Notes on Rice: Sticky Mistakes You May Be Making and How To Avoid Them
Stirring, resting, and rinsing — what could possibly go wrong?
For many households across the globe, rice is a pantry staple. But it goes above and beyond a simple source of energy and nutrition. It’s a cultural artifact and phenomenon.
Kept simple or jazzed up — from the crispy, overcooked bottom of Tahdig to the toasty, separated grains of fried rice — there’s so much joy and satisfaction contained in the simple carb.
And as the international mainstay of 3.5 billion eaters, it’s fair to say that it’s a way of life. And it’s so much so that it has become the go-to pantry staple and meal accompaniment to many family dinners.
And by the same token, it is so ubiquitous that some things are so ingrained — pun intended — in the way that we approach and cook rice. To which, there’s a mix of good habits, interesting methods, and honest mistakes.
Take a look at these helpful kitchen observations and cooking guidelines to inform where you may be going wrong with rice.
Not Rinsing Well Before Use
Rice has always been at the centre of much controversy — to rinse or not to rinse — that has stirred the pot between many, many cooks.
But the fact of the matter is that not all rice is created equal. And there are certain varieties of rice that are exempt from washing.
On that note, there’s a very public case to be made against the rinse — risotto. It’s a dish that uses a short-grain type of white rice to exploit its best property — the starch.
And it’s the extra starch that gives the greatest gift of all — the sensational creamy texture. And so, to rinse it away would be considered a culinary crime.
As for medium- and long-grain rice, however, it’s important to perform the rinsing ritual. Not only will the water wash away any debris but also any chemicals associated with the milling process.
Similarly, rinsing will ensure avoiding a finished product with a gummy texture or clumpy finish, otherwise attributed to the extra layer of surface starch.
As a best practice, simply place your rice in a fine-mesh strainer, and rinse it under cold water; gently stir the grains with your hand, if desired. You’ll notice the water go from a milky stream to an almost clear one — but you’ll never get the water to be perfectly pristine.
At the end of the day, there will always be two rival groups to the rinse divide. On the one hand, it’s those who refuse to let their rice cook without a nice shower, and on the other, those who feel that it’s perfectly fine to let the rice boil away without prior rinsing.
So, should you always wash your rice? When in doubt, follow the recipe if it asks you specifically to do so; make an executive decision, based on how much starch you’d like in the dish; and treat the rice according to the cuisine.
Stirring the Pot
Stir, stir, stir — it’s something that we’re taught from watching our parents, our grandparents, and our television. Who can help it? It’s such an iconic symbol and gesture of cooking. Yet it’s another common misstep with making rice.
As tempting as it may be, it’s best to refrain from disturbing the rice while it’s cooking. But if you’re creating a risotto or a paella, stir away!
But for most dishes, it’s not recommended. Because the simple gesture activates starches, and in turn, it prevents steam pockets from forming. The result: You’re left with mush. And that isn’t an ideal texture for a lot of rice-based savoury recipes — needless to say, everyday meals that are served with it.
The key to avoiding such temptation is timing. As soon as the rice comes to a boil — it’s easier to see through a glass lid — reduce the heat, followed by a gentle whirl of the pot with your wrist, lid on and no spoon. Then let the rice run its course.
While you don’t really need to stick a spoon or a spatula in the pot for long, a long-grain type like Jasmine will, however, appreciate a quick stir to help it out a bit, ensuring that the grains are loose enough for an even cook.
Part tradition, part motivation: To get food on the table while it’s hot is the scene across households and restaurants alike. But while trying to enjoy a meal as soon as possible may seem natural and practical, it’s actually better to yet reserve a few minutes from service when it comes to rice.
Contrary to popular practice and belief, it’s best to avoid serving rice right away. By letting the rice sit, covered and off the heat on its own for three to five minutes, gives the rice an opportunity to firm up a bit for the perfect texture.
Similar to letting your meats rest, your rice appreciates some time to itself. But it’ll make quite the difference — allowing it to steam, followed up by a nice fluff with a fork — and you’ll be rewarded with a pleasant texture, while still being nice and warm to eat.
As a blank canvas, soaking up flavourful sauces and stews, rice is infinitely adaptable and simple to prepare — if you follow a few best practices.
What’s your typical procedure when it comes to preparing rice?