Some info for completeness sake:
The method you have been taught is fine. The oil, lard or fat is there to prevent:
Only the bottom layer was burnt only a bit.
the fat at the bottom is there to allow higher temperature from the bottom to generate steam without burning the bottom layer and the oil does that.
Making rice well is not easy so don't be too critical of your result. Many (possibly most) western professional chefs don't understand the complexities of making rice well, and try to invent new methods and shortcuts in making rice with mostly terrible outcome.
Properly done rice has the following qualities:
- Individual grains are intact, but soft under teeth ("al dente" is a faux pas with rice).
- The rice grains should feel light on the serving spoon and not clump together. When you tilt the spoon the grains should fall off almost like flower petals, not like a chunk of brick mortar (the wall of china bricks are literally held together by cooked rice and egg).
The most common errors in making rice are:
- too hard, too soft, or too moist. (moist is ok for risotto).
SAJ14SAJ is correct that in some cuisines where rice is popular, the crispy rice at the bottom is prized. In that context, making rice without the crispy bottom is like making rosti or hash-browns that aren't crispy or brown. More on this later.
I would advise against turning down the heat too low, part of the fluffiness of rice comes from the lift generated by the steam coming from the bottom layers. Turn it too low and you have rice paste.
You can put the whole pot in the oven, generally you get decent lift and light rice except for the top layer that will be either too dry (hard) or the steam will gather in the lid and drip back down on the rice and gets too mushy.
The method to make rice properly:
- Wash the rice in cold water until the water is clear (gets rid of ready starch).
- Soak for 1/2 to 2 hours. (skip this if the rice is par-boiled already. It usually says on the package)
- Boil lots of water and add salt
- Add the rice (not the soaking water) to the boiling water (like pasta)
- In about a couple of minutes (depending on the rice) you will see that grains have gotten longer and developed knuckles (like finger bands).
- Once you see the knuckles, immediately remove the pot and pour into a strainer getting rid of the hot water.
- Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.
- Place some oil and a few tablespoons of water at the bottom of the pot and turn on the heat to medium (see the fat substitutions section below)
- Once the litter water starts to boil, transfer the rice into the pot and replace the lid (the little boiling water is for immediate lift).
- Take a clean kitchen towel and gift-wrap the pot lid and secure with a robber band (as seen in this Tim Carman article in Washington Post. What the cloth does is absorb the extra moisture and prevent it from dripping back down on the rice thereby keeping the rice fluffy. Also the fine cooking site has some good information. These are all similar methods of Indian, Pakistani and Persian Rice. Small towns in Italy also have a similar process for making Risotto rice light and fluffy before the sause is developed.
Method to tell when the rice is done:
The traditional saying is: "don't lift the lid or the rice will be ruined". Similar to a cake. Though recent tests by America's Test Kitchen showed the cake will spring back up so there is a chance the science applies to rice as well. I'd still avoid lifting the lid since the puff of hot steam in your face is not pleasant.
The actual way to tell is to flick a drop of water on the side of the pot high enough to be level with the top of the rice inside the pot. If the water drop sizzles and goes away the rice is cooked (the science is that this indicates the top of the rice is around boiling temperature).
Tips and fat substitutes
- It's better to make rice in the wider pot than a taller pot as you get better lift and less likely to burn the bottom before the top is cooked.
- The fat at the bottom is there to buffer the heat required to cook the upper layers. You can replace it with other things that burn less easily than rice and are somewhat dry such as pita and general flatbreads, thin sliced potatoes, and possibly even beans like lentils. If you use oil AND add potatoes or bread at the bottom you'll end up with something delicious but not the healthiest. A little bit of oil does go a long way here.