How to Cook White Rice in a Rice Cooker, According to My Korean Mom

Running 50+ years strong.

April 21, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

Growing up in the suburbs, my family and I would go to steakhouses often, our Friday night ritual at the end of the workweek. Think: ABC's Fresh Off the Boat, Louis Huang's Cattleman's Ranch Steakhouse. As soon as we'd come home from dinner, even after that huge meal, my dad would head straight to the kitchen and eat a spoonful or two of cold leftover white rice (the gonggi bap) straight out of the rice cooker. Maybe with some ice-cold kimchi from the fridge, a sheet or two of gim (roasted seaweed snack). Dinner was never dinner unless there was white rice to round everything out. It was as if he couldn't feel fully satiated without it.

I wonder if other Koreans can identify with this longing for rice to complete a meal. It signifies for me a long-lasting lore I've always felt that white rice is food, and food is white rice.

It is significant, isn't it, how the word for "rice" in so many cultures is synonymous with the one for "food"? In Korean, bap means both "rice" and "food," or "meal." In Mandarin, it's fàn. In Japanese, gohan. I'm no linguist or historian, but it makes sense to me that this would be the case for cuisines where white rice is at the center, always the starch on the table, the prized crop in the agricultural makeup of all these cultures' food economies.

I think there's also a lot of mystification out there about how to cook white rice. Maybe because everyone does it differently: It's likely that your way of making it is different from your friend's or from Tejal Rao's, from mine. Indeed, how we cook food differently will always be an indication of the variability of culture, and the notion that there is no one right way.

It is significant, isn't it, how the word for "rice" in so many cultures is synonymous with the one for "food"?

That said, there is a right way in my life, and in my brother's, and in my dad's. I thought it was high time that I share some wisdom from my own mother Jean, whose rice is quite famous for being perfectly fluffy, never mushy, and exactly right. She's been making it for 50 years and, as far as I know, hasn't changed her method since. It comes out immaculate every time, so there's got to be something to it right?

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Top Comment:
“There are lines inside the rice pot to indicate how much water to put in, according to how many RICE COOKER MEASURING CUPS (the measuring cup that comes with your rice cooker) of rice you wash. I sometimes use this method and it does align with the methods mentioned in your article. When I first started washing the rice as a preteen, I argued with my mom as to the proper level of water as her fingers were a bit longer than mine, so we compared hands and I just measured her middle finger to see the point on my finger that aligned with hers. Perfect rice every time ever since. Oh, and the line inside the rice pot corresponds exactly to her finger measurement. I checked, lol. ”
— Cheryl H.

I have to say here: This method uses an electric rice cooker, which is prevalent in every Korean household, like an electric kettle might be in every British household. If you're looking for the stovetop method, proceed here.

Otherwise, here's my mother's method, which, I've learned in recent years, is a little different.

How to Make Perfect White Rice in a Rice Cooker

  • First, Jean rinses short-grain white rice (the sticky kind you get at Korean and Japanese restaurants, not jasmine nor basmati, not Uncle Ben's, but this one) straight in the rice cooker. That is, she fills the removable inner pot with rice (never measures), takes it over to the sink, fills it with water, stirs with her hands, and pours the cloudy water out—and repeats this process, say, three or four times until the water runs clearer. She used to make me do this when I was little while she prepped dinner, and I'd get rice all over the sink (which is why now I always rinse my rice in a sieve).
  • Next, she fills the inner pot (a little water in there is fine, good actually) with enough water so that when she places her palm flat into the rice, the water level rises to the crease in her wrist where it meets the hand. I always thought this was black magic. "My hand is way bigger than yours!" I'd say. And she'd go: ¯_(ツ)_/¯. But I'd end up making rice like this for decades, sticking my palm into the rice and feeling anxious about the lack of science of it all. How accurate could this be, really? Eventually, when I started developing recipes that required exact measurements, I was able to figure out the actual rice-to-wrist-level-water proportions. Which came out to be about 1 cup water for every 1 cup rinsed, drained short-grain white rice. Remember: This is for the rice cooker, not for the stove, so if it doesn't sounds like enough water, just trust me (or rather, trust my mother).
  • This next step is subtle but, in my experience, essential (especially if you're using the 1:1 water to rice ratio above): My mother lets her rinsed, drained rice sit in its water for a bit before cooking. Sometimes she'd forget about it completely and it'd sit there, and sit there, and sit there. But the idea is that the rice should soak. The resultant texture is, for me, so much fluffier, rounder, better. Even when you think you don't have the time, just soak it a little. Five minutes is better than zero. These days I set a timer for exactly 10 minutes, which I've learned over the years is totally sufficient. Longer is fine, if you forget like her (and me sometimes), but any longer than an hour or so and you run the risk of entering mushy rice territory.
  • Finally, press the button and wait. But don't watch it. A watched rice cooker never steams.

