DIY Food

Rice: The Final Frontier

September 18, 2012

Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, our second installment on the staple that could start wars: rice. 

We’ll be clear about one thing: when you ask for tips about cooking rice, tips are not what you get. You get diehard positions, strong lines drawn in the sand, declarations of method delivered with the fervor of a political zealot. 

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Rice, it seems, is a religion. 

It’s also, in the words of a wise intern, a trust issue. Putting that much faith in steam (and boiling water and, as you’ll see, ovens) can be troubling, as stressful as only putting a lid on a pot and leaving it promises to be. 

But there’s no need to settle on a life agnostic about rice -- it’s serious business, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be mastered. Step into our office, have a seat, and let us air our rice quandaries together. 

A Note on Ratios, Rinsing, and Soaking 

By definition, ratios should be static. Rice, however, will prove that it wears many hats, and that a hat for mathematic consistency is not one of them. How to proceed? We use a standby ratio of 2:1, water to rice, for white varietals, and a 2 ¼:1 for brown. Or, you can take all of the math out of it, and use the finger method: put your pointer finger on the level of rice in your pot, and then fill it with water just until it hits your first knuckle. 


Rinsing removes surface starch on your rice, and is recommended to avoid added stickiness and, of course, to get rid of any impurities. Rice purists can agree: only use cold water, rinse until the water runs clear while swirling with your hand, and -- most important -- do not lose a single grain. 

If you want to decrease your cooking time and plump up your grains so they swell individually during cooking, soak them for 2-4 hours in cold water prior to cooking. Sprouting, as you’ll see below, is a different story.

Rice Cooker

This is our one and only appliance method. Its name doesn’t do it any favors, summoning the rice equivalent to making a cake in a “cake-baker”, but we urge you to give it a chance. Before you call this one a cheat, know that serious rice cooks everywhere swear by these little machines. Our developer and seasoned rice veteran Amanda Li unapologetically uses one, every time. (And we take her seriously. When asked for tips, she responded with a short tome, including this shirt, and a rap about rice.) Simply pour your rice and water in, and flip the on switch. In Amanda’s words, "whatever you do, do NOT open the rice cooker!" After it's cooked, some cooks fluff up the whole pot of rice to redistribute the moisture and then close the lid for at least another 10 minutes.” To reheat, just recook your rice: put it back in the cooker with an ounce of water per cup of rice, and repeat the arduous process of flipping that switch.

Steaming or Absorption Method

If you grew up in an American household, chances are this is how you were taught to cook rice. From atop a chair, you stood over the stove, watching the cook in your household bring water, a pinch of salt, maybe a pat of butter, maybe not, to a boil. When those glorious bubbles started forming (the longer you watched the pot, the longer it took), rice was poured in. All in one swift motion, the burner was turned down to a bare simmer and the pot was covered. When all of the water was absorbed (you watched for this too), the rice was fluffed with a fork and table-ready. If this describes your childhood rice memories, keep on steaming -- in the book of rice, this method is a classic. 


If you want to cook your rice the way James Beard did, boil it. In what he refers to as the “old fashioned” method, a large pot of salted water is brought to a boil, at which point the rice is tossed in a little at a time so the water’s boil is never halted. The rice is cooked until tender (about 15-20 minutes for white varietals), then drained, washed, and reheated with butter before serving. As an extension of this method, Meta Given suggests cooking rice in a double boiler. Essentially, it’s the absorption method over another source of steam for a much gentler cooking process. 

If you want to do things the traditional Iranian way, you're going to want to boil and steam. Perhaps the most sophisticated of all rice cookery, this method has you boil Basmati rice as if it were pasta, then, steaming takes the rice the rest of the way. But here’s the kicker: unlike Asian cooks who measure failure by the crustiness of rice, Food52 editor Nozlee Samadzadeh tells us that Iranian cooks are going for a gorgeous, crusty bottom layer, known as tahdig (literally translated as “bottom of the pot”). If a war could be started mid-meal, it would be over who gets the last piece of tahdig. For in-depth instruction on this method, go here, but if you’re really serious, send Nozlee a message -- her rice knowledge, comparatively, will make you feel as though you’ve only just heard of the stuff yesterday. 


This method masquerades under a few different names. Known as germinated rice, GABA, and also genmai rice, sprouted rice is brown rice that is allowed to germinate prior to cooking, and it’s the healthiest method of them all. 

