Rice. Boring, everyday, run-of-the-mill rice. Yes, but rice is also one of the most versatile side dishes that can accompany many different entrées. The trick is to make your rice consistently fluffy, with an appealing texture, and aromatic. Give your rice flavor so that it can stand on its own or add to the overall flavor profile of your meal. This simple method will consistently give you such rice every time. Aunt Carol, since you asked, this one's for you!
By the way, we will be making fluffy white rice with these instructions. Brown rice and short grain, sticky rice will be topics for another day. No, instant rice is not used here. We're going for flavor and texture. Let's just cook it once.
What you will need:
- Rice - A good quality white rice such as jamine or basmati
- A good saucepan, preferably multi-ply stainless steel or quality non-stick, such as our favorites from Heritage Steel and Swiss Diamond, with lid
- A fine-mesh strainer or equivalent colander
- Non-stick cooking spray like avocado oil or extra-virgin olive oil
- A timer
- A clove or two of garlic
- Fresh, peeled ginger
- Fresh ground black pepper
- A tablespoon of butter
- A little salt - only at the end
Smash the garlic - Before you do anything else, smash the garlic clove with the flat heel of your chef's knife. Did you know that garlic is healthier if you let it sit for fifteen minutes after crushing or smashing it? See the NYT link at the end if you don't believe me.
Follow the Ratio - The magic ratio here is 3:2. I almost always use my 3/4 or 2/3 measuring cups from our favorite set here: 7-piece measuring cup set from RSVP. Choose the amount you want to cook, then use the cup that is half that. Fill that cup twice with rice and dump it in the colander for rinsing. You will use that same cup to fill three times with water and add it to your pan later. But first things first.
Rinse - Take your two measuring cups full of rice in your fine mesh colander and rinse under cold water. This will remove the starches on the outside of the rice grains which make them stick together when cooked. If you want it sticky, don't rinse. We're going for non-sticky, fluffy rice, so we're rinsing. This also removes any foreign residue which might be on the rice as well. Who knows? Drain as much water as possible.
Spray the pan - Spray the avocado or extra virgin olive oil from your sprayer, preferably one you filled yourself at home. You could skip this step if you're using Swiss Diamond, but I still like to avoid the rice at the bottom browning and crisping.
Add your ingredients - Now add the wet rice to your saucepan, throw in a little chunk of smashed peeled ginger, your garlic clove, the tablespoon of butter, and grind a bit of fresh black pepper on top.
Add the water - Ratio time. Grab the same measuring cup that you filled twice for your rice, and fill it three times with water, adding them to the saucepan. You now have the 3:2 ratio of water to rice.
Boil - Put the saucepan on a burner that's an appropriate size for the pan, not your smallest or largest burners. Gas is easiest to control, but if you have electric, make sure you know your burners. Either way, we're using two burners here. Reserve the small burner for the next step. If you do have an electric stove, preheat the small burner to low. Set your temperature to medium-high and bring the water to a boil.
Switch burners and cook - Immediately after you've reached a full boil, turn off the burner, put the lid on the rice, and move it to the small burner (preheated if electric; if gas, turn it on the lowest flame possible). Set your timer for 20 minutes.
Wait - This 20 minutes on low is the cooking time. You should start to smell the aromatics after a while. When the timer goes off, turn off the small burner, and if your burner is electric, move the pan to a cool burner or trivet.
Rest - Do not uncover for 10 minutes - Set your time again, this time for 10 minutes. Now is the time to get the rest of the meal ready for serving. The rice is resting, much as meat does, reabsorbing the moisture inside the covered pan. It is critical you do not take the lid off and let that steam escape before it has a chance to rehydrate the rice.
Salt - Now, and only now should you add a little salt to the rice and stir it in, preferably kosher salt to control the amount of sodium you're adding. Why only now and not before it boiled? Because salt changes the consistency of the rice during the cooking process, and you will probably end up with mushy rice. I don't want that, do you? Remove the ginger now.
Voilà! You now have fluffy, hot rice ready for your meal, with a slightly chewy texture and a wonderful fragrance. This rice can stand on its own as a legitimate side, or as a base for your braised dish, stew, Indian food, Mexican, whatever you like. You may have to experiment a little with your burners until you get it just right, but once you have this result, just repeat every time.
You can mix up the aromatics to match the dish, like removing the ginger for Mexican, and maybe adding a bay leaf or a little cumin. For Indian, add a few whole cloves and a sprig of cilantro. Have fun with rice, the underappreciated, uber-flexible grain that is critical to keeping much of the world fed. When you see that box of instant rice in the grocery aisle, look away immediately and keep walking! You know what you're doing.
More on Rice...and Garlic!
Unlocking the Benefits of Garlic - New York Times
Grains of Truth: Why Rice is the World’s Best-loved Staple - The Guardian
71 Creative Rice Recipes - Bon Appétit
The Science of Cooking Rice - Fine Cooking