A Few Ways to Use It...

Skillet Bibimbap

A cast-iron skillet makes a great stand-in for the sizzling-hot stone bowl bibimbap is traditionally served in. This way, you still get the crispy, caramelized edges of the rice, which tastes fantastic with the marinated kalbi, tangy radishes, and creamy egg yolk.

Jean's Kimchi Fried Rice With Nori

Use up that leftover white rice to make this supremely comforting kimchi fried rice, which calls on pantry staples—spam, sesame oil, and roasted seaweed snack—plus a few fried eggs to tie the whole dish together.

Paper-Thin Asparagus With Butter & Soy Sauce

Inspired by a recipe from James Beard’s memoir, this exceedingly simple method works wonders with asparagus, but you can use pretty much any raw vegetable you have lying around—like asparagus, broccoli, or sugar snap peas.

Instant Pot Short Ribs With Roasted Seaweed Gremolata

Most short rib recipes take at least a few hours to develop their flavor and get super tender—but not this Instant Pot version, which packs in tons of flavor (courtesy of red wine, jalapeño, garlic, and a crunchy roasted seaweed gremolata that goes on top) and is ready to serve in just under an hour. It goes great with grits or creamy mashed potatoes, but white rice is the go-to.

Spicy Korean Chicken & Potato Stew (Dakdoritang)

This hot and spicy Korean stew, called dakdoritang, is also just a little bit sweet, thanks to the gochujang and carrots. Ready in just 40 minutes, this soul-warming chicken and potato dish is ready to be served over scoops of fluffy, fresh white rice.

How do you cook your white rice? Let us know in the comments below.

This article was updated by the Food52 editors in April 2020 to include more tasty ideas for what to cook with your perfect white rice.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • 74a*-WzVmEB_BbG
  • katmint
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    Rosalind Paaswell
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    Siobhan Wilde
  • Megan
Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.


