The simplest things are sometimes the scariest to cook. With a plain pot of long-grain rice, there's no hiding behind fancy ingredients or pretty presentation, and when it's not made properly, it shows. Sometimes it's undercooked on the inside and mealy on the outside. Or there are those pots of long grain rice that fuse into a lumpy blob (no, that's not supposed to happen!). Sometimes the rice looks perfectly normal when you first uncover the pot, and then breaks up into millions of tiny mushy grains once fluffed. And it's hard to forget rice that wasn't steamed with quite enough water, and sticks in your throat as you drink big gulps of water between bites.
But all of these problems are actually very easy to avoid if you know what you're doing . . . or even if you don't, just as long as you have a good recipe, and follow the instructions. I've tested and tested to come up with my favorite ratio of rice:water, which is detailed in the recipe below, and I've given measurements for both a small pot and a medium pot. My grandmother tells scandalous stories about people cooking a single cup of rice for dinner, an outrageous blunder in her book (for the record, she typically cooks about three), but sometimes a small pot is in order. No matter what amount you're making, or what recipe you're using, I've put together some best practices for cooking perfect rice:
How not to mess up long-grain rice:
All of these things are accounted for in the recipe below, but here are some basic principles for perfectly cooking long-grain rice:
- Know what rice you're working with.
If it's short grain rice, it's going to release a ton of starch and stick together, which is perfect if you're making a risotto or sticky rice, but not so good for making riza sh'ariyeh or the like. Long-grain rice, like basmati, is the kind of rice to use for long, distinct grains. If you're making something with short-grain rice, much of the following advice won't apply.
- Start with a good recipe.
Finding a recipe where you start with the right ratio of rice:water is crucial, because you shouldn't have to strain your rice after cooking. * If you don't use my recipe below, opt for the one on the side of the bag.
- Rinse your rice until the water runs clear.
I don't like doing this under constant running water, because it's super wasteful, so instead I like to soak my rice for a few minutes, rinse it, and then soak it for a few more minutes if it still needs it.
- Add fat and salt!
It feels weird to have to say that, but you're be surprised. A tablespoon of butter has less fat than a tablespoon of oil, so substitute accordingly.
- Cook the rice on low.
Turn the heat down to low and listen for a gentle simmering sound. It shouldn't be at risk of bubbling over, and just a teeny tiny bit of steam should be leaking out one side of the pot.
- Whatever you do, keep the rice tightly covered the whole entire time.
It's particularly crucial to keep the lid on once you've turned off the heat (and this is when you'll probably be most tempted to lift the lid, but just don't do it!). At this time, the rice is not quite done cooking. There's still a lot of steam and heat left in the pot, and leaving the rice covered will allow it to gently coast to perfect doneness. If you peek inside, you'll let out all that energy, and the rice won't be quite the same. Opening the pot during cooking is a slightly less big deal, but peeking too much during cooking can let a lot of water escape and mess with the ratios. The good news is that you don't need to peek—there's just no good reason!
- If you follow the above instructions and keep the pot covered during cooking, it will be physically impossible to mess this part up, but it's incredibly important so I'll say it anyway: once the rice has started cooking, do not stir it for any reason!
This is the number one mistake most people make with long-grain rice, and it leads to gummy, sticky long-grain rice that's undercooked on the inside and mealy on the outside. I'm not sure why this happens, but I swear it really does. I think it's because stirring it while it cooks mashes everything together, and the steam has trouble reaching the top layer of rice. Before cooking, the rice is rigid and has lots of space between the grains, and the rice keeps this light airy structure as it cooks undisturbed. If you stir it once it's started to absorb water, the grains start sticking together and gumming up the porous mass, so steam can't make its way through to every grain. The reason is just armchair speculation, but the result is easily provable.
* I know I'm being kind of dogmatic, but I tend to get that way when I talk about rice. Of course, there is more than one right way to cook rice, and some cooks make delicious rice that's been strained after cooking. It just changes the flavor and aroma a lot, and I really, strongly prefer it unstrained.
active time: 5 minutes
total time: 40 minutes
a small pot of rice
yield: 3 cups (about 4 servings)
1 cup basmati rice, or another long-grain rice (6 1/4 ounces)
Water for soaking and rinsing
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons butter or 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups water
- Soak the rice for 5 minutes, covered by about an inch of water. Swish it around, strain it, and then rinse it with new water for about 15 seconds. Let the excess water drain away. If the water that drains away isn't clear, soak it for 2 more minutes and repeat.
- Place the rice, butter/oil, salt, and measured water in a saucepan. Bring everything to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, cover and immediately reduce heat to low. Set a timer for 14 minutes.
- While the rice is cooking, do not peek, do not stir, and do not mess with the heat.
- As soon as the timer goes off, remove from heat and keep the pot covered. Do not lift the lid. Let the rice rest for 10 to 30 minutes.
- Once the rice has rested, remove the lid, fluff it with a fork, and serve immediately.
a medium pot of rice
yield: 6 cups (about 8 servings)
2 cups basmati rice (12 1/2 ounces)
Water for soaking and rinsing
3 to 4 tablespoons butter or 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 2/3 cups water for cooking
- Use the above instructions.