How To Cook Perfect Rice Without A Rice Cooker (and store it for months)

by | Nov 26, 2012

Rice Balls

I have been getting a lot of questions about rice lately, and I am not surprised. Though some people swear by rice cookers I have found them to be inconsistent and generally unreliable, especially when it comes to brown rice.

My solution? Stove top.

A few years ago I read about this method of cooking rice that supposedly worked “every time” for every kind of rice. I had trouble believing it because I’ve found that different styles of rice have hugely different requirements in both the amount of water and time needed. However, I have had great success with the method and am extremely happy with it (sorry, I do not remember where I found it).

The reason this trick works so consistently is that it does not rely on a specific amount of time or water. Rather you need to test the grains occasionally for tenderness and decide for yourself when it is done. I have found for brown rice the entire process takes about 30 minutes, which is 10 minutes shorter than it took in my rice cooker.

Because rice does take so long to prepare, I like to make large batches and freeze individual servings so that I do not have to wait half an hour for dinner every single night.

For short grain brown rice, I use about 2 cups of dry grain and a large 2 quart sauce pan. Put the rice in the pot and add cold water until it is almost full. Use your hand to swirl the rice around and loosen any dirt and dust. When the rice settles back to the bottom, dump the water off the top and repeat. Continue to rinse rice until the water is almost perfectly clear, about 4-5 times.

After the last rinse add cold water to your rice until you have at least 3 times the volume of water to rice. Do not worry too much about the amount, and err on the side of excess. This is especially important with brown rice which absorbs much more water than white rice. Place the rice and water on the stove and turn the heat on high.

When the rice begins to boil, reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer, uncovered. This is a good time to start the rest of your dinner.

Check on the rice grains occasionally by grabbing a few out with a fork and testing them for tenderness (squish between your fingernails or taste it). Rice becomes opaque when it cooks, so there is no point in checking it while it is still somewhat translucent. Once the rice does start to turn opaque, check tenderness every 2-5 minutes. If too much water evaporates and the rice starts to look soupy, you need to add more water. You should add enough water at the beginning to avoid this.

Boil rice until it is almost tender enough to eat. In other words, imagine you are an impatient person who wants the rice to be finished as quickly as possible so you decide the rice is done and serve it, but later regret that decision because the rice is ever so slightly al dente. It is at this point you want to stop the boiling and begin the steaming.

Next drain off the remaining water. A mesh strainer or splatter guard works nicely for this (hold it over the pot and simply dump the water into the sink), but you can also carefully pour the water off and use a fork to keep loose kernels from falling out (but seriously be careful!).

Place the pot with rice back on the burner and reduce the heat to as low as it will go. Cover the rice and set a kitchen timer for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes turn off the burner and set the timer for another 5 minutes. Do not lift the lid during this process unless you are concerned that you messed up the boiling time and want to check on the doneness. After the rice has sat for 5 minutes, remove the lid, fluff with a fork and serve. Put the lid back on if you are going to let the rice cool in the pot.

If for some reason you think you overcooked the rice when you were boiling it, you can skip the steaming step and just let the drained rice sit covered with the burner off for 5 minutes. If you undershoot, you can always extend the length of the steaming process, but it will take much longer.

I usually wait until the rice has cooled down substantially before wrapping it in plastic. It is the last thing I do in my after-dinner clean up. To store rice, break off squares of plastic wrap and scoop individual rice servings (1/4-1/2 cup) into the middle. Fold over the plastic, twist the ends and tie them in a half knot so that the rice is in a ball, as shown. Put rice balls in a freezer bag and into the freezer.

To thaw, remove a rice ball from the freezer and allow to sit on counter for a few minutes until you can untie the knot without leaving little pieces of plastic stuck in the folds of rice. If you forgot to do this (I always forget!) you can run the knotted plastic under warm (not hot, heat releases toxins in the plastic that can get into your food) until you can untie it. Place unwrapped frozen rice ball in a small bowl and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes. I like to use our microwave cover for this, but you have to figure out for yourself what works best in your own microwave.

Having individual rice servings is very, very handy. Brown rice is a fabulous option to make light vegetable dishes, soups and salads more substantial.

I just dug this recipe out of the archives because it is so darn useful. Use it wisely.

Originally published October 12, 2008.

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53 Responses to “How To Cook Perfect Rice Without A Rice Cooker (and store it for months)”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Spent some time tonight making this rice recipe,and everything turned out perfect!! I used TJ’s Brown Rice Medley, a delicious blend of long grain brown rice, black barley, and daikon radish seeds. Man that stuff is good!!!!

  2. Healthyliving says:

    Alright, I’m making brown rice tonight- I’ll tell