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Ordinarily when I make fried rice, the general process is:

  • Boil the rice until done.
  • Fry the cooked rice in oil.

However, I recently made a different rice recipe which flipped the order:

  • Lightly fry the dry rice in a pan.
  • Then boil the rice until done.

This struck me as being really strange. Why would I lightly fry the rice before cooking it? I usually associate frying rice with textural change, but after boiling it the texture wasn't notably different than if I hadn't fried it at all.

In both cases I was using a medium-grain white rice.

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    Fry then boil is how I was taught to make white rice (and spanish rice with saffron). Of course, it also involved first frying with garlic. I've only recently become aware that this is not how most people approach the process of making rice. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas May 9 '17 at 19:15
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    Just an aside, but when you're making fried rice you really need to put a step in the middle - 1) cook the rice (don't boil it, really - it should steep, covered, in near-boiling water), 2) Put the rice in the fridge overnight, 3) Fry the rice. If you fry freshly cooked rice you end up with a mess. Overnight rice lets some of the moisture out and keeps the grains from going mushy and sticky when fried. – J... May 10 '17 at 12:04
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    You're comparing a recipe for fried rice to a recipe for boiled rice. You can use the boiled rice from the second recipe for the fried rice in the first recipe. – Beanluc May 11 '17 at 21:39
  • If this is the very first time you fry-first-cook-next the rice, it might be worth pointing out that the result should not be kept at room temperature afterwards (eat it or refrigerate it). A very possible outcome of keeping it at room temperature is called 'fried rice syndrome'. – tevemadar May 12 '17 at 13:09
  • @J... That depends on the type/brand of rice you use. That advice seems to be correct with medium/long grain rices, but it definitely doesn't hold for the short grain rice I prefer. (Granted, short grain rice probably just isn't ideal for fried rice, but I like it, lol. It definitely fried up to more of a sticky mess after being refrigerated, though. Never again.) – kitukwfyer Sep 29 '17 at 1:24
86

This is sometimes called "pilaf style", though technically actual pilafs do not require the sauteeing step. It is, however, very common in pilaf and related dishes.

The main function of this is to change the composition of the starch on the surface of the rice. This reduces the starches that cross-link and make rice sticky. It helps your rice to cook up into separate grains.

While you're at it, it also adds some flavor to the rice, by caramelizing some of the starches. Plus, it adds oil, which can carry flavors of its own and help distribute fat-soluble flavors in the other ingredients.

The effect is very different from "fried rice", where the starches have already been cooked and gelatinized before frying. The goals are somewhat the same, adding browned flavors and distributing fat-soluble ingredients, but the chemical changes to the surface of the rice itself will be different.

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    Can you get this effect when using a rice cooker for the boiling step? – Fodder May 11 '17 at 2:07
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    I don't think your rice cooker bottom will get hot enough to allow that, at least not for any rice cooker I've ever used. You could do the frying step in a separate pan, as in this recipe: food.com/recipe/rice-cooker-rice-pilaf-175027. (Though I have no idea what it means by "The garlic will cause the onion to scorch a bit, don't worry, it gives it flavor," so I'd take that recipe with a grain of salt, as it were.) – Joshua Engel May 11 '17 at 15:09
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    @Fodder : not in something sold as a 'rice cooker', but if you have an 'Instapot' or other brand of 'multicooker', you can start under the 'saute' setting, then switch to pilaf ... but you do risk the bottom burning. I've managed to get it sort of like a good paella crust on the bottom, but I haven't experimented to figure out what I might've been doing differently. – Joe May 11 '17 at 16:33
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When the rice is dry its easier to get it toasted before you boil it because it has less moisture content. Packaged rice, like Rice-a-Roni have you do this method to get that toasted flavor of the rice.

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In addition to the other answers, toasting the rice first can reduce the cooking time considerably. When you toast rice first, not only are you heating your entire pan but the rice thoroughly. You are able to add your liquid and immediately begin simmering and steaming the rice.

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My solution for ceramic flat top stove - the burner takes time to cool down after being turned off:

Frying before boiling adds flavour, but it seems to seal in the rice so it doesn't expand as much, and so releases less starch when boiling. Usually I fry first, then add the water (usually 1 part rice two parts water unless otherwise instructed) and allow it to boil - the frying before means when the rice boils it won't rise and overflow the pot. After it has boiled a bit, I turn it OFF, wait for it to simmer down, then cover with an absorbent cloth and put the tight fitting lid over the cloth - the cloth absorbs the moisture and creates a very tight lid so no steam can escape.
Then I just leave it while I do other things (making salad or something or writing this note) - and then go back to it and it's ready.

Caution - don't let the cloth trail over the stove it will catch fire, if necessary bind it over the lid - the four corners - with an elastic, or failing that just TAKE IT OFF THE BURNER TO A COOL PART OF THE STOVE - because it will continue to cook in it's own heat, with the steam trapped inside - just give it a little bit more time since you've moved it off the burner.

OK, I think it's ready, I'll go eat now. Bon appetite.

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