There are many things I can do well in the kitchen, but cooking rice has never been one of them. It’s a low priority item in our household as we prefer chapatis over rice. On the days we have made rice, Hubby has always been the one to make it. He cooks his mother’s recipe, which he learned when leaving for America.
On a recent night out to eat, Hubby had taken me to dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant in the bay area, Bombay Gardens. It was there that I realized how delicious a simple rice dish can be when it’s made the right way.
So I decided it was about time I learned how to make my own rice. It seems strange to admit this, but somehow I’ve managed to learn so many dishes and yet, I don’t know how to boil rice. However, let’s be specific; I do of course know how to boil rice, I just end up with either a sticky clump or hard undercooked grains. I wanted to know how to do it perfectly, every time.
Rice is one of those dishes that is really easy to make but hard to do really well. Do you ever wonder exactly how much water to add or how long to cook it? Does the rice ever become sticky within minutes and the longer it sits the clumpier it gets?
The goal is to discover the world of aromatic Indian rice and in the upcoming weeks I’ll explore all kinds of great rice recipes for which India is famous.
There are so many great rice dishes out there, it took me a while to decide where to start. For the last week I’ve been making saffron rice and a menagerie of biryanis. Eventually I whittled my way down and in the end, I decided the best place to start is at the beginning.
Yes, plain old boiled rice. Sounds pretty boring. In fact, it’s hard to believe I’ve spent a week cooking various versions of boiled rice. Hubby is now begging me to no longer feed him rice and so I’ve been turning to my friends. I held a tasting last week where I served a lunch of only rice for a few brave friends.
Amazingly, I’ve learned that plain boiled rice can be full of flavor. Great rice is when every grain is smooth, separated and has a wonderful nutty and buttery flavor. The unadorned boiled rice, which is usually only for the purpose of soaking up curry sauces, can be as equally appealing as the fancier biryanis.
Beyond just the taste, I need a rice dish with no guess work. No mathematical equation for how much water to rice ratio and no worrying about how long to leave the lid on. In fact, this recipe requires no lid at all. Intrigued?
I tested rice recipes from a bunch of reliable sources and during my search I came across a recipe in the book Rasoi, in which you do not cover the pot. “That’s crazy” was my first thought. However after testing it against other methods, it turned out the most reliable with the best results.
The basic format of this dish is: rinse the rise, soak the rise, use enough water so the rice is completely covered while boiling and put oil in the water so the rice doesn’t stick together. Then you let it boil till the rice is soft.
At first, I felt intimidated because the recipe did not provide a cooking time but rather a “how you know when it’s done” suggestion. I didn’t like having to stand over the boiling rice. I prefer to set a timer and forget about. After cooking it multiple times now, I’ve found the average cooking time for this amount of rice was ten minutes.
The recipe in the cookbook asks you to rinse the rice and then soak the rice for 30 minutes, which seems to take a simple dish and make it high maintenance but in the end these steps make all the difference. I tested the rinsed and soaked rice against a rinsed, but not soaked version and a “none of the above” version. The fussier version won by a mile.
The rice that was neither rinsed nor soaked was sticky and completely bland. The version that was rinsed but not soaked was less sticky but bland. The rinsed and soaked version was smooth, with separated grains full of a buttery flavor which the other versions did not have. I say the fuss is worth it.
Do you have a favorite way of boiling rice?
Boiled rice is used as the foundation of many fancier rice dishes. This technique of boiling the rice without a lid is a very different way of doing rice and at first may seem a little trickier due to needing to test the rice before knowing if it is done.
I’ve adapted this recipe by adding a cooking time as well as changing the amounts in the recipe to serve four people. I also added a bit more oil to the water than the original calls for to add more flavor and smoothness. For the cooking time, you can set the timer for ten minutes as that will be the minimum it will need to be boiled, then check it every few minutes by fishing out some rice with a fork and pressing it between your fingers to see if it breaks. If the rice is boiled for too long it does become sticky.
For all rices dishes I like to use Basmati rice.
2 cups/350 g Basmati rice
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Rinse and soak rice
Put the rice in a small bowl and rinse under warm water three or four times to wash out some of the starch.
Leave the rice to soak in a bowl of warm water for 30 minutes. Soaking the rice removes starch and helps the rice absorb some water, which helps it swell during cooking for the fluffy grains Indian rice is known for. After 30 minutes, drain the rice.
2. Boil the water, oil and salt
Pour 8.5 cups/2 liters of water into a heavy-bottom pot and add the oil and salt. The oil helps keep the grains of rice from sticking together and gives it a beautiful gloss.
3. Add the rice
Add the soaked and strained rice.
3. Boil the rice
Cook the rice uncovered at a full boil, till you can break a grain of rice when pressed between your fingers.
4. Drain the rice
Drain the rice in a colander.