Rice to Know

by Jane Wangersky | September 12th, 2013 | Cooking Basics

riceWhen I was growing up, there was a seemingly endless stream of TV commercials telling us how hard it was to cook rice. I can still see the unhappy face of the woman in one commercial, poking at her underdone (or was it overdone?) rice while the voiceover said smarmily, “That’s going to ruin the whole meal!” Fortunately, the ads told us, the food industry had invented Minute Rice, Rice-A-Roni, Success Rice, and other highly processed stuff that came out “perfect every time”. You’d wonder why the stores still sold plain old rice at all.

Gradually, though, I realized regular rice was cheaper, more versatile, and of course less processed. (True, white rice is pretty processed to begin with — but processing it still more can’t help.) I decided to learn its secrets. It wasn’t really so hard.

“Rice is twice” — that’s the big one to remember. Well, actually, it’s the water that should be twice the amount of the rice. Two cups of water for every cup of rice, in other words.

Given that one cup of rice will soak up two cups of water, you’ll end up with three cups of cooked rice for every cup of uncooked.

The most familiar way to cook rice is on the stovetop — however, that’s also the most troublesome way. (There was some truth to those commercials.) To do this, bring the water to a boil, putting in salt if you want, then add the rice, put the lid on the pot, and turn the burner down to low. In a perfect world, you’d just leave it like that for 20 minutes. In real life, I recommend checking on it a few times. If the water’s all soaked up and the rice isn’t done yet, pour in a little more and keep checking.

You can also bake rice, or really, boil it in the oven. Just boil the right amount of water and put it with the rice in an ovenproof dish, cover, and bake at 350 for 2o minutes. No checking required.

Alternately, put the rice and boiling water in a microwave-safe dish, cover, and microwave on High for about 12 minutes (you’ll have to see how long it takes in your microwave).

Whichever method you use, let the rice sit for a few minutes after cooking to soak up the last of the water.

And you’re not limited to water. Use clear soup of any kind instead to give your rice flavor. Or just put powdered bouillon in the water (one teaspoon for every two cups) instead of salt.

I won’t tell you that you need to add salt, but rice seems very bland without it. Still, recommended amounts vary from a quarter teaspoon to a whole teaspoon per cup of water, so it’s really a matter of taste.

Cooking plain old rice may be more complicated than adding water to a processed dish — but it’s nothing to be afraid of either.

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