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Don't worry, even pros are guilty of some of these rice-cooking faux pas. 

Isadora Baum
December 18, 2018

No doubt, everybody loves this super versatile grain—it can be used in dishes such as stir-fry, risotto, burritos, sushi, and Chinese takeout. A life without rice would be pretty sad.

Yet rice needs to be cooked well in order to taste good, and if you’re messing up the cooking time or technique, you could be left with raw or lower quality rice that won’t enhance your dish the way it should.

Watch out for these pretty common mistakes you could be making when whipping up your latest rice recipe. There’s no reason to not cook rice perfectly every time.

You're steaming your rice—and not in the good way.

You don’t want to let your rice steam when cooking. “It's known as ‘carry over cooking’ in the kitchen. If your rice is done cooking, make sure you serve it or take it out of the pot to begin to cool, or it will overcook and turn to mush,” explains Co-owner and Executive Chef Brian Enyart of Dos Urban Cantina in Chicago. And give it a nice fluff when done. “It’s good to fluff it to cool it down more quickly to avoid steaming and over cooking,” he adds.

You always follow the directions on the package.

The directions on the package are a road map, not a law. “There are too many variables in cooking to rely solely on a recipe from temperatures, to pan sizes, and even humidity and altitude. Read through the directions to get an understanding of them and use your eyes, nose and ears to be the best judge,” says Enyart.

For instance, if your flame is higher or if you use a 10” wide pan versus a 6” wide pan, your water will evaporate at a quicker rate, he says. And starches tend to absorb humidity, so on very humid days you might need a touch less liquid, and on very dry days you might need a touch more, he adds. Cooking times tend to increase in higher elevations, as well.

You’re stirring it.

Let your rice be. “Stirring will help break down the rice and knock off the exterior starch a bit. When steaming rice, this will create a layer of starch in the bottom of your pan causing sticking and burning,” he says.

Yet there’s one exception: risotto. “The ratio of liquid is higher for risotto and the starch that is released during stirring helps to thicken the liquid creating the classic texture of risotto,” he says. So, stir as you please!

You treat brown and white rice the same.

Brown rice cooks more like a whole grain than refined white rice. “I like to gently simmer brown rice for almost an hour, which is double the time for white rice,” he says. Here’s why it’s different. “Brown rice requires more cooking time and more liquid. If you treated brown rice the same as white rice, it wouldn’t cook through and would still be raw,” he cautions. No bueno.

You’re cooking it on a too-high temp.

Give your rice a more moderate flame. “Rice should be cooked at a medium temperature. Cooking it at a high temp will probably leave your rice raw in the middle,” he says. As the starch falls away from the rice, it will most likely stick and burn on the bottom of the pan, as well. That means, goodbye pan (or hello large cleanup!) and some pretty bad tasting rice.

You’re lifting the lid.

It's hard to be patient and trust, but losing that extra heat and steam will greatly affect how your rice cooks “You need all of that steam to remain trapped in your pot to cook the rice, though. If you remove the lid before it’s done, your ratios are now incorrect,” he says. It is very difficult to adjust time and amount of liquid after that, so just keep the lid on until it’s one.

How to cook rice the right way

Beyond avoiding these mistakes, bring these tips into your kitchen. “For cooking the perfect rice, I approach it in two different ways,” he says.

“My go-to is jasmine rice because I love the toasty flavor. If I want to have my rice slightly sticky so I can eat it with saucy dishes, I will use equal parts (1:1) of water and rice,” he says. Then, add it to a small pot and cover with a tight fitting lid.

“When the rice begins to steam, I set a timer for 15 minutes. After the timer goes off, I turn off the heat and let sit, covered for 15 extra minutes,” he says. Remove lid, fluff, and serve. “If I want rice that doesn’t stick together, I gently toast the rice with some oil before adding the liquid,” he adds.

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