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How To Make Perfect Rice Without A Rice Cooker

Lifehacker Australia logo Lifehacker Australia 12/08/2017 A.A. Newton

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Professional chefs and home cooks alike look down their noses at single-use kitchen appliances with one exception: the humble rice cooker. I don't own one myself, but I totally get the appeal. Rice cookers succeed where alternative methods fail spectacularly.

Everyone's been there: you buy a bag of rice, follow the stovetop directions on the package exactly and end up with something that's soupy, burned on the bottom, sticky, crunchy, or somehow all of those at once. If that's your first experience cooking rice, you'd be forgiven for deciding it's impossible to make rice without a rice cooker -- but it's not! After all, a covered pot on a stove is the original rice cooker; electronic ones were just invented to automate the process.

There are three key tricks to not messing up stovetop rice: using the right amount of water, thoroughly rinsing white rice and letting the rice steam off-heat for 15 minutes before serving. To address the first point: the commonly recommended 2:1 water:rice ratio is bonkers. Your poor rice will drown. Instead of measuring cups, I use a chopstick to measure the amount of rice in the pot and add the same amount of water on top, resulting in a 1-ish:1 ratio, a process which I will explain in a moment.

(A lot of people swear by the first-knuckle method but it just hasn't worked as well for me as this one does.)

As for rinsing, it's non-negotiable for white rice. Rinsing removes the surface starch that the milling process leaves behind, and that starch is what turns gluey during cooking. Finally, finishing the rice off-heat helps it absorb any excess water without overcooking. Rice cookers don't beep at you until after this crucial final step, which is why people have more success with them.

Here's what you need to make perfect rice on the stove:

  • Any kind of rice
  • Fine mesh strainer (white rice only)
  • 1-2L saucepan with lid (for four or more cups of dry rice)
  • Chopstick, skewer, table knife, a finger -- anything long and thin that you can use to gauge depth
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Butter or oil (optional)
  • A timer

Keeping in mind that rice roughly doubles in volume when cooked, decide how much dry rice you need. Eyeball the measure.

If you're using white rice, rinse it very, very thoroughly in a fine mesh strainer under cold running water, agitating it with your fingers and/or swirling the strainer around.

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Keep at it until the water coming off the bottom is clear.

Dump the rice into the pot and level out the surface. Place the pot in the sink, directly under the faucet.

Wiggle a chopstick (or what have you) straight down to the bottom of the saucepan and use your fingers to mark the depth:

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Keep your fingers in the same place and lift the chopstick up until the tip of the chopstick gently rests on the surface of the rice:

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Holding the chopstick steady, turn the faucet on and add water until it just touches the tips of your fingers:

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For white rice, stop here. For black or brown rice, keep adding water until your fingertips are submerged -- I usually stop halfway up my nail bed.

Add a couple pinches of salt and some butter or oil if you like, then cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. It will only take about five minutes, so stick around. This is controversial, but I think it's OK to lift the lid once or twice for a visual boil check.

Once the rice is boiling, immediately turn the heat to its lowest possible setting. (If you're using an electric range, move the pot to a different burner on the lowest setting.) Start a timer: 20 minutes for white rice, 45 minutes for black or brown rice.

When the timer goes off, cut the heat and leave the pot alone for at least 15 minutes. (If you're using an electric range, move the pot off the hot burner entirely.) Do not take the lid off to peek! Let it steam!

When the 15 minutes are up, fluff the rice with a fork and serve. Hum a few bars of Amaryllis -- preferably directly into your guests' ears at very close range, so they never forget who made this beautiful rice for them -- and call it a day, baby!

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