How to cook rice
Nutritious, tasty and oh so versatile, rice is a staple of many meals. However, there’s definitely a knack to cooking it successfully. Many of us have probably messed it up at one time or another and ended up with either crunchy or mushy rice, or even stuck in the pan rice. If you have yet to master cooking rice, then fear not. Whatever the type of rice (and there are lots of varieties out there), there are some simple tricks that will make sure you get it perfect with minimum fuss whether it’s long grain, medium, or short grain, wild or brown. Once you get the hang of it, rice will become one of the easiest parts of your meal. Just have a look at our handy guide for getting gorgeous grains every time.
Meet the family
Is a handy group of grains that have a long, elegant shape, firm texture and separate well after cooking. The category includes white and brown long-grain rice (usually what’s meant by ‘white rice’ or ‘brown rice’), as well as basmati, jasmine and wholegrain red rice varieties. A long-grain variety such as basmati rice is well suited to pilaf and biryani dishes – essentially, it’s ideal any time you want separated, non-sticky grains. Which variety you choose is down to personal preference. Brown is more nutritious than white; red has a nutty flavour; and basmati and jasmine are more aromatic.
Has a plump appearance and, when cooked, the grains cling to each other, creating a lovely chewy texture. It’s the higher level of starch in short-grain rice that adds a creamy finish to a risotto or rice pudding. As well as white and brown short-grain rice, this group includes arborio and carnaroli (ideal for risotto), Spanish calasparra (for paella), black, and sushi varieties.
Is the imposter of the family: its actually the seed of American aquatic grass, it isn’t related to the ‘rice’ species directly. The seeds are long and thin, much like long-grain rice, and covered in coloured husks. It has a nutty flavour and firm texture, and is lower in calories than rice – perfect for using in salads or as a base for stuffing.
Tips for cooking rice
Should you wash rice?
Washing rice is a matter of taste. Some say that a cleansing rinse will freshen up the grains, by getting rid of the surface starch that causes the slimy texture you can sometimes get when cooking rice. Others maintain that it’s not necessary to get perfectly delicious rice. However, there are a few times when you definitely don’t need to rinse the grains: dishes such as risotto, paella and rice pudding all rely on the starch to help create their lovely creamy texture.
How to do it: Pop the rice into a pan, cover generously with cold water, then swirl around before carefully emptying the water and refilling. Wash in a few changes of water, until it runs pretty clear (it will never run crystal clear).
Soak to separate those grains
After you’ve rinsed the rice, pre-soak it to help the grains cook a little more quickly and evenly, and to help fluff the rice perfectly. It’s not strictly necessary, but if you care about having separated grains, this is the way to get there. With aromatic rice types, such as basmati and jasmine, the soaking also helps the rice retain more of its distinctive taste and smell.
If you want to cook brown rice, or whole grain rice as it’s sometimes called, then pre-soaking is a great kitchen hack. Recommended by the New York Times chef Marian Burros, soaking for six hours – or overnight – will reduce your cooking time, which takes longer when cooking brown rice.
How to do it: Soak white rice for about 15–30 minutes in a bowl of cold water before cooking. Brown rice will happily soak from one hour to several hours, even overnight. If you’re short on time, just soak for as long as it takes you to prepare your other ingredients.
Ways to cook
There are two main ways to cook rice: by boiling and by absorption. In general, just choose the method you prefer, although it’s best to stick to boiling for brown rice. You’ll also find some recipes that make use of both methods. In a pilaf, for example, the rice is parboiled first, then finished in a lidded pot layered with spices, dried fruit and sticky onions.
The boiling method:
In this easy, reliable method, simply add the rice to a large pot of boiling water seasoned with a pinch of salt, ensuring the grains are submerged. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered until tender. Drain in a sieve, then pour over a kettle of boiling water to remove excess starch and help separate the grains.
The absorption method:
This is probably the easiest way to cook rice on the stove. Put the rice into a heavy, lidded saucepan, cover with the water and season with a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, put the lid on and reduce the heat as low as it goes. Check the rice after 10-12 minutes – the grains should be tender and all the water absorbed. Pop the lid back on (or cover with a tea towel if you don’t have one), turn the heat off and leave to stand for another 10 minutes. Don’t be tempted to take the lid off too early, as the steam which is cooking the rice will escape. When the rice is tender, use a fork to fluff up the grains.
Guessing the rice to water ratio can lead to dry or soggy grains, so it’s important to measure the rice properly. For every 75g rice used (one portion), measure 95ml water; increase to 135ml if you skipped the soak step.
Although we don’t use cup measurements at Ocado, thinking in terms of cups can help you visualise the ratio. Use one cup of rice to 1 1/2 cups of water (though some say 1 cup rice to 2 cups water).
Finally, if you have any leftover rice, you can store it in the fridge for a day (according to NHS guidelines). To reduce the likelihood of food poisoning, it should only be reheated once. However, cold rice is the best sort if you are going to make a stir fry as the fridge will make it drier and firmer, and less likely to go lumpy in the wok.
Rice’s mild flavour makes it ideal for adding extra flavours and aromas. The classic flavours for basmati (recommended by Madhur Jaffrey) are saffron, cardamom and cinnamon. Coconut rice goes well with South Indian and South East Asian food and lime and coriander rice works very well with fish. Just remember, if you’re adding flavoured liquid, remove an equal amount of water.
Recipes to try
Coconut Chicken Curry
A mouthwatering chicken curry, with the tropical tastes of coconut and lime, you’ll be amazed that it takes just 25 minutes to cook.
Gluten-free Katsu Curry
Is katsu curry that’s also gluten-free an impossibility? No, it’s possible and it’s delicious, and it’s pretty easy to make too.
Inspired by the Turkish classic, imam bayildi, this stuffed aubergine is tasty, hearty and vegan. It’s served with bay and cardamom rice.
Spicy Jollof Rice
Spicy, tomatoey and filled with peppery goodness, it’s no wonder that this West African rice dish has become a global culinary superstar.