Rice

The Absolute Best Way to Make White Rice, According to My Korean Mom

Her tried-and-true method, 50+ years strong.

by:
October  9, 2018
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.
Comment

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.

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

80 Comments

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 :)<br /><br />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. <br /><br />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.
 
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!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Ha! Thanks for sharing, Christine.
 
Nan G. October 26, 2018
The Korean method sounds great!<br />If anyone loves Persian rice with it's yellow elongated grains here's the recipe for 5 servings:<br />2 1/2 cups (about 450 g) uncooked basmati rice (I used this brand: Saleem Caravan, Super Golden Basmati Rice)<br />vegetable oil<br />1/3 cup butter (more or less depends on your taste)<br />1/4 teaspoon ground saffron<br />1 small raw tortilla<br />salt<br /><br />Dissolve the saffron in in two tbs boiling water.<br /><br />Rinse the rice at least 5 times.<br /><br />Fill a bowl 2/3rds full of lukewarm water with 2 tbs salt and add rice.<br />Let set 1 hour.<br />Drain.<br /><br />Fill a pot 3/4 full of water + 1tbs salt and boil.<br />Add 6 tbs oil and then the tortilla.<br />Pour the rice over the tortilla in a mound.<br />Poke holes in the rice with wooden spoon handle.<br />Drizzle the rest of the oil (7tbs) into those holes.<br /><br />Cover and heat on medium until it steams.<br />Then turn it down to low and let it cook another 45 minutes.<br /><br />Remove about 5 tbs rice to a small bowl.<br />Combine it with the saffron tea you brewed.<br /><br />Serve with the saffrom rice garnishing the white rice.<br /><br />There's nothing like this rice!<br /><br /><br /><br />
 
Author Comment
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.<br />Just at the end of cooking before you divide off the small amount for the saffron blend in the butter.<br />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.
 
Author Comment
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
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Beautiful.
 
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..
 
Bo October 25, 2018
thank you, I agree, no meal is complete until you have a spoonful of rice, and late at night ... rice, sugar and milk, yum!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Oh, delicious!
 
Clara J. October 25, 2018
I never use a rice cooker. I had one & gave it away. Rice is so easy & fast. 2 qt sauce <br />pan half full of water. Bring to a boil add 1 cup rice a little salt turn fire to low cover pan and simmer 15 min. dump into strainer & wash under cold water. I use a timer and long grain or Jasmine rice. I have never had a failure.
 
MikeC October 25, 2018
Works fine til the fourth kid knocks the third kid backwards into the cat's water dish, and the second kid uses crayons to "decorate" the first kid's homework, the doorbell rings and.....
 
Clara J. October 26, 2018
lol all my kids are grown so I don't have that problem. Besides my kitchen is off limits except by invitation.<br />
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Clara, you sound like me on Thanksgiving.
 
MikeC October 25, 2018
When we came home from China the first time, after 18 months, we HAD to get a rice cooker-- this was a quarter century ago-- no rice cookers in every store, no internet... We drove to Boston, Chinatown, to buy one. They are not only indispensable, but they PREVENT BURNED RICE. Cooking on the stovetop is a mug's game. Stop it. Get a rice cooker, use it (for any kind of rice-- short or long grained, Basmati, Jasmine) and do the rinsing thing-- I do it til the water is *clear*-- and use the appropriate amount of water, which varies by rice type. The only time I ever cook rice on the stove is when I'm making a pilaf, which is an entirely different process. Anyway, this is a great, clear, spot on, article.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Thanks, Mike. Agreed, rice cookers really seem always to save the day.
 
Stephanie October 25, 2018
I grew up on Guam but I was taught to measure the water up to the my 1st knuckle with the first finger. Otherwise everything is the same.
 
vigi October 25, 2018
That is the method my friend from Cuba taught me over 40 years ago. I've passed it on to my daughter and granddaughters. Totally succeeds!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
I've heard this a lot, as well.
 
Eric B. October 25, 2018
Thirty years ago a Korean restauranteur friend’s mother shared with me this very same method. To her it didn’t matter that my hand was twice the size of her’s, just do as she says. Yes, it works wonderfully well. She also made the best scallion pancackes I have ever enjoyed.
 
Marilyn D. October 26, 2018
I would love to have the scallion pancake recipe, if you have it.
 
Eric B. October 26, 2018
I don’t. She never shared it with me. I tried many times, and never replicated it, not her taste or texture. They seem so simple, but there must be an art to it that eludes me.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
A hot pan helps!
 
