Steamed White Rice

In my role as a cooking teacher for over twenty years, this is by far the most important question I get asked: How do you cook rice? Folks get intimidated by this grain, which has been around for more than 12,000 years. With more than 100,000 varieties of rice in the world, it does seem to cause some distress. Every variety cooks differently, every crop yields a different texture, every grain is a cherished and accessible commodity in much of the world. The following two techniques for cooking the perfect white rice— the Absorption/Steeping Method and the Pasta Method—come from years of practice, failure, more practice, and then repeated success. My failure-proof steeping method is sure to deliver a bowl of aromatic fl uff, especially when you use basmati rice.

Steamed White Rice
Steamed White Rice

Makes 3 cups

1 cup Indian or Pakistani white basmati rice or long-grain white rice

1 1⁄2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt


1. Place the rice in a medium-size bowl. Fill the bowl with enough water to cover the rice. Gently rub the slender grains of rice between the fi ngers of one hand, without breaking them, to wash off any dust or light foreign objects (like loose husks), which will fl oat to the surface. The water will become cloudy. Drain this water. You don’t need a

colander for this; I just tip the bowl over the sink to pour off the water, making sure the rice stays in the bowl. Repeat this 3 or 4 times until after you rinse the grains the water remains relatively clear. Now pour in 1¾ cups of cold tap water and let the rice sit at room temperature until the kernels soften, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Transfer the rice, water and all, to a saucepan. Stir in the salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir the rice once or twice (just because). Let the water boil, uncovered, still over medium- high heat (and no stirring), until it has evaporated from the surface and craters are starting to appear in the rice, 5 to 8 minutes. Now (and not until now) stir once or twice to bring the partially cooked layer of rice from the bottom of the pan to the surface. Cover the pan with a tight-fi tting lid and reduce the heat to the lowest pos- sible setting. Let the rice steep for 8 to 10 minutes (8 if you are using an electric burner, 10 minutes for a gas burner). Then turn off the heat and let the pan stand (or sit, for that matter) on that burner, undis- turbed, for 5 minutes.

3. Uncover the pan, fl uff the rice with a fork (this lets the steam escape so it does not overcook the rice), and serve.


1. Fill a large saucepan halfway with water and bring it to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.

2. While the water is heating, place the rice in a medium-size bowl. Fill the bowl halfway with water, to cover the rice, and follow the directions described in Step 1 of the absorption method for prepping the rice.

3. Add the rice to the boiling water and stir once or twice. Let the water return to a boil, then boil the rice vigorously, uncov- ered, stirring very rarely and only to test
the kernels until they are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Immediately drain the rice into a colander and run cold water through it to stop the rice from continuing to cook.
When using this method it is crucial that you be attentive or the rice will go from just right to overcooked in mere seconds.

4. Transfer the rice to a microwave-safe dish and stir in the salt. Rewarm the rice in the microwave at full power, covered, for 2 to 4 minutes just before you serve it.

Extra Credit

Discovered and cultivated in the foothills of the Himalayas, basmati is a much sought after aromatic variety of rice (the word basmati means “the perfumed one”) and is the world’s most expensive rice. Naturally aged for many years, like a fi ne wine, basmati is less starchy and more slender than other long-grain varieties, making it an ideal choice for pilafs. Not only is it a complex carbohydrate, it is also rich in amino acids and other essential nutrients, including iron, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, ribofl avin, and thiamine.

Basmati from India or Pakistan is not fortifi ed with minerals, unlike the varieties grown in the United States.

The kind most widely used has the outer husk and bran removed. Brown basmati is also available, but it is rarely used in India because of its short shelf life (the bran and husk harbor oil that can turn rancid rather quickly).

Incidentally, if you do not see Indian basmati on the label, it isn’t true basmati.

California basmati and Texmati rice are facsimiles (poor ones in my opinion); and I fi nd these grains to be stout, short, and starchy. But most supermarkets carry the Indian variety.

Oftentimes white basmati rice is stored in gunnysacks and sold in sacks, which means it needs to be washed.

It is important to rinse the rice gently, so the grains, which are extremely thin, long, and tapering at each end, remain intact. Rinsing makes the rice less starchy and does not wash away any valuable nutrients. It is not necessary to soak basmati rice before you cook it, but I do; it guarantees a quicker cooking, dry, single-grained, fl uffy result.

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