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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. cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/26123/… – TFD May 10 '14 at 23:27
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    If there was a valid answer category for jokes, I would say "because you have 10000 grains that all need to be cooked right". – rackandboneman Nov 15 '17 at 11:43
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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. – Cascabel May 11 '14 at 22:42
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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.

  • That sort-of works cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/41235/… 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! – binaryfunt May 12 '14 at 13:32
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    @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. – Cascabel 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
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    @BrianFunt I honestly think answer is that I'm more particular when it comes to rice. Funny thing, I'm watching an episode of Kitchen Nightmares UK. Gordon Ramsey took one look at the rice, rolled his eyes, and said "microwaved". Microwaves do bad things to starches, if your expectations are high, microwaved rice doesn't cut it. There's a reason high level chefs don't microwave rice. Once you've got the knack of it, it's just as easy and quick to do it right. – Jolenealaska May 17 '14 at 4:02
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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. – Cascabel May 11 '14 at 3:14
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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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For normal rice 2 to 1 like said is the way to cook it. You may wish to add a little butter or fat. Add a little less water if working that morning. So just slightly under cooked in center. This stays with you longer if working that morning. To soft a rice & work. Your hungry in a few hours. Colored rice with the mid.s still on is harder to cook. Takes longer. Red, brown, yellow, green, purple,white. rice. I leave this to the wife. She is quit a artist with special rice dish's. & there cooking. So yes some rice is hard to cook.

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The reason why it's different is because pasta is boiled in hot water. It cooks from being immersed in the hot liquid, some of which might be absorbed into the noodles, and the excess is discarded. The purpose of that water is primarily as a medium to transfer uniform amounts of wet heat to the noodles.

Cooking rice is not done by boiling the rice in water. This is where you got off track. The specific amounts of rice and water and cooking times are for allowing the rice to be cooked by steaming. Furthermore, the rice grains are supposed to absorb all the liquid, and we stop right at the point where it's all absorbed, but the lack of remaining liquid doesn't cause the rice to burn or scorch.

If there's too much water at the start, then the rice keeps absorbing additional liquid, and it becomes a mushy porridge, so having more water then pouring it off, like with noodles, falls short in that area, as well, if for some reason the timing is disrupted or off.

The fact that you had the lid half off, instead of completely covering the rice, is why you needed to add additional water at the end. While some recipes or methods (especially for brown rice) might have you boiling off excess water at the beginning, the bulk of the cooking and the final stages are usually with the cover on.

Obviously, there are exceptions for particular dishes, but, ultimately, the most used method for preparing plain rice is steaming.

  • Sorry, but the theory that you shouldn't cook rice in extra water and then discard is wrong. It just happens that the steaming method is more popular in the USA than the extra-water method. Both are valid, and give good results. The rice does not become a mushy porridge. – rumtscho Nov 15 '17 at 22:09
  • @rumtscho - If you drain the water at the right moment, sure, but if you don't, the extra water is absorbed. If you don't turn off the low heat simmer on steamed rice, on the other hand, some of the rice on the bottom of the pan will overcook or scorch, but most of the rice will be unaffected. I'm not saying it always will, I'm saying the margin for error is different, and one is more likely to produce undesired, unwanted results than the other. I will edit to make that clearer. bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/common-mistakes/article/… – PoloHoleSet Nov 15 '17 at 22:13
  • @rumtscho - plus the OP was asking why the measurements for water were so much more exacting, in general, than just the "pot of water" needs for pasta. This is the reason for the preparations that call for precise amounts of water. Your example is not one that is being asked about. – PoloHoleSet Nov 15 '17 at 22:24
  • I still disagree, even after the corrections. I have eaten lots of rice made with the lots-of-water method (I don't think my family has ever heard of the steaming method), even when cooked for prolonged time, and nothing unusual happens to it. And yes, the question "why exact ratios" may have implied "in the steaming method", but the correct answer cannot be "because other ratios make bad rice" when they don't. – rumtscho Nov 16 '17 at 0:41
  • @rumtscho - Since I never claimed that other methods make bad rice, I'm not sure why that's a factor. Saying one method is more forgiving and easier to get good results is not the same as the blanket condemnation you claim. Fair enough, but you have the tendency to invent claims that aren't made if you disagree with the exact method or advice given. As to your claim that rice doesn't absorb extra liquid, that's simply false, as evidenced by the literally thousands of articles on what to do when the rice absorbs too much water and turns to mush. – PoloHoleSet Nov 16 '17 at 14:48

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