Brown Rice

The Absolute Best Way to Cook Brown Rice, According to an Expert

A tutorial from Momoko Nakamura, aka Rice Girl.

February 26, 2019

When Momoko Nakamura, who goes by the name Rice Girl, arrives at my home to make brown rice, she has only given me one instruction in advance: make sure to have her favorite cast-iron pot.

Nakamura has just flown in from Tokyo to give a talk and demo at the Museum of Food and Drink in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her work focuses on the 24 sub-seasons (sekki)—and further, the 72 micro-seasons (kou, five-day blocks that all have poetic names)—of the Japanese calendar. She travels the countryside to meet rice farmers who practice Shizen farming, the Japanese farming tradition of growing and harvesting according to the season, without the use of pesticides or harmful chemicals.

“The poetry has always been there,” says Nakamura. “Our grandmothers’ generation could probably speak to the 24 seasons accurately, but our generation has only kind of heard of these things. The rice farmers who use Shizen farming are much more aware of this micro-seasonal calendar because they have to make smaller edits to their farming practice every single day.”

Nakamura, a former producer for the Food Network, has dedicated her life to educating others about rice, much the same way a sommelier teaches about viniculture.

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“Her books include many variations for serving rice, both white and brown, that I have tried with flavorsome success.”
— btglenn
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”When it comes to rice, most families use white, mass-produced rice instead of the brown rice grown by our ancestors,” she says. Nakamura posits that during World War II, when land was destroyed and growing became more scarce, the time it took to polish brown rice and turn it into white rice made it a more sought after product.

Brown rice is white rice with the outer kernel intact, making it a less processed, more nutritious ingredient. While many prize the silky, fluffy texture and milder flavor of white rice, Nakamura wishes for people to enjoy and observe the many nuanced flavors and textures of sustainably grown rice varietals, 300 of which are present in Japan alone.

“Right now, we are in the last micro-season of fall, right before winter, called morning frost,” she tells me, “where we are just beginning to see frost on the leaves and trees.”

The blend we try together is from Akita prefecture in Japan, where it snows. “The earth is colder and more resilient and yields a sweeter rice. In the same region they make snow-covered carrots, which they harvest in fall and store in winter under snow to make them sweeter,” she says.

Nakamura shares her favorite method for cooking brown rice, developed through her grandmother’s techniques and oral wisdom. In her method, she symbolically uses sea salt to unite two energies, the sea and the land, akin to the geography of her native country, which she believes brings a certain harmony to the dish.


How to Prepare Brown Rice

First, choose a cast-iron pot. (She notes that any round, deep cast-iron pot will work.)

Then, measure the rice using a vessel such as a cup (it doesn’t need any special lines). You will use double the amount of water to rice. For example, if you filled a drinking cup with rice, you’ll need two drinking cups of water for the cooking process.

Next, place the rice on a plate or sheet pan. Appreciate it. Touch the rice and let it play between your fingers. Is it cold? Can you feel some of the starch on your fingers? Examining it as such is much like how you would examine the color of wine and how it marks the inside of a glass. Pick out any impurities.

Rinse the rice three times: Place the rice in a bowl and add a large amount of cold water. In a swift, clockwise motion, rinse the rice, turning, spinning and lifting under the rice to remove much of the starch. Repeat two more times, draining and using new cold water each time.

Drain the rice and place in the pot with double the amount of cold water to the measured rice.


How to Cook Brown Rice

Nakamura names the cooking steps—which she categorizes by the level of stovetop heat—by season: medium (“spring”), high (“summer”), low (“autumn”), and off (“winter”).

  • Spring (medium): Turn to medium heat and allow the rice to gradually come to a rolling boil.
  • Summer (high): Once you begin to see bubbles, turn the heat to high. Once at a rolling boil, cook for 1 minute. You want all the rice from the bottom to bubble up and dance so the grains cook evenly. Season with a barely perceptible pinch of salt.
  • Autumn (low): Turn the heat to low and cover the pot for the first time. Cook for about 30 minutes.
  • Winter (off): Turn off the heat, take pot off the stove and allow to rest for 10 minutes. When you remove the cover, small holes over the surface of the rice are an indicator of success.

