I have a rice cooker with brown rice setting. I struggle getting the brown rice cooked properly. I get it either too soft or too dry once it is done cooking. I usually put in 3-4 cups of water with the brown rice. My question is, what is the ideal way to prepare brown rice? Is it better to boil it in a pot?
It is good to see people going towards brown rice. When buying brown rice you could choose out of two types based on its production method.
Former takes shorter time to cook while latter takes longer. If you are using Raw type, you need to wash and pre-soak it for an hour or so (depend on the amount). Once you soak it, the water required for cooking brown rice can be as same as white rice of same weight.
Lets take 1 kg of raw brown rice. Assuming you have not soaked, you may add extra 2 cups of water than to what's indicated in your rice cooker for 1kg.
Certain brown rice from Europe, Thailand or Vietnam can be pretty corase and absorbed high volume of water. Where as Brown Rice from countries like Sri Lanka tends to be tender. Country to country the grain differs in shape, taste, nutrition since soil, water, weather climate, organic, non organic and the type of seed used for agriculturing. Thus leaving us with a bit of search to be done when cooking these rice. If you are experienced you will know immediately how to meddle with each type.
As for the boiled in a bag, I don't recommend that method. Mainly because it doesn't allow sufficient room for rice to settle and expand. (I hope you are not referring to a very specific rice item condumed in certain Asian countries as it indeed meant to be cooked in the compressed bag and eaten in compressed form.)
PS: My family has been harvesting paddies with different types of rice in tropicals for generations. Personally and most people seem to prefer par-boiled rice. It is much tastier but requires more sweat compared to producing raw.
In your case, you don't even need a rice cooker. We use a pot when it comes to any rice but specifically for brown. A deep enough saucepan/pot for the amount of rice + water) can be used. However in this method you have to be careful about "managing" fire and following:
Rice cookers can make very good brown rice. You just need to be accurate in your measurements of rice and water a few times until you dial in the texture that you enjoy. Also, you might like the results of pre-soaking the rice. My rice cooker has a timer, so I will put the brown rice and the appropriate amount of water in it in the morning and set the timer for 5 PM. When I come home, voila, perfect rice. If you don't have a timer, but do have time on your hands, you can just set up the water and rice but don't press the start button for an hour or two.
Assuming you are getting the results of being either too soft or too dry using the same amount of water in each run, I would say you are doing two things wrong.
First when it turns out too soft, I will assume that you are stirring the rice in the cooker at some point. When you stir the rice, it releases the starch that is present in the rice. The more you stir it, the softer it will become to the point of becoming soupy. It is important to not stir the rice while it is cooking.
Second, Since it comes out too dry sometimes, I will guess those are the times that you are not stiring it. Brown rice is a little different than white rice in the amount of water that it takes to cook. With white rice you generally need 2 cups of water to every 1 cup of rice. On the other hand, brown rice, you will generally need 2 and 1/4 to 2 and 1/2 cups of water per cup of rice. You will have to play around with the amount of water needed. I would suggest that even if the packaging on the rice has a recomended water to rice ratio start with the 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 range and work from there. Each batch can be different even in rice from the same company and their instructions are a generalized guess.