Clara J. October 27, 2018
Now I have to look up scallion pancakes. Sounds like somethin that would go with some of my Cajon recipes or Italian .<br />
 
Eric B. October 27, 2018
👍<br />Got that part. I’m thinking there’s something in the flour she used vs. mine, plus about 60 years of her experience.
 
Bea October 30, 2018
OMG, those scallion pancakes are to die for. Thanks for reminding me I should make them more than I do!
 
Marilyn D. October 30, 2018
Do you remember whether she used a cast iron skillet or another type of pan? It makes sense that the pan would need to be very hot. I think a gas stove would probably work better than an electric one, too. Since I have an electric stove, I'm going to try an iron skillet on the gas grill. I'm frustrated by failed efforts to achieve the right texture (crispy and light.)
 
Miriam M. October 25, 2018
This is exactly how I make my rice. Perfect every time.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
:)
 
Earnest October 25, 2018
This is also how my mom taught me to make rice too, the Korean way. My mom showed me how to make in rice cooker as well as on the stove top.<br /><br />However, lately my wife and I have been using the stove top method and using a sushi quality rice. Love keeping it slightly al dente. Also using the stove top instead of cooker we can adjust for our needs rather than having a lo of leftover rice. Sushi quality rice also is very good in Kimchi bokkeum bap!<br /><br />
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Earnest...me too! I buy sushi-grade rice, which is in essence "short grain rice."<br /><br />Here's my mother's kimchi bokkeum bap recipe, for which I use this rice: https://food52.com/recipes/77541-jean-s-kimchi-fried-rice-with-nori
 
RecipeCat October 25, 2018
I'm Japanese, born and raised in Japan. And I learned the palm method as well, exactly the way your mother does, Eric. I learned it from my great aunt, who was an amazing homesteader and home cook. BTW I use this method of measure for both stovetop and rice cooker.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
That's so fascinating to me, that the Japanese do this too.
 
Chely C. October 15, 2018
being A southern South American that lives in Hawaii I have learned about rice cookers recently and use the pointer finger first knuckle technique but always add a few pats of butter or olive oil to the water and hymalian sea salt. I use medium grains instead of short. Is this a reasonable thing to do? Or too spanishifed? (Made up word)
 
Smaug October 15, 2018
Actually, I believe the word is "hispanicified".
 
Evelyn October 15, 2018
I understood it to be spanish from Spain, not Hispanic.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Sounds good to me, guys. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
 
Cheryl M. October 15, 2018
Growing up, my mother made rice with every single dinner, whether it was chicken, steak, meatloaf, or lasagna. By the time I got to college I couldn't look at another grain. I didn't eat white rice for almost five years (except at family dinners). I finally began to crave it again in my mid twenties, and bought a rice cooker like the one my mom had. I used it with the measuring cup that came with it. I've been making rice in my InstantPot lately and the rice cooker has been relegated to the garage. I don't know if it's just my imagination, but there's some magical quality about the rice cooker that just isn't there with the InstantPot.
 
Cheryl October 26, 2018
I don't like rice in the instant pot. They rave about all it can do but it does not do rice well, imo.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 27, 2018
Hey Cheryl, why so?
 
Cheryl October 27, 2018
The rice seemed mushy to me. I don't particularly like the Instant Pot that much to be honest, for anything. For instance, roasting meat in an oven tastes much better, because it browns the meat as it cooks and just gives it a better flavor, and I haven't diluted it with so much water. I also think my Instant Pot overcooks everything.
 
saltnpepperhere October 14, 2018
Yas!! I've switched from electric rice cooker to using Instant Pot for rice and the 1:1 ratio works perfectly there too :)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 15, 2018
Whoa, cool. Do you find that the Instant Pot rice tastes any different from the rice cooker rice?
 
Lee A. October 25, 2018
I don't see a difference. Then again, I didn't grow up eating rice with every meal. <br />I managed to lose my rice cooking mojo a few years ago, bought a rice cooker, and it was wonderful. When I bought my Instant Pot, the rice was equally wonderful, and I passed my rice cooker on to my son.
 
Cheryl H. October 14, 2018
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. <br />I sometimes use this method and it does align with the methods mentioned in your article. <br />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.<br />Oh, and the line inside the rice pot corresponds exactly to her finger measurement. I checked, lol.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 14, 2018
Ha! Love the precision and that you checked. Sounds like something I'd do...er, did.