74a*-WzVmEB_BbG October 2, 2022
I have read your article where you have beautifully told about so many items made with Rice cookers. After reading https://tachgadgets.com/ I think it has something new that no one else has.
Thank you.
katmint January 19, 2021
It says it should be used on a gas stove. Will it work on an electric stove?
Rosalind P. May 14, 2020
How the word "rice" works in so many cultures makes so much sense. In cultures where it isn't rice but breads that are so basic, the word "bread" has the same place. It stands for food in general -- as in "Give us this day...." and "Put bread on the table" and of course the actual object, bread (and its zillion forms), And then the powerful use of it as a synonym for money.
Siobhan W. May 10, 2020
Oh my gosh I wash my rice in a sieve too and it has changed he’s everything for me (even though it feels just a little bit like cheating)! My Mother taught me to put my index finger in the water until my fingertip touched the rice - the water should come up to the first crease in my finger. Again, totally unscientific but it worked! That was for stovetop rice, though. I make rice in the Instant Pot a lot these days (but then no crust forms on the bottom for frying later - which is a whole other story...)
Megan April 22, 2020
We grew up with a rice cooker that has the outer pot that you fill with water to provide steam, so it requires a little less water than the ones that don't have the outer pot! But, my mom taught me to fill water by placing my hand flat into the rice, too and checking for a certain level of water! (For me and brown rice now, it's up to about my knuckles). Maybe it's an Asian thing to use our hands instead of measuring cups ^_^
Eric K. April 24, 2020
I think so too :) cooking by feeling, experience, and legacy vs. recipes and cookbooks
Cheryl M. March 26, 2020
So - I've never made short grain rice but because of the Coronavirus it was all that was left on the shelves. My kids are from Ghana so they eat a lot of rice. I do have a rice cooker so decided to look up how to cook this kind of rice. I have to say that it's now my favorite kind of rice and your directions worked perfectly! And - I did measure one cup to one cup but out of curiosity I put my hand flat on the rice and the water came up to my wrist - just like your mom said. Thank so much for posting this simple "recipe." :)
Eric K. April 24, 2020
Cheryl, that makes me so happy. Thanks for sharing.
JessicaB123 July 31, 2019
"Finally, press the button and wait. But don't watch it. A watched rice cooker never steams."
HAHAHAHA it's SOOOO true!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Eric K. November 14, 2019
Kheia K. June 1, 2019
Perfect results!
Aidensmom March 20, 2019
I love your articles. I am new to this site. I am wondering if there is a good rice cooker for a med budget. We eat rice constantly but I cook it on the stove which means I am babysitting it. I would like to be able to walk away. If you can't give a name brand what options are MUST HAVES? Thank you !!
Debbie March 24, 2019
Tiger brand is well respected as a mid range priced quality rice cooker. I've had good luck with my Instant Pot for rice and it gives me the benefit of being multi function so not a one trick pony. 1:1 ratio rice to water and 4 minutes on manual/high pressure.
Catherine May 5, 2020
Three years ago I bought a 3 cup Zojirushi for $45 I think? It's been great and makes more rice than you'd ever need.
sassygirl711 January 23, 2021
i may have the same zojirushi rice cooker...small but mighty! and the rice cooks perfectly. i’m
delighted with the product!
Candi March 20, 2019
Loved this article! This is exactly how we do it in our house as well. I never questioned how my mom measured the water level with our knuckle, it's just how we did it. I married my husband who claimed he did NOT like rice. Turns out he had never had the short grain variety and now he's hooked!! Now he's our family rice maker after learning the knuckle measurement for his hand ;) He's better at making kimchi jigae than I am too!!
SophieL December 31, 2018
I'm Chinese and use a rice cooker. I don't measure the rice (white long-grain), rinse it 2-3 times in the inner pot and add water to the first knuckle on my index finger.
L. W. March 24, 2019
This works great for me. It was taught to me by friends from India. And if your rice is new, like fresh jasmine rice (the good stuff will tell you if it is current year's harvest), I use a little less. Also, I have found that a little less water is better than too much; if my top grains are still a little too firm, I just add a bit more water, even if the cooker is on warm. I wait a few minutes and the rice is good.
Stephanie M. December 30, 2018
Can Brown rice be cooked this way too?
Smaug December 30, 2018
Brown rice generally takes more time and more water than white. You could doubtless work out something like this to measure it without using standard measuring cups, but most cooks own them- no particular reason not to use them.
Laurence T. December 30, 2018
I have tried and tried to “electric rice pot” cook brown rice, bit it always come out a gunky mess. Found this foolproof method and love, love it!
Boil a large pot of slightly salted water. At least 8 cups worth or more. Dump your rice in....amount doesn’t matter...can do a cup or two (or 3) of dry rice. Stir once, then let simmer/boil with lid off for 20 minutes. Strain rice in colander, then dump back into the pot, stir with a fork, pop on the lid, then let rest off heat for TEN minutes. Voila! Perfectly cooked, fluff yet yummingly chewy brown rice that will keep nicely in frig for several days.
Eric K. February 27, 2019
L. W. March 24, 2019
Dang, this sounds good--gotta try this method.
Bea October 29, 2018
While I have a rice cooker, I just use my heavy pot and use 2:1 ratio for perfect fluffy rice every time. 2 cups water, 1 cup rice bring to a boil turn heat to low cover and leave it alone for 20 minutes. Not mushy, not hard just perfect rice that won't stick together...my family does the 1:1 , also the finger in the pot. That's to funny. Most use their rice cooker but I have a sister that makes hers like Bobby Flay did, puts rice into large pot of boiling water cooks till done then drains. Everyone has their own way that works for them.
HalfPint October 29, 2018
I'm a little late to the game here. My (Vietnamese) Mom's instructions start out exactly like Jean's: dump rice into the rice pot insert, rinse until the water runs relatively clear. Mom started me young, ~7 yrs old, with making rice. I got really good at draining off the rinse waters without losing more than a few grains of rice :)

We depart from Jean's process with the measurement of the cooking water. My mother used her index finger to mark the top of the drained rice. Then she added an equal height of water. Years later, I figured out that it was really a 1:1 volume ratio (eg. 1 scoop of rice, 1 scoop of water). This ratio works best for jasmine rice, but I use the 'rule' for most white rice, except basmati which seems able to absorb an enormous amount of water.

