Have you ever How many times have you cooked rice on the stovetop only for it to emerge a complete and utter failure? If cooked rice is just dried grains cooked in hot water until soft, how is it that stovetop rice can emerge burnt and underdone, sopping wet and stuck to the pot?
While I don’t believe in requiring certain kitchen appliances, I do believe in a perfect bowl of chewy, distinct grains of rice, and so have deemed a rice cooker to be a worthy investment for me and my home. My Zojirushi rice cooker consistently churns out fluffy rice—and quinoa, creamy oats, and congee—no matter the batch size (dinner for one, two, eight), and beeps a cheery song at me when it’s done. Aside from Trevor, my rice cooker has been my best roommate.
If, however, I’m making rice for a larger crowd or cooking in a rice cooker–less kitchen, I know I can get decent rice on the stovetop not with the autocratic formula the back of the box tells you (“boil x amount of rice in 1.25x amount of water”), but by boiling it as I do pasta (in an unmeasured amount of water) and letting it really, fully steam dry. As Table for One columnist Eric Kim says, "It’s not just water that cooks rice; it’s the steam you build up in the pot as well. Which is why a properly cooked pot of rice needs less water than you might realize, especially if what you’re after is perfectly sticky (but still individual, separated, not-mushy) grains.”
While cooking rice is just cooking dried grains in hot water until soft, what sets apart a stellar pot from a sad one is the cleanliness (starchiness) of the grains, and whether you work with (not against) rice's absorptive powers. But, whether you’re cooking rice on the stovetop or in a rice cooker, much of the initial prep is the same.
Less important on the stovetop than it is in the rice cooker, taking an accurate measurement of dried grains is still helpful in preparing for a final yield. 1 cup of dried yields about 3 cups of cooked rice.
The Japanese rice measuring cup that comes with the rice cooker does not equal one American cup (it’s more like 3/4 an American cup). If you don’t have—or lost somehow, like I did—that measuring cup, just know that 1 cup of white rice weighs 180 grams.
For a perfectly fluffy, non-mushy pot of rice, it’s important to wash the dried grains of any excess starch. To do this, pour the dried grains into a large fine-mesh colander set inside a similarly sized bowl. Fill the bowl with cool water from the tap. Turn off the water and swish the grains around in the colander with your hand, doing so in a zig-zag motion. Swish, swish, swish. Vigorously spin the colander in the bowl a couple of times, lift it, and pour out the starchy, milky rice water. Rinse and repeat until the water is completely clear (this should take about five or six rounds).
After round five or six, when the washing water is completely clear, dump it out, and leave the rice to drain in the colander for at least 5 and up to 30 minutes. Slow, gentle hydration of the grains prevents bursting while boiling, and the drip-drying ensures each grain is fully hydrated, but not overly so.
On the stovetop. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in the soaked grains, and let boil until just tender, 12 to 14 minutes. Drain in a colander, and leave to steam-dry for at least 5 and up to 10 minutes. Transfer to an insulated pot, cover with a lid, and keep warm until serving.
In the rice cooker. Transfer your soaked grains to the insert of a rice cooker, and fill with cool water to the corresponding cup line (i.e. water up to the "1 cup" line for 1 Japanese cup of rice). Choose the setting for the type of rice you’re cooking, and let cook.
With a rice paddle or silicone spatula, quarter your pot of rice by drawing an “X.” Scoop down along the sides of the bowl, and wiggle the paddle back and forth through the pot of rice. Keep fluffing until the rice is no longer clumpy—the grains distinct and, you know, fluffy.