For many rice lovers, an automated rice cooker is a dream come true – set it and forget it, and you’ve got perfectly fluffy and tender grains. But for those without this magic appliance (including yours truly), the stovetop method is the way to go – and yet it stumps even the most avid cooks.
Over the years as a cooking teacher, I’ve met many home cooks who just can’t seem to get rice right. In their defense, it looks easy and yet it’s a little mysterious. Cooked over high heat and the water may evaporate, resulting in crunchy, undercooked rice. Cooked at too low of a temperature, and the rice doesn’t absorb the water, resulting in a mushy, watery mass. What’s a rice enthusiast to do?
One of the most foolproof ways I’ve shared over the years is the pilaf style – toasting the rice in oil or butter, adding liquid and salt and bringing the whole thing to an active boil before covering and lowering the heat. Waiting for the liquid to actively boil is key to a successful rice mission; with the liquid good and hot, think of it as a steam engine once you’ve covered the pot. If there’s not enough heat or verve to the cooking liquid, the rice does not respond.
Although far from only way to cook rice, this method has served me and my students well. Give it a try and let me know what you think. Send notes and ideas to email@example.com
P.S. Leftover cold rice is exactly what you need for stir-fried rice. Some time in refrigeration increases the amount of resistant starch, helping the rice to keep from clumping.
Not into rice? There's another way to get your grain on.
Now, if you’re not interested in becoming a rice whisperer but still hungry for whole grains, consider quinoa. Over the past decade, this grain-like seed native to South America has had a trendy heyday, but the thing is, quinoa is nutrient dense, a complete protein and takes just 15 minutes to cook. No sorcery necessary. For the stovetop grain newbie, this is a good first step.
Stovetop Brown Rice Pilaf
You can keep this simple or you can dress it up, depending on what you have on hand and what you’re in the mood for. No matter what you decide, you’ll start things off by toasting the rice in oil. Options are listed below; play around and see what you like. I love adding the cinnamon stick, which perfumes the kitchen. If you prefer white over brown rice, all you need to do is adjust the cook time, also noted in the recipe.
Adapted from “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations” by Kim O’Donnel
Makes 6 to 8 servings
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- Optional: ¾ cup diced onion (a little more than ½ medium-size onion)
- 1 ½ cups medium- or long-grain brown rice
- 2 2/3 cups water or unsalted broth of your choice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Optional add-ons: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 whole clove or 1⁄8 teaspoon cardamom seeds (or any combination that you like)
- Optional garnish: 1/3 cup unsalted pistachios, shelled and chopped finely
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the onion (if using) and stir to coat with the oil. Lower the heat to medium and cook until slightly softened, stirring regularly to minimize burning. If not using the onion, proceed to the next step.
Add the rice, stirring until completely coated with the oil. Feel free to let the rice toast, about 2 minutes. Add the water, plus the salt, and any of the optional whole spices. Bring to an active boil, cover, and lower the heat to low. Cook at a simmer until the water is absorbed, 40 minutes. (Note: If using white rice, cook time is 20 to 22 minutes.)
Feel free to remove the spices or leave them; either way is okay.
Remove from the heat, cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the pistachios, if using. Serve hot.
As they cook, these itty bitty seeds expand about four times in volume, packing a nutty flavor which are arguably fluffier than cooked rice. You can make it as a simple side or turn it into a substantive grain salad, bulked up with herbs and beans, as you’ll see noted in the recipe.
Excerpted from “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook” by Kim O’Donnel
Makes 4 to 6 side-dish servings
- 2 cups water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup quinoa (available in red, black and white), rinsed in a sieve
- Optional next step: 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained; juice of ½ lemon; 1 teaspoon olive oil; ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan and add the salt and quinoa. Give a quick stir, cover, lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove the lid and fluff with a fork. Stir in the optional add-ons, if using. Eat warm or at room temperature.