan with oil and spices (optional)
- Use a rice cooker with measurements for how much water to add, OR
- Use a 1:1 water-to-rice ratio in a pressure cooker, OR
- Dip fingertip into the pot, just barely touching the rice. Add liquid up to your first knuckle
- Heat the rice with your rice/pressure cooker or pot over the stovetop.
*Optional with fortified rice
If you want a more detailed explanation of the steps above, read on for tips to help you make better rice.
How to Properly Rinse Rice
Rinsing rice is the first essential step to making delicious rice dishes. There are two crucial reasons why you should rinse your rice before cooking it.
First, you want to ensure that the rice is clean.
Your rice container may collect debris over time. You may also find things you don’t want in your rice.
Second, rinsing your rice may help improve its texture.
When rice grains rub up against one another, powered rice granules break off. This starchy residue will absorb water and may cause your rice to become a sticky, clumpy mess.
To rinse your rice, follow these steps:
- Add at least double the amount of water as there is rice.
- Gently mix the rice in the water to wash away starch and any debris.
- Discard water and repeat at least three times or until the water is no longer cloudy.
- Take care not to grind the rice together or break it. Be as delicate as possible.
Alternatively, you can also pour rice into a mesh strainer and run it under cold water.
Can You Over-wash Rice?
Over-washing your rice will reduce more starch, resulting in less sticky rice.
But some rice should be sticky, like sushi or sticky rice. You may want to keep rinsing to a minimum to retain more starch in these instances.
Note that fortified rice contains added vitamins and minerals. When you rinse fortified rice, you’re also washing off these nutrients.
Unless you need those extra nutrients, washing your rice has little consequence. Pair your rice with a balanced meal consisting of nutritious plants and proteins.
Similar to rinsing, soaking your rice can get rid of extra starch.
The longer you let your rice soak, the further you reduce the starch content. It takes less work than rinsing your rice, and it conserves water (if that’s something that matters to you).
According to one study, soaking rice can also reduce brown rice’s arsenic level by up to 40%.
There are also recommendations to soak rice for 30 minutes to ‘speed up’ the cooking time.
But instead of soaking, you could have fully-cooked and ready-to-eat rice in less than 30 minutes after rinsing. Therefore, soaking may be a counterproductive approach for making rice fast.
Fry/Toast Your Rice
Frying or toasting your rice before you cook it is a great way to introduce flavors and speed up the cooking time.
For clarification, ‘frying rice’ in this context means infusing the rice with extra flavor, not making fried rice. This method is arguably the best way to cook rice because unflavored rice may get boring for some.
To begin frying your rice, heat your oil of choice on a non-stick pan.
You can choose a neutral-flavored oil, such as avocado oil, or a cold-pressed oil like extra-virgin olive oil. Animal fats like butter, lard, or tallow will introduce fantastic flavors to your rice, too!
After the oil gets hot, add your spices (such as garlic, onion, or other aromatics) to infuse it with flavor. Be careful not to let your spices or oil burn.
Once you can smell the aroma from your spice-infused oil, carefully pour in your rinsed rice. Be careful of splatter when introducing water into hot oil! Using a splatter guard can help.
Stir well to distribute the flavored oil and heat. Absorbing the warmth and fats will help the rice cook faster later on. After 30 seconds to a minute, add water to loosen up the rice and transfer it to your rice cooker.
How Much Water to Add?
Contrary to popular belief, using rice-to-water ratios does NOT always work. It’s especially true if you try to double, triple, or otherwise change the recipe’s quantity.
All types of rice absorb a similar amount of water (a 1:1 ratio). But different pots lose varying amounts of water as steam.
Additional factors can also affect water loss during the cooking process. You may need to add more water if you:
- Cook rice that needs to cook longer (such as brown rice)
- Use a large pot with more surface area for water to evaporate
- Use a pot or lid that doesn’t trap as much steam
It’s best to get a rice cooker with measurements to determine how much water to add. Manufacturers have already calculated the rate of water loss for you.
If you use a pressure cooker that traps steam, then the 1:1 water-to-rice ratio will likely work for you. Using these methods will ensure you get perfect rice nearly every single time.
First Knuckle Rule
If you don’t have any rice or pressure cookers, or your rice pot doesn’t have measurements, you can try the ‘first-knuckle’ rule.
- Insert your (clean) finger vertically into the pot of rice, just barely touching the rice.
- Add water until it’s level with the crease at your first knuckle.
- Cook the rice until done.
The theory behind this ‘rule’ is that your water loss is roughly the same, whether you double, triple, or quadruple your rice content. Your water loss will equal approximately your knuckle’s height × the pot’s surface area. The rice absorbs the remainder of the water.
Naturally, this method isn’t foolproof. It varies depending on how wide your pot is. A wider pot equals more water.
If it doesn’t come out the way you like, you can adjust the water content. Use less water next time if it’s too wet or mushy. Add more if you want the rice softer.
But if you manage to find a pot that this method works with, you probably won’t have to worry about the rice-to-water ratio again!
If that sounds like too much work, you’re better off just getting a rice cooker or pressure cooker. You’ll have near-perfect rice every time using one of these methods rather than the first-knuckle rule.
Once you’re ready to cook your rice, place your pot into the rice cooker, pressure cooker, or stovetop. Your device will let you know once your rice is ready.
If you’re cooking over a stovetop, remove the pot from heat and turn off the flame once the water has evaporated. Fluff the contents with a paddle or fork, close the lid to allow the rice to steam.
When it comes to cooking rice with liquids, water will always do the trick. But to achieve maximum flavor, consider adding salt, bouillon, or replace water with stock.
Also, don’t be afraid to make more rice than you think you need. You can always use the excess for your favorite leftover rice recipes, like fried rice!
When ready to serve, enjoy your rice however you like!