Traditionally, cooks have been soaking grains for many years, so if you decide to sprout yours, think of it as going back to your rice roots. To increase the availability of your rice’s nutrients, just rinse, cover with water, and soak it overnight (or at least 12 hours.) You’ll rinse, drain, and cover with fresh water again, and then repeat this process every 12 hours for at least 24 and up to 48 hours. We can’t promise you’ll be able to run a marathon after, but your finished product will be nutty and more nutritious than your standard-issue steamed side. 

Oven method

Great for when you run out of space on your stovetop and for when your apartment feels a little cold, the oven method is maybe even easier than your classic steam. While your oven preheats to 375, set your rice in a shallow dish (anything with a lid will do), and boil your water. (If you like your rice to taste good, add a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of butter at this juncture.) Pour boiling water over your rice, give it a quick stir, cover, and bake in your hot oven. 30 minutes will do the trick for white rice, but you’ll need a full 60 for brown. 

Or, use Amanda’s tried-and-true method and start everything on the stove. Once your water, rice, and pinch of salt come to a boil, cover it, and then it’s oven-bound for 17 minutes. Time it vigilantly, and don’t forget to fluff with a fork. 

Have another method for cooking rice? Share your genius in the comments below. Before we leave to set our rice pots on the stove, we can’t help echoing a grain of wisdom that James Beard once wrote, hiding within his recipe for rice the old fashioned way. He writes, simply, to just cook it to your favorite degree of tenderness. And therein lies the point: there may be rules, regulations, and rice experts lobbying for the superiority of their methods, but it’s still your stove. Steam -- or boil or sprout -- as you see fit. 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bliss
  • SFJeff
  • Holt Knight
    Holt Knight
  • Joy Millman
    Joy Millman
  • cookease
Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.


Bliss August 24, 2014
Old hippie trick: Coat with oil the bottom of a cast iron pan that has a lid, and brown your brown rice, stirring gently, until the kitchen's filled with a heavenly fragrance. While browning the rice you can add chopped onions and peppers, for extra deliciousness. Then add twice as much water as you have rice, cover snugly, turn heat to lowest possible and don't peek for about a half hour. The result is an addictive nutty flavor.
SFJeff August 20, 2014
Wow, that rice cooker looks like it's 30 years old. There are pretty amazing rice cookers ("suihanki" in Japanese) that cook all kinds of rice, have fuzzy logic built into their electronics, have induction heating for more even heat distribution, etc. Bottom-line conclusion, though, is still "Yes, you absolutely want a rice cooker." (Btw, the one I just described is the Zojirushi NP-HBC10 5-1/2-Cup model—just as good as the reviews on Amazon say it is....)
Holt K. August 20, 2014
I use a 1 1/2:1 method for white with the half being some kind of broth or stock I have on hand.
Joy M. October 10, 2012
If I use Amanda's tried and true rice cooking method to cook brown rice, how long does it have to stay oven-bound?
Kenzi W. October 10, 2012
Check out the recipe -- set a timer for 17 minutes and you'll be good to go!
cookease October 10, 2012
A microwave oven does a quick job on rice too! 2 to 1 proportions of water to rice, in a COVERED casserole...a dollop of butter if you wish....use HIGH for 15-20 minutes depending on amount (use a large enough dish so it doesn't boil all over). Have found I greatly prefer the Koho Rose and the like of Japanese rice.
collcath September 30, 2012
When I soak rice before cooking it (usually ~ 8 hours), I find that it needs quite a bit less water than the 2:1 or 2.25:1 recommended ratios. Unfortunately I haven't figured out exact quantities, so it's usually guess work and the result is often mushy and only occasionally spot-on. I've been hunting around for someone who can proscribe the exact ratio of water to soaked rice, but haven't found it yet. I believe it has to do with weight, and if you weigh your soaked rice you'll know exactly how much water to use, but again I don't have the answer.

Anyone, anyone?
Kenzi W. September 30, 2012
8 hours is tough. You're soaking short of sprouting territory! Rice begins to sprout in between 12 and 24 hours (most people soak for at least 24), at which point it's recommended to cook the rice in fresh water with a 1 1/2:1 (water:rice) ratio. Also, the cooking time decreases by 1/3. If you're finding you have quite a bit too much water with a 2:1 ratio after soaking for 8 hours, you might try a 1 1/2:1 -- most of the bran is softened (and the water absorbed) in the first stages of sprouting, so it might work for you! Best of luck.
JohnSkye September 30, 2012
what happened to the "risotto" method? i know it's used mostly as a noun, as in "shrimp risotto" or "mushroom risotto," but isn't "risotto" really a cooking method? e.g., i've made orzo risotto and barley risotto, using the same "cooking method" (i.e., adding stock a cup or so at a time, then stirring until it's absorbed before adding the next cup) used for making "risotto" from (short-grained) rice, such as arborio or valencia.

