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Living in fear of rice

Yup, Ive been to culinary school and I cant cook rice. What cant you cook? If youre a member of our CooksClub, enter the What Cant You Cook? contest, for a chance to win a one-on-one cooking class to conquer your culinary Everest.

Yup, I've been to culinary school and I can't cook rice. What can't you cook? If you're a member of our CooksClub, enter the What Can't You Cook? contest, for a chance to win a one-on-one cooking class to conquer your culinary Everest.

By Dabney Gough, contributor

April 20th, 2009

Every cook has their dirty little secret - even the pros do. Whatever it is, it's the one dish that never seems to come out right, despite all amount of training or effort. The thought of making it causes palms to sweat and legs to shake. There's often shame involved, and sometimes tears. My dirty little secret? Well, it's embarrassing. But to you, dear reader, I will bare my culinary Achilles heel:

Plain white rice.

I know. It's the simplest thing. One of the most time-tested grains. You don't even have to season it; you just measure it and cook it, right? Alas, if only it were that easy.

Mysteriously, rice and I just don't get along. There's not enough water, or it evaporates before the rice is done, or, for whatever reason, it just doesn't come out right. It never fails. (Or, more to the point, it always fails.)

During culinary school, the pesky little grains continued to pose problems for me. I figured I was a lost cause, and in order to get by I did what any reasonable person would do: I went to Chinatown and bought a rice cooker. It revolutionized ricemaking for me; not only did it produce perfectly fluffy rice every single time, but it turned on and off automatically and even kept cooked rice warm until it was needed. It was dummy-proof, which was apparently exactly what I was.

Everything was fine and dandy once I had a rice cooker in my life. Fine, that is, until I interviewed in the Fine Cooking test kitchen, where I was asked to actually cook a few dishes to prove my competency in testing recipes. I was nervous as it was, but my stomach dropped when they asked me to make a quick Thai curry—with rice to go with. The curry came out great, but the rice...well, it was okay, but let's just say the rice cooker could do better. I was convinced that I wouldn't get the job because of the rice, and so I mentally struck the position from my job search. In the end, the curry and the other dishes I cooked, along with the interview, must have made up for the rice because I was offered the job. (And, obviously, I accepted.) Phew!

Even now, I still stick to the rice cooker at home. I'm not ashamed, and I know I'm not alone. In fact, I know at least two very talented professional cooks who hate—hate!—making rice, because they too carry the rice curse. 

So that's my dirty little secret of cooking. What I want to know now is...what's yours? If you're a member of our CooksClub, you can even enter our What Can't You Cook? contest, for a chance to win a one-on-one cooking class to conquer whatever it is you've never quite mastered.

posted in: Blogs, Dabney Gough, rice, interview, shame, rice cooker
Comments (20)

aqn writes: Betilu: for over-easy eggs, I use a new-ish non-stick pan, and when I turn the egg(s), I scoop it up with a spatula, lift it off the pan then TURN THE PAN OVER on top of the egg then gently turn both pan & spatula (and egg) back. It's a bit like how you might turn a Spanish tortilla: cover the pan with a plate, flip the pan over, then remove the pan and slide the tortilla off the plate back into the pan.

You can also just turn it with a spatula: wait until the white has set up (so the bottom of the yolk is sturdy) and turn it over VERY SLLLLOOOOOWLY and very gently with a spatula. Posted: 11:16 pm on September 23rd

Janet_from_Tucson writes: Everytime I see something about trouble cooking rice, I am bewildered. It is simple: twice as much water as rice in a pan with a lid. Bring it to a boil, then it put it on low/medium low dependin on your stove. Cook it for 15 minutes. Let it steam for 10. Keep the lid on for the entire time - from start to finish. Fluff with fork. I have cooked it that way since I was 12. I grew up on rice like some people grow up on potatoes.

I can't for the life of me make a pie crust. Posted: 8:10 pm on May 5th

Betilu writes: My nemesis is over easy eggs. Is there a secret to --not breaking the yolk and having both sides cooked just right? (I love my rice cooker!!) Posted: 7:06 am on April 30th

aqn writes: You will never see crisp potato in any style from my kitchen. Mashed, soggy, burnt, etc. but never crispy. Posted: 10:12 pm on April 29th

cinmyrs writes: I cannot make a decent-looking omelet to save my life. They taste great, but they look like heck. I love to cook and I'm good at following directions, but I just can't get the hang of it. My kids like to say I make really good "omelets for the blind." Posted: 9:36 pm on April 29th

TGuier writes: I'v never had a problem with rice, especially since rice cookers came out. I can't make pan fried chicken that I like, even though when I was growing up I'd start the fried chicken for my Mom and it always came out fine. However, I'm a whiz at pressure cooking chicken that I and everyone else likes. Posted: 8:55 pm on April 29th

