It's seemingly the most basic kitchen task, yet it still bedevils many accomplished cooks: making a perfect pot of Basic, Fluffy White Rice, with each grain distinct and not mushy. It's not impossible, though, if you know a few secrets: use the right amount of water, gentle heat, a tight-fitting pot lid, and a post-cooking resting period. Be sure not to skip the resting step at the end; as the rice sits off the heat, the moisture in the rice redistributes itself for a more uniform texture throughout the pot.
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Step One: Rinse and (Maybe) Soak
I usually rinse my rice in a few changes of cold water. There are two reasons for rinsing: some mills outside the U.S. use talc as a milling aid, so it's an important step for imported rice. The rinsing also removes loose starch, making the rice less sticky.
For most everyday meals, you can get good results without soaking your rice. If I'm using older rice, I soak it for about 30 minutes, which makes the grains less brittle and prone to breakage. Soaking is also traditional for basmati rice, as it helps the rice expand to maximum length. Either way, be sure to drain your rice thoroughly or you'll be using more water in cooking than you intended.
Go to page 2 to see Step Two and the complete recipe for Basic, Fluffy White Rice.
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Step Two: A Simple Cooking Method
There are many different methods for cooking rice, but the simplest is the absorption method: the rice is cooked in a measured amount of water so that by the time the rice is cooked, all the water has been absorbed. As the water level drops, trapped steam finishes the cooking.
The key to this method is figuring out the correct amount of water. As a general rule, use 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups of water per cup of long-grain white rice, but you may need to experiment a little to find the amount you like best. Brown rices require more water, while shorter-grain rices require less. Keep in mind that more water gives you softer, stickier rice—great for stir-fries. Less water results in firmer rice, a good style for rice salads.
The other important element is a heavy-based pot (to prevent scorching on the bottom) with a tight-fitting lid that keeps the steam in. If your lid fits loosely, put a clean kitchen cloth between the lid and the pot.
Basic Fluffy White Rice
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If you find making a perfect pot of white rice a challenge, you're not alone. Fluffy and tender rice is something that can elude even seasoned chefs. Here's a tip: Be sure not to skip the resting step at the end: as the rice sits off the heat, the moisture in the rice redistributes itself for a more uniform texture throughout the pot. For more help achieving perfect rice every time, read How to Cook Rice Perfectly and The Science of Cooking Rice. You can also download a detailed chart on How to Cook Rice, including 14 varieties and 5 common cooking methods, and watch a video detailing step-by-step how to cook rice.
1 cup long-grain white rice
Unsalted butter or olive oil (optional)
Kosher salt (optional)
Rinse the rice in a few changes of cold water. Drain the rice well in a sieve.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid, combine 1-3/4 cups water, the rice, and a bit of butter or oil and salt, if you like. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the water is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cover. (If you have an electric stove, use two burners: bring the rice to a boil on a hot burner and then immediately slide it to a burner set on low to continue cooking at a slow simmer.) Cook at a gentle simmer until the water is completely absorbed and the rice is tender, about 12 minutes (it's okay to lift the lid to make sure the rice is fully cooked and the water is absorbed—just replace the lid quickly).
Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit, undisturbed with the lid on, for at least 5 minutes and for as long as 30 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the rice gently with a fork or chopstick, and serve.
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Step Three: Let it Rest
After about 12 minutes, the liquid should be absorbed, and the rice al dente. If you served the rice now, you'd find the top layer drier and fluffier than the bottom, which can be very moist and fragile. Here's where you need patience: Let the rice sit off the heat, undisturbed with the lid on, for at least 5 minutes and for as long as 30. This lets the moisture redistribute, resulting in a more uniform texture, with the bottom layers as fluffy as the top.
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More Info and Resources for Cooking Rice
What About Rice Cookers?
Whenever I travel in rice-eating regions, I ask about the favorite local method or vessel for cooking rice. Invariably, the answer is "Why, a rice cooker, of course." Rice cookers, which can cost $25 to $200, may be worthwhile if you cook a lot of rice. But, like cooking rice on the stovetop, it takes experience to find the amount of water that works best for your favorite rice.
If you'd rather go electric, check out our equipment review on High-Tech Rice Cookers.
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