i've also made an oven baked "risotto" (prepared the same as the "oven" method in this article) and and a "no hands" version (same as "steamed" in the article), but i guess in those cases "risotto" may be being misused?
coing September 19, 2012
Can anyone comment on the "pressure rice cooker" which is sold in Korean stores?
Apparently it is supposed to be an improvement on the regular rice cooker. I'm wondering if it can also be used as a pressure cooker for other foods.
creamtea September 19, 2012
I learned to make Brazilian garlicky rice pilaf from a babysitter, then tweaked it a bit: saute a couple cloves minced garlic in olive oil with a torn fresh bay leaf or two, add rice (I use brown) and saute until tweedy and opaque, add boiling water and a pinch of salt to a depth of about an inch or a finger joint above the rice, set timer for about 45 minutes, stir once or twice, boil uncovered until you begin to see the steam holes but still looks "soupy" (there is still a thin film of water over rice) then turn down to lowest flame, cover, and simmer until timer goes off. Fluff with a fork and put a paper towel under the lid until serving time.
luvcookbooks September 19, 2012
I just discovered rice mixtures at the store. Made cholent and risotto with brown and wild rice mixtures!!
luvcookbooks September 19, 2012
Puerto Rican cooks also prize the crusty bottom, can't remember what it's called. I usually use Basmati rice ratio of 1 cup rice to 1.5 cups water for two cups of dry rice. The ratio depends on the pan also. If I have to cook more than 2 cups in a pan that's different from my usual rice pan, I'm all thrown off. Japanese new crop rice only needs 1.25 cups to a cup of rice.
luvcookbooks September 19, 2012
I just got a special pot and basket for steaming goi nep-- Vietnamese glutinous rice. It's an aluminum pot fitted with a cone shaped straw steamer. (so adorable) After soaking the rice at least several hours, bring water to the boil in the pot, put the straw steamer over the water (never let it touch the water or your rice will be cement like), pour the rice into the straw steamer and cover the top of the steamer with a clean dish towel. Steam for about half an hour. Fluff. This is the sticky rice that you can get in Vietnamese restaurants made in your own home!
Candace04 September 19, 2012
Aside from the Iranian variation, I was surprised not to see another single Middle Eastern variety. I cook long-grained rice after soaking & rinsing by frying it in a pot first with oil or butter, adding the drained rice and a bit more than equal parts water, letting it boil, then the lid goes on and steam does the rest of the work.
walkie74 September 19, 2012
OK, so am I a heretic for starting my rice in cold water and bringing it to a boil?
Melinmac September 18, 2012
For perfect rice, there's no substitution for a rice cooker. How could so many Asians be wrong?
Melinmac September 18, 2012
For perfect rice, there's no substitution for a rice cooker. How could so many Asians be wrong?
weshook September 18, 2012
When we were kids, we would have turns cooking the rice. Washing and measuring. Tilt the pan and the water cut a particular chord across the circle of the pan. Unfortunately, I would tire of waiting for the rice to come to a boil so I could turn it down and would wander off with my book forgetting to return in time to keep the rice from burning.
Dennis M. September 18, 2012
Long grain rice, wash with the swirl method, boil water, dump in rice, cook 12 minutes, drain. Presto, perfect rice.
Panfusine September 18, 2012
Speaking of rice.. this was an article in Zesterdaily..
Lost_in_NYC September 18, 2012
What about the pressure cooker method?!
Kenzi W. September 18, 2012
We wanted to stick mostly with methods that you didn't require special equipment. The rice cooker, as Amanda Li will tell you, was simply unavoidable.
Panfusine September 18, 2012
with the Pressure cooker there is a chance that the rice gets mushy.. Its great if you want a porridge like Kedgeree consistency..
The microwave is another great way to cook rice.. 20 minutes (1:3 proportion of rice to water (regular rice). or 1:2 for Basmati) a pinch of salt and melted butter/olive oil.
Lost_in_NYC September 18, 2012
@Kenzi, got it!
@Panfusine - the pressure cooker method actually makes perfectly fluffy rice if you know how to time and measure it properly. 15-20 minutes is actually all it takes. No fail method in any Indian household!
Panfusine September 18, 2012
WEll, in the interest of full disclosure, I've been known to combine rice & dal in different pans in the Cooker.. it times beautifully with Mung, But mushes up while cooking tuvar!
Amanda L. September 19, 2012
my weapon of choice: it's $100 for a small rice cooker, but it's worth it.