Sunday, 3 April 2011

Rice Cook It Properly with Steam

Over the last decade I have come to a realisation that the majority of people in this country do not know how to cook rice. Most people cook it as if it is pasta. They chuck it in boiling water, leave it bouncing around for 20 minutes and then drain. Some poor fools even pour a kettle of boiling water on as they drain in a futile attempt to rinse off the gunk which has formed from the woefully incorrect cooking technique. Boiling rice like pasta does not bring out the quality and greatness of one the worlds finest staple cooking ingredients. Your pastafied rice will lack flavour and texture. It will be waterlogged and glued together like wallpaper paste. In this post I will explain how rice can be cooked with a basic saucepan and hob to bring out its true taste and quality.

I like the majority of people on this planet believe steaming is the best way to cook rice. When you steam rice you only put in the amount of water the rice needs. When the rice has cooked there will be no need to drain as the rice will have absorbed all of the water. It is a more gentle way to cook rice than boiling that retains the delicacy of flavour and the texture of each grain.

Now you can get many different types of rice all in different colours and flavours. In the photos I have cooked white Basmati rice. This is my preferred white rice for general use with Indian, Jamacian and Chinese food. Any long grain white rice will cook with the method below.

The correct measurement of water needed when steaming rice is two parts water to one part rice. A simple trick I learnt from a friend is that an espresso cup is enough rice for one person. You can then use two espresso cups to have the correct amount of water.

I do not wash or soak basmati rice. washing or soaking white rice removes the nutrients and more importantly the flavour. This is also what Delia believes and her word is food gospel. The rice is already washed during the milling process. However there are some varieties of glutenous rice which require soaking for 24 hours before steaming but that's for another post.

A wide saucepan with a lid is essential. I am lucky to have glass lidded pans which allows me to see exactly what is happeneing inside. You want the water to be about a centimetre above the rice so the more rice you make the wider the pan you need.

I have an unresponsive electric hob so I need to use two hobs to cook the rice on. Before I put the pan on I set one hob to the highest possible heat and one hob to the lowest possible heat. If you've got lovely gas hobs you won't need to swap.

Now once the water and rice are in the pan and before you've put it on the heat you've got to make a commitment. "I will not open the lid until it's ready!" Opening will lose valuable steam and don't even think of stirring, that's what makes rice wallpaper paste. You must trust the rice and the water to do their magic without you interfering.

Now to begin. First the pan goes onto the hob which is on the highest heat. The water is allowed to boil. Once the boil gets to it's peak the pan needs to be moved to the hob on the lowest heat. (if you've got responsive gas just turn the heat to low). I wait until the foamy bubbles get all the way to the top of the pan and make the pan jangle from the force of the steam escaping. Once I get my jangle I move the pan to the lowest hob.

Once it's on low heat it becomes a waiting game. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to cook so leave for 15 minutes before opening the lid. Only two things can go wrong. Too much water or not enough water. If the rice is uncooked after 15 mins it needs more water so just put a splash in and carry on steaming. If you've got too much water and the rice is cooked remove the pan from the heat and swap the lid for a tea towel. The excess moisture should go into the towel. If you've used the espresso cup trick you should not have either of these issues.

Once ready I always like to give the rice a good fork to fluff up before serving. If your hobs been too hot you may find a layer of hard overcooked rice on the bottom of the pan. Try not to scoop it up while serving.

Once you steam rice a few times and get the hang of it you will not have to measure the rice to water ratios as they will become second nature. You may find different vareties of rice need different amounts of water. I myself have leant that all rices can be steamed including brown, red and wild. They have different cooking times and require different amounts of water but I've learnt what to look for when cooking and can work out what they need. Please if cooking rice in the future abandon the pasta wallpaper paste method and steam rice to bring out its beautiful fragrant flavour and to keep its delicate texture intact.

I would also recommend you read Delia's guide to cooking rice as well as mine for more professional explanation and slightly different method. It's got a good bit about stirring anxiety:


  1. My mum always used to put foil over the saucepam and under the lid, with a 2lb weight on top to get a really good seal and maximise the steam. From my own experience I'm not really sure this makes that much difference :)

  2. The fascinating thing about rice is that for such a simple foodstuff, there is no definitive way of cooking it. I agree with your basic steam method, as you know I have been cooking rice that way for ages, but there are little variations which havw a considerable effect on the outcome, such as gently frying the rice before steaming or adding a nob of butter whilst the rice is al dente

  3. Mike I actually have to thank you for teaching me how to cook rice properly in the first place. I agree there are a lot of variations to cooking it. When I make pilau rice for example I fry the uncooked rice in butter, onion and spices before adding the water.

    Also adding a knob of butter to any food stuff savoury or sweet near the end off cooking will always improve it.


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