After resting the rice for 10 minutes, Nakamura suggests using a wooden or special rice spoon to divide the mix into four even quadrants, and gently fluffing by folding the rice the way you would egg whites into a cake batter, gently lifting up the grains from the bottom so they don’t become mushy.

The rice should be immediately transferred to a wooden bowl and served, or can be formed into cakes plain or with various seasonings.


Brown Rice Recipes

What’s your go-to method for cooking perfect brown rice? Let us know in the comments.

13 Comments

Sharon March 4, 2019
Literally everyone I know has their own favorite method for cooking rice. But, this just goes to show ya' that if you want to, you can complicate just about anything.
 
Jo March 3, 2019
Am I missing something in the directions for cooking brown rice? For winter rice there doesn't seem to be any cooking/heat going on...??? The other seasons also seem short on directions...cover? hos long tocook? etc
 
Author Comment
Danielle R. March 3, 2019
Hi jo! The whole method is listed. You start with spring and end with winter. The “seasons” you read refer to level of temperature. So spring refers to medium high heat where you are slowly bringing the rice to boil, summer refers to high heat when you allow the rice dance around for a minute, autumn refers to turning the temperature down and cooking until the rice is tender and winter you turn the heat off completely to let the rice rest.
 
Dayn R. March 3, 2019
Hello, it isn't different "rice ways to cook" but rather the different steps in cooking. Each season, if you will, refers to the cooking time and temp, etc. Winter is just the last step where you remove it from heat and let the natural heat from the water, the pot and the rice to cook the final step. Very common in Indian rice cooking, as well. Once boiling, simmer a bit then simply remove from the stove, cover and let it cook naturally. Less energy consumption, as well! Hope this explains it somewhat. Sorry - not enough coffee to make the brain function! =)
 
Author Comment
Danielle R. March 3, 2019
Yes exactly
 
beekeeper March 3, 2019
I'm with Jo. I must be a bit slow. Especially with the winter recipe. Are you saying bring the rice to a boil (slow or fast?) and then turn off the heat? I've found that any brown rice I have used takes about 45 minutes total to cook successfully, from bringing the uncovered pot to a boil, to lowering the heat to low and covering the pot and then off the heat for the last 5 minutes with a kitchen towel placed under the lid.
 
Author Comment
Danielle R. March 3, 2019
Hi there-sorry thisnis confusing. Just omit the seasons and read it as a 4 step recipe. This is one recipe for how to cook rice. The seasons just are a referral to the level of heat for one step of the recipe.
 
beekeeper March 4, 2019
Ahha, It all becomes clear. Thanks.
 
Naomi C. March 1, 2019
The rice makes a big difference. I had two brands of brown Thai jasmine. The one from the well publicized grower produced mush. The weirdie one from the local discount store produces really nice separate grains. The chickens ate the name brand stuff.
 
Author Comment
Danielle R. March 3, 2019
Yes good quality is important
 
btglenn February 28, 2019
I follow Fuchsia Donlop's recommendatio, in addition to the recipe above, Dunlop is the author of several highly acclaimed cookbooks on Chinese cuisine including Every Grain of Rice, Simple Chinese Home Cooking. For me, the result is always rice that is fluffy and cooked just right. Dunlop recommends that you soak the rice for a couple of hours before cooking. It shortens the cooking time. Her books include many variations for serving rice, both white and brown, that I have tried with flavorsome success.
 
Elizabeth February 26, 2019
Lovely story, but what does it *taste* like when cooked this way? What makes this method better than all the rest? I think those are important parts of this narrative.

We food52 readers are here because we are interested in food--especially what it tastes like and why we cook ingredients the way we do.
 
Author Comment
Danielle R. February 26, 2019
Hi Elizabeth! I found this method both easy to remember and the taste of the rice delicious they, evenly cooked and not mushy. We were tasting a very high quality organic brown rice from japan but I found that method made sure that all the grains were evenly cook and the rice to have a nutty and tasty flavor.