Mom even taught me how to cook rice on the stovetop. The rinse/measurement was the same, but stovetop rice required a bit more vigilance: 1.bring the rice and water to a boil, over medium heat 2. simmer until the bubbling water is almost level with the top of the rice 3. then lower the heat to low or the lowest setting and put a lid on the pot 3. rotate the pot around the heat to insure even cooking without burning the rice 4. check for doneness after you've rotated the pot a full turn. The rice should look sort of dry, but is tender and cooked through; ie. there should not be any water left. Fluff with a pair of chopsticks.
Jonathan S. October 27, 2018
We use a Cuckoo pressure rice cooker for short grain and mixed grain rice and a Zojirushi rice cooker (non-pressure) for jasmine and basmati rice. Somehow we can't get the texture right for long grain rice in the Cuckoo. Anybody cooking long grain rice in a Cuckoo pressure rice cooker? They're fantastic for short grain rice.
susan October 27, 2018
I felt like this whole article was my exact experience. From the making me wash it till since i was a little kid (and if i dumped out the water and some pieces of rice escaped i used to get lectured about "do you know how hard those farmers worked to pick each grain of rice?") to the measuring of the water to your wrist. Hahahaha. It was just a fun read to see that there were others out there. And that rice brand was in EVERY household. growing up back int he day. Here's a question for you, do you feel like rinsing with the sieve is more effective and also wastes less water? Thoughts? Awesome read, very nostalgic. I"m reading your kimchi fried rice one next.
Bea October 30, 2018
I might be the only person who doesn't rinse my rice and I usually use Jasmine or Basmati. Growing up it was long grain. I prefer Jasmine or Basmati though.
Smaug December 30, 2018
I don't usually rinse my rice, though I do sometimes feel guilty about it. Basmati rice used to be polished with talc, which made rinsing rather necessary, but I don't believe it is any more.
Christine O. October 26, 2018
I lived in Korea for a couple of years and this is EXACTLY how my Korean housekeeper taught me to make rice. I'm a very recipe/measurement driven cook, and this drove my white girl head nuts. And yet, every time I had perfect rice. She was a gold mine. Lucky me!
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Ha! Thanks for sharing, Christine.
Nan G. October 26, 2018
The Korean method sounds great!
If anyone loves Persian rice with it's yellow elongated grains here's the recipe for 5 servings:
2 1/2 cups (about 450 g) uncooked basmati rice (I used this brand: Saleem Caravan, Super Golden Basmati Rice)
vegetable oil
1/3 cup butter (more or less depends on your taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron
1 small raw tortilla

Dissolve the saffron in in two tbs boiling water.

Rinse the rice at least 5 times.

Fill a bowl 2/3rds full of lukewarm water with 2 tbs salt and add rice.
Let set 1 hour.

Fill a pot 3/4 full of water + 1tbs salt and boil.
Add 6 tbs oil and then the tortilla.
Pour the rice over the tortilla in a mound.
Poke holes in the rice with wooden spoon handle.
Drizzle the rest of the oil (7tbs) into those holes.

Cover and heat on medium until it steams.
Then turn it down to low and let it cook another 45 minutes.

Remove about 5 tbs rice to a small bowl.
Combine it with the saffron tea you brewed.

Serve with the saffrom rice garnishing the white rice.

There's nothing like this rice!

Eric K. October 27, 2018
Oh my goodness, you godsend. Thank you.
Nan G. October 27, 2018
Forgot to mention where the real butter weighs in.
Just at the end of cooking before you divide off the small amount for the saffron blend in the butter.
Sounds like it might be greasy but it isn't.
Bea October 30, 2018
Thanks so much for sharing!!
RecipeCat October 25, 2018
Looking over this comment thread, I'm thrilled by all the different ways that people cook rice, and what is considered the right texture of the end product. It speaks to the innumerable variety of rice, and the diversity of cuisines which each call for a different rice texture to perfectly accompany (or star in) the culture's dishes. And in the most simplest of foods, we find our culture passed down from our ancestors.
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Well said; my thoughts exactly.
Poodlehorde October 25, 2018
2 quart saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Melt 1 t. butter, add 1 c long grain rice and cook until some of the grains turn white. Add 1 3/4 c water and 1tsp salt. Put the lid on and turn the burner to low. Cook without uncovering for 20 min. Fluff with a fork and serve. I've done it this way for 50 years with perfect results every time
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Bea October 30, 2018
We make ours the same except I put 2 cups water. In Louisiana, my home everyone except me uses the 1:1 . Their rice turns out good for them. I use a 2:1 or it's sticky I think..lol..