~ How to: Cook Perfect White Rice on the Stovetop ~
Sometimes we cooks take the simplest of things for granted. We intuitively know what spices, herbs, vegetables and/or fruits to add to a pot of perfectly-cooked, fluffy white rice to turn it into a spectacular side-dish. We instinctively use this inexpensive grain as a foil to stretch a meal that feeds a family of four into a meal that feeds six-eight. We grew up eating it, we make it for our families, we keep it on hand in our pantries, we order it in restaurants and we don't talk about it very much. After all... it's just rice. Measure it, cook it, fluff it, serve it... what's to talk about!
Yesterday on Kitchen Encounters Friday's ~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too ~, I answered a rice cooking question from a reader. She had angst about her ability to cook white rice properly, in order to serve my recipe for ~ Provencal Seafood Stew w/Lemon Rice ~ (found in Categories 2, 11, 14 & 21) to her family for Easter. I adequately answered her question yesterday, but I decided to take today (Saturday) to write a full-blown post centered around cooking perfect white rice on the stovetop, because: let's all be honest with each other, we've all had bad rice days. When I was a new cook, I knew a bit about cooking rice, because I had watched my grandmother and mother do it a lot, but I must admit, if I hadn't seen them do it and listened to some of their instructions, it wouldn't have taken me very long to experience that properly cooking rice can be a bit tricky... not hard, just tricky.
Before writing my Kitchen Encounters response to her question, I did a little research in my library. I opened about 6-7 cookbooks to see how other writers describe cooking rice. I was surprised to find out that most give vague directions at best: "bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add 2 cups of rice, cover and simmer until rice absorbs all moisture". While that statement is true, it is what's NOT said or explained that gets inexperienced cooks into trouble. So today, with this blog post, I'm hoping to turn your bad rice days into nice rice days!!!
Let me start by saying that all rice is not created equal, and it has NOTHING to do with brand name. When you are buying white rice, choose the longest grain you can find, with extra long-grain being my first choice. I didn't always know this, and apparently, this was the biggest cause for my rice problems. Then, four years ago I did a celebrity chef demonstration with/for Chef John D. Folse, CEC, AAC and author of The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine. Without going into any detail, he said to me, "if you're looking for fluffy rice, the longer the grain, the better end product." I have since schooled myself on different types of rice, which all contain different types of starch, which makes all of them cook and fluff up differently, and, they all have their place in this food world. For instance, medium-grain white rice cooks up creamy, while short-grain white rice cooks up sticky and creamy. In Melanie's Kitchen, there are applications for them all. That being said, when it comes to cooking fluffy white rice, Chef Folse's comment sums it all up in a nutshell.
We cooked lots of rice that morning, which Chef was using in both his gumbo and in his jambalaya, which 100 people would be getting a tasting of, and it all came out perfectly. Tip #1: For fluffy rice, choose the longest grain white rice available to you.
No matter what type of rice you are cooking, rinse the rice before you cook it. Do not soak it, rinse it, and keep the rice moving while you do. I simply place it in a colander and with cold tap water running through it, move the rice around with my fingertips until the water running out is clear. After that I let it sit in the sink while I bring my water to a boil. Tip #2: Rinse the rice.
Here is my basic formula: To cook 3 cups of white rice, (which will yield 6 cups of cooked rice), in a 4-quart stockpot, bring 6 cups of water, minus 6 tablespoons of water, to which 6 tablespoons of butter has been added, to a rolling boil, meaning: Subtract 1 tablespoon of water for every tablespoon of butter you add. Never let your liquid go over the 1 cup rice-to-2 cups water ratio. In fact, for really fluffy rice, you can subtract 2 tablespoons of water for every tablespoon of butter that you add.
This sounds complicated, but it is not. Once you do this once or twice, you will know exactly what texture you want your rice to be and will be able to control it perfectly using this method of measurement. You can skip the butter if you want to, but I never do. No one will ever guess you have added it, but they will wonder why your rice always tastes better than theirs does. Beef, chicken or vegetable stock can also be used in place of water and butter, which will give your rice deeper flavor, but remember to choose what type of stock to use based upon what you are are serving the rice with, so all of the flavors complement each other. Tip #3: For every cup of water you use, subtract 1 tablespoon of water and add 1 tablespoon of butter.
I "sort of" learned this next "trick" from Chef Folse, as he insisted upon it, but I had always pretty much done it this way as per my grandmother: Slowly sprinkle the rice into the boiling water, the slower the better. This really helps to initially keep all of the grains separated. Briefly stir the mixture and adjust the heat to a very, very gentle simmer, cover and cook for 12-16 minutes.
Tip #4: Slowly sprinkle the rice into the boiling water, the slower the better.
This timing varies and is determined by the rapidity of your simmer. Do not uncover or stir during the simmering process, as this disturbs the process, but I find that checking it off and on during the last 3-4 minutes of cooking is like having a good insurance policy in place. When the rice is cooked al dente, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 5-10 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork prior to serving.
"Fluffing" is a process that allows steam to escape from the rice while imparting volume. I like to refer to it as "gently raking through the rice with a fork" to remove any lumps and separate the grains. Using a spoon or a spatula tends to mash the delicate grains so avoid that at all cost. This "fluffing" process is also applied when preparing couscous, quinoa and bulgur. Tip #5: Remove the al dente rice from heat, allow it to rest, uncover and fluff with a fork just prior to serving.
Lastly, choose the right type of pot. I can't control what you have available to you in your kitchen, but for best results it should be a heavy-gauge pot with ample room for the simmering rice to gently tumble around in and expand. That doesn't mean it has to be outrageously expensive. My favorite rice cooking pot is an 18/10 stainless steel, 4-quart all-purpose stockpot, which I bought from Williams-Sonoma about 15 years ago for about $40.
It has a tight-fitting, clear glass lid which is IDEAL for keeping an eye on how my rice is progressing without lifting the lid. Three cups of rice always cooks perfectly in it each and every time. After doing a brief search on the internet, I found my pot to be discontinued, but I did find a 4-quart Chantal stockpot with a tight-fitting glass lid on Amazon.com that I feel I could recommend as a very good alternative. In the event you are looking to invest in a pot of this nature, its cost is presently $89.00. Tip #6: Choose an appropriately-sized, heavy-gauge pot with a tight-fitting lid.
Special Equipment List: colander; heavy-gauge, 4-quart stockpot w/tight-fitting lid; spoon; fork
Cook's Note: Always refrigerate leftover rice. Leftovers reheat perfectly in the microwave. Once you have tried this method for cooking rice, I am sure you'll be experimenting with creative ways to stir all sorts of goodies into your perfectly cooked rice!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Photos, Commentary and Video/Slideshows courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)