What's the best way to cook perfect rice?

I'd love to hear your best/favorite techniques for cooking plain rice, whether it's in a pot, pan, steamer, rice cooker, oven, microwave, or any unexpected kitchen appliance! All rice-related stories and generations-old techniques are welcome!

  • Posted by: Jun
  • March 31, 2021


MMH March 31, 2021
I woulda never dreamed I’d say this but - hands down a rice cooker. About 10 years ago I lost my touch for cooking rice. I used to be able to cook it blind folded. My neighbor had lived in Japan and she suggested it. Skeptical of unitaskers, i bought the cheapest, scratch and dent model I could find. It’s still working. The knob on the lid has fallen off. The newer man in my life loves it and always makes the max batch for kimchee friend rice the next day. And the other beauty is that we put on the rice while we cook something else and forget about it. And get this - I still have the direction book for all the various rice recipes!!!!!
Jun April 5, 2021
Agreed, I'm all for rice cooker rice too! And woah have you tried most, if not all, of the recipes in the direction book? Also, on a related note, this rice question will be the topic for an upcoming Food52 podcast episode, so I was wondering if you'd be up for a short chat about your love for rice cooker rice? I just dropped you an email with the details, but just in case that's an inactive email you use, you can let me know here too.
702551 March 31, 2021
There is no one best way for everyone.

HIgh-end restaurant chefs in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, etc. even differ in their techniques and equipment.

There's also the matter of convenience. There's also the matter of different varieties of rice. There's also a matter of specific dishes. For a pilaf, you really need to saute the rice (and maybe other ingredients such as onion) before you add the liquid. That works in some equipment but less well in others.

For ordinary household cooking of relatively plain rice, the automatic electric rice cooker wins hands down no contest. Billions of East Asians rely on this and the current appliances are the result of decades of product development and testing.

I have a no-frills Zojirushi rice cooker, a one-button $25 wonder like HalfPint's departed appliance. Works reliably.

I also have a clay pot designed specifically for rice cooking that I purchased in Japan; I use it on a tabletop butane gas burner. Works great.

The biggest thing to making excellent rice is not the equipment but technique and experience. Young sushi restaurant cooks in Japan traditionally spend years just cooking rice before they are allowed to touch other ingredients. The final result depends on rice variety, the farm, time of year, humidity, amount of water, application of heat, etc. in the same way that baking a loaf of bread depends heavily on the ingredients, the technique of the baker, time of year, humidity, etc.

One thing I have taken to doing is rinsing a lot of types of rice (including long-grain Asian rices and basmati rice), draining it in a colander, and letting it rest for about 20-30 minutes before using.

The other main consideration is water. There are Kyoto chefs (like Murata-san from Kikunoi) who open up restaurants elsewhere AND SEND KYOTO WATER to those new stores.

Even if I buy rice in Kyoto and bring it back home to the USA, I can't get the same results because the water is different.
702551 March 31, 2021
Yes, there are have entire books on this topic.

In his general cookbook "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art" Shizuo Tsuji spends four pages on his introduction of his rice chapter and another four pages on the boiled rice recipe.

When the final volume (sushi) of Japanese Culinary Academy's series is published, I would expect at least twenty pages on the background/history and basic cooking of plain white rice.

One thing important with Japanese rice is the proper technique in fluffing the rice. Use a wood paddle (shamoji) and cut down into the rice then lift it up. Do not just stir or mix it around. The best way to understand is to watch an expert (preferably in person or alternatively from a reliable YouTube source).
Jun April 5, 2021
Woah this is immensely helpful, and that comparison to bread/sourdough is so apt! Rice definitely has its nuances. Also I was just curious, what does that 20-30 minute rest achieve?
HalfPint March 31, 2021
Honestly, the best way to cook rice is with an electric cooker. No need for anything fancy or complicated. The best one I ever owned had 1 button to click. It cooked perfect rice in 20 minutes. It cost $25. I would still have that cooker today, 20 years later, had it not been for an unfortunate encounter with a bad temper (who shall remain nameless).

My mom taught me to cook rice on the stovetop. Rinse the rice a couple of times. It will never rinse clear (it has never happened for me, so I stopped trying). For white jasmine rice, 1 water per 1 cup rice. Bring to a boil uncovered. Lower heat and cook at a bubbly simmer until the water level is just below the top of the rice. Don't stir it at all. Put on cover and drop the heat to the lowest setting. Basically, this steams the rice and drives off any remaining water. This will probably take about 5-10 minutes. The rice should be cooked but "dry". Fluff with a pair of chopsticks and serve.
Jun April 4, 2021
Oooh I'm all for using a rice cooker as well! How does your mom's stovetop rice compare to rice cooker rice though? Does it turn out fluffier at all? Either way, I'd love to have a chat with you about this for an upcoming Food52 podcast episode. I just dropped you an email with details too!
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