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I'm slowly teaching myself to cook and I made some rice today. While the result was perfectly acceptable, the process didn't go smoothly and I had to add some water in the end and cook it some more to get there.

I did follow the process on the package of rice, though I also read a bit about rice cooking in general before that. So I added the rice with a defined amount of water in a pot, brought it to boil and then simmered it with a half-closed lid for around 10 minutes.

What I'm wondering now is why rice is cooked in this way, with a defined amount of water added and then until the water is absorbed or evaporated? The process seems to me to be rather fragile as the result depends a lot on getting the rice/water ratio right.

Compared to cooking pasta for example, the process seems to be more finicky and depending on rather exact measurements. So why exactly isn't rice just cooked like pasta, where you bring excess water to a boil and put the rice in for a defined amount of time, with the option of tasting when it is done?

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All cooking takes plenty of practice. Most people can't cook pasta properly anyway, they usually overcook it by 50% to 100%. Overcooked pasta is just not as bad as overcooked rice.… – TFD May 10 '14 at 23:27

Once you get the hang of it, rice is as easy as pasta. One thing you say in the question that may be central to the difficulty you are having is that your lid is "half-closed". For the majority of rice cooking methods, not only should you keep the lid tightly closed, but you shouldn't even open it to check the rice until it has cooked close to long enough that it might be done. Look at the accepted answer here: Rice gets burnt and watery. That answer explains it more thoroughly.

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You can cook rice like pasta, boiling in excess water until done then draining. But there are a couple main reasons not to:

  • You'll wash away a lot of the starch. Especially for starchier varieties (short and medium grain), this may not be a good thing - you'll end up with distinct grains, not nice fluffy, slightly sticky rice.
  • It can be a pain to drain properly. You probably have a colander for pasta, with holes large enough that rice will fall through. If you use a metal sieve, it can be prone to getting little bits stuck in it, making it hard to clean.
  • If you accidentally overcook it, it'll be awful, soft and mushy. If on the other hand you start with the right amount of water, and overcook it, it'll just stick to the pot on the bottom, leaving most of it still good on top.

So if you're having trouble with traditional methods, you can try boiling, or try a pilaf (something like this, but you can make it plain if you want), which will be less prone to sticking and overcooking. Or else you can just get a rice cooker and get it right every time!

But it's really not that bad, and I'm sure you'll figure it out after a few tries. Measuring the ratio correctly is easy enough (though you may want to adjust it if you find it's consistently not quite to your tastes), and beyond that you just have to be careful not to let it cook too hot and stick.

Also, for your specific experience, the half closed lid might have the problem. That will let a lot of steam escape, so you won't have enough water left to cook it properly. And adding more at the end is never as good as having it right to begin with, since it takes time for the new water to come up to temperature, and the rice has time to get soggy on the outside without cooking thoroughly. The method I've always known is to simmer with a closed lid - just make sure you turn it down as soon as it's hot enough so it doesn't boil over or stick.

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For convenience and foolproofness, it's hard to beat a rice cooker. These inexpensive appliances cook the rice only until the free water has boiled away (measured by when the temperature of the pot starts to rise above boiling temperature of water) and the temperature begins to rise, then drop back to a keep-warm setting.

But in fact, I've had perfectly adequate success by following exactly the directions on the package. Usually a 2:1 water-to-rice ratio. Boil water, reduce to low simmer, add rice, cover, ignore for exactly 20 minutes (do use a timer!), remove from heat. The only tricky part is figuring out how low to set the simmer so it doesn't foam/boil over... though that's only messy, not a problem for the rice. Any venting should be minimal -- the rice steams as much as it boils, so you don't want to lose much moisture.

I actually like very slightly burnt rice, but have found no way to get that to happen reliably to exactly the right degree.

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I think if you're trying to brown or even burn it just the right amount, you probably want to uncover it at the end. That way it definitely won't just be steaming, and you can tell by smell when it's done how you want. – Jefromi May 11 '14 at 22:42

This pagefor example explains all great and with images:

Basmati cooking

Trick is to use a rice:water ratio of 1:2, so for every cup of rice you add two cups of water. And to keep the lid closed at as soon as the water boils.

For most meals you want to have the rice a little sticky so it doesn't fall off the fork or chop sticks.

As for the why question it seems rice takes longer to cook and is losing more starch than pasta, so you can't just cook it in 5 liters of water.

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That might be the right ratio for basmati, but it's really high for a lot of kinds of rice. – Jefromi May 11 '14 at 3:14

You can cook rice easily in the microwave. Just add almost double the amount of water and cook for 6-15 minutes on high power, depending on how much you're making. Remember to use a lid/pierced cling film, and a fairly large bowl, because the water tends to bubble up and make a mess otherwise.

Edit: The rice will be hot for a few minutes, so water will evaporate. Hence you don't want it to be dry when you take it out of the microwave, as it will get even drier. Best to take it out when still slightly wet and fluff it up with a spoon/fork/utensil of your choice. If there's still some water left after a couple of minutes, pop it back in for slightly more.

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That sort-of works… unless your goal is to enjoy eating it – Jolenealaska May 12 '14 at 13:22
Nothing wrong with it my opinion, and I'm of Asian origin! – Binary Funt May 12 '14 at 13:32
@Jolenealaska Rice is pretty sensitive. The other answer said no lid, 12-15 minutes until no liquid is left. This one says cover at least partially, 6-15 minutes, until just a little liquid is left. I imagine that makes a pretty big difference. – Jefromi May 12 '14 at 17:35
@Jefromi Gad. Now I need to experiment again. It's a good thing I buy rice at Sam's Club. – Jolenealaska May 13 '14 at 4:58
@Jefromi I tried it. I got the same, less than great, results as the last time I tried microwaving rice. I don't recommend it. – Jolenealaska May 14 '14 at 13:41

Get a pressure cooker(works for any kind of cooking) or an electric rice cooker.

All you have to do is - put rice, add equal or little more water, salt to taste and your rice is ready in 15 minutes. Millions of people in India use that for generations!

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I've never used a pressure cooker for rice, I'd try it if I had one. But equal amounts of water and rice? Every other method (including rice makers) require 1.5+:1. How does pressure make that different? I can imagine slightly less than 1.5:1 under pressure, but I'm finding 1:1 a stretch. – Jolenealaska May 17 '14 at 4:18

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