Terrytoons writes: I can bake the most incredible breads from scratch, and am up for the challenge for any complex new recipe that crosses my path. But I cannot cook a roast. Beef, chicken, pork; doesn't matter. I always have to go look it up in a cookbook, ask the butcher, weigh it twice, get out the timers and thermometer and even then it is raw in the middle, or an ugly gray throughout. I have given up on dry roasting entirely, and now any large chunk of meat goes directly into my slow cooker. My Mother was lying all those years she told me a roast was the easier meal to make..... Posted: 6:34 pm on April 29th

ssfeather writes: I struggle with pie dough. My mother was a home-ec major back in the day, and couldn't sew a stitch, but she could crank out photo-shoot-ready pie crusts like nobody's business. I never saw her have to re-roll one that cracked, and I never saw her have to patch the edges to create the rim. Not me. I've been cooking all my life, and I'm pretty good, or so my friends tell me. And I make pies regularly, but while I know how to make tender crusts, I cannot make pretty ones. I prefer American-style, old-fashioned flaky pie crusts, no eggs, no sugar, a bit of salt to offset the sweet fillings. I would weep with joy to learn how to overcome this gap in my skillset. Posted: 5:47 pm on April 29th

Lorries writes: The ultimate answer to rice cooking is a really simple device that comes from the South, but -- if you look hard enough -- can probably be snatched up from any garage sale or hardware store that specializes in "old stuff." It looks like a double boiler (made of lightweight metal, probably aluminum), except that the top part has about 1/8" holes all the way around the rim. Fill the bottom about halfway up with water, dump regular long-grain rice and an equal amount of water in the top part, stir, and set on a high heat. Cover, and wait until steam comes out of the lid, then reduce heat to low. In 15-20 minutes, you will have PERFECT rice, which will then hold for about an hour if you keep the cover on and leave the heat on low. It is TOTALLY worth looking around for one of these magical pots! Posted: 3:32 pm on April 29th

77crush writes: i can't get beans to be tender enough with an overnight soak. i have to use the quick soak method or i am doomed. the last time i did an overnite soak, i let the beans soak of TWO DAYS and they still came out tough. Posted: 11:48 pm on April 28th

Jolka writes: How about boiling milk without burnt residue in the pot or overboiling? How come no one invented a milk cooker? Posted: 1:15 pm on April 22nd

MichelleBee writes: Hip Hip for technology! The rice cooker replaces the pot in much the same way that the stove replaced cooking over open fires. Posted: 9:17 pm on April 21st

BeFreeForMe writes: Hi!
Kate, I too have a hard time with eggs... that is until I got my Cuisinart Egg Cooker...But Shhhhh - it's a secret!
Posted: 1:48 pm on April 21st

MaryMum writes: I cannot make good iced tea. I buy it already made and then pour it into my pitcher. Shhhhh...don't tell a soul... Posted: 3:49 pm on April 20th

MaryMum writes: I cannot make good iced tea. I buy it already made and then pour it into my pitcher. Shhhhh...don't tell a soul... Posted: 3:48 pm on April 20th

Tyler_M writes: For some reason, mine always tastes like soap. Posted: 1:53 pm on April 20th

Pielove writes: I am in the same situation as you with the rice. Indeed, I love my rice cooker so much, I sometimes feel like I am proselytizing for everyone to buy one. Look, perfect rice! It has a timer! It doesn't beep! See, there I go again.

P.S. I think you meant "I will bare [as in expose] my culinary Achilles heel", not "bear" it. Posted: 1:31 pm on April 20th

Kate_Frank writes: Eggs. Can't cook eggs to save my life. They're always flat and hard on the edges, with an indescribably rank odor. Posted: 12:59 pm on April 20th

DMickelsen writes: Dabs, don't be so hard on yourself! We take out our rice cooker at least once a week, and this is in a household with a chef husband and a food editor wife. There is no shame in using a rice cooker, none at all!

Sharon, it IS a shame that I have yet to give you my dad's pancake recipe. It's perfection, and I know that it will solve your pancake problem once and for all. I'll bring it in tomorrow. Posted: 12:42 pm on April 20th

SharonAnderson writes: i've always wondered why "how to cook rice" is one of top pieces of content on our site month after month...apparently, you are SO not alone. i think i am pretty decent at cooking rice (maybe you just have really high standards), but i can't make a decent pancake to save my life... Posted: 10:35 am on April 20th

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About the Eat Generation

Follow the foodie adventures of former Fine Cooking recipe tester Dabney Gough as she takes a bite out of life in San Francisco. By day she's the marketing director for a specialty grocery store. By night, she's usually out exploring the city's amazing cocktail scene.