Rice is the oldest known food that is still widely consumed today. There are three types of rice grain: short, medium and long. Chef Briwa explains how to differentiate the varieties and provides tips for cooking rice because it is surprisingly easy to make a mistake with this simple staple of cuisine.
Almost every culture in the world consumes some combination of grains and legumes because that combination is a nutritional powerhouse. Together, grains and legumes will give you a complete protein, especially in the absence of abundant meat. There are all kinds of grains—including oats, wheat, rye, barley, sorghum, wild rice, quinoa, and teff—that serve as fuel for the human body. We are going to focus on rice and techniques for cooking rice.
This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.
Rice comes in varying lengths compared to width. For example, in the United States, we seem to like long-grain rice, which tends to cook up loose and fluffy. In the eastern Mediterranean, medium-grain rice is used, which is about three times as long as it is wide. This rice cooks up less fluffy and a little sticky unless it is handled correctly. It must be rinsed to remove surface starch and then parched in hot oil so that each grain gets a proper coat of gelatinized starch on the outside and an oily overcoat that will keep each grain distinct from its neighbor.
Short-grain rice is about twice as long as it is wide and cooks up sticky. Many cultures capitalize on this sticky quality. Sushi, for example, holds together because of this stickiness, and this rice is usually just right for eating with chopsticks. Italian risotto gets its characteristic creamy texture and mouth-feel from this same short-grain rice.
Types of Rice
- Short-grain rice is the type of rice that is used in sushi and risotto. Short-grain rice is about twice as long as it is fat. When it cooks, the starch becomes very sticky.
- Medium-grain rice is about three times as long as it is fat, and when it is cooked, it is significantly less sticky than short-grain rice.
- Long-grain rice is about five times as long as it is fat, and when it cooks, it becomes very soft and fluffy—the grains don’t stick together at all.
- Whole grain rice has added nutrition, but because of the bran and fiber that it contains, it takes longer to cook than white rice.
If white rice cooks in about 15 minutes, then whole grain rice takes nearly 45 minutes. Quinoa is an example of a whole grain that cooks very quickly. Because it is so small, it cooks in about 15 minutes even though it contains bran and fiber.
Learn more about cooking the culinary staples of beans and grains
For cooking rice, you want to first measure the rice, pour it into a bowl or colander, and wash it well to eliminate the surface starch. When washing the rice, you will notice that the starch on the surface of the rice will begin to cloud the water very quickly.
After rinsing, discard the starch. This step ensures that the cooked rice won’t be sticky. If your rice is a little sticky, it makes it easy to use chopsticks, but if it is too sticky, it becomes objectionable.
For every type of rice that you cook, there will be a measured amount of water that is appropriate for that rice. For example: Cook brown rice in two and a half times as much water as rice. For converted rice, use two times as much water as rice.
Bring the water to a boil, add the rice, return to a boil, and then turn down the heat to a simmer. You don’t want it to boil hard because you don’t want the rice to break up.
Once it is at a simmer, cover the rice and let it cook for about 15 minutes.
The rice is done when there is no more free liquid in the pan and when the grains are tender all the way through. If you’re curious as to whether it’s fully cooked, taste it; there should be no chalky core at the center of the rice.
Allow the rice to sit for about 10 minutes after it has cooked, and then fluff it with a fork to break up any stickiness. The rice will stay warm for probably an hour or more.
Quick Tip for Cooking Rice
If you don’t know how much liquid that a particular grain should cook in, you can also try cooking rice in water the way you might cook pasta. You probably won’t need as much water, but cover the grains with abundant liquid in a pot and then turn the heat on and cook them. When the grains are done cooking, you can simply pour out the excess liquid, repurposing it by adding it to a soup, for example. As the grains cook, flavor them in whatever way you choose. Just remember that different grains take different amounts of time to cook.
Learn more about which knives you should always have on hand in the kitchen
Cooking Basmati Rice in a Perfect Pilaf
Proportions to taste
- basmati rice
- chicken stock
- bay leaves
- red pepper flakes
- onions, sautéed
Rice pilaf is a great technique for keeping rice loose and fluffy. Start to finish, this method of cooking rice takes about 20 minutes.
Rice pilaf involves cooking the grain in a measured amount of liquid, so you need to know which grain you are beginning with in order to measure the correct amount of liquid. For example, basmati rice uses about one part rice to about one and a half to one and three-quarters parts liquid.
To cook basmati rice, add to a pot the appropriate amount of liquid—which can be water, chicken stock, or even vegetable stock—and some basmati rice. For this dish, use chicken stock.
As flavorings, add a branch of thyme, a few bay leaves, and a pinch of pepper flakes.
Don’t use black pepper with rice like this because if you do, you will see little black specks against something that is basically white.
Stir everything to make sure the rice isn’t sticking together and bring the liquid up to a boil.
Then, reduce the heat so that the liquid maintains a simmer and continue to cook the rice with a tight-fitting lid over the pot.
After about 17 or 18 minutes, all of the moisture should be absorbed, and the rice should be tender. At that point, you can turn the heat off.
Let the rice sit for about five minutes because cooked rice can be delicate. You don’t want to manipulate it too much; otherwise, you’ll break up the grains.
If the rice is properly cooked, there shouldn’t be any excess liquid that pours to the side of the pot when you tilt it. All of the liquid should have been absorbed by the rice. If you taste the rice, it should be tender and properly seasoned.
After letting the rice rest, add a little bit of butter to flavor it. Grab a fork and fluff the rice very gently; don’t stir it with a spoon, and don’t be too aggressive. Along the way, you may find the remnants of the thyme and bay leaves, which can be removed before serving.
Learn more about how to create the perfect kitchen setup (mise en place)
In a heated pan, sauté some onions in oil until they turn translucent.
Coat each grain in the oil, which will protect it from sticking to other grains of rice.
Then, add the rice to the pan and coat the grains with the flavorful fat that is already inherent in the pan. As you cook the rice, the outside starch on each grain of rice will gelatinize with the heat and will firmly coat each grain so that it doesn’t stick to its neighbor.
You will notice that the rice will change from being translucent to being slightly-white and chalky. After about a minute and a half of cooking, the rice may begin to brown just a little bit, and you will notice a toasty, nutty aroma.
Common Questions About Cooking Rice
The standard water and rice ratio is 2:1, which is 2 parts (usually cups) of water to 1 part of rice for long grain rice. However, there are variations depending on the type of rice used and the desired final quality.
Generally the most popular or best way to cook rice is in a stove pot with water. Start by bringing the rice and water to a boil, place a lid on the pot, and reduce heat to simmer for the appropriate time depending on the type of rice.
Rice takes differing amounts of time depending on the grain and desired result. For perfect rice, long grain white rice is simmered to 18 minutes, short-grain white rice to 15 minutes, and brown rice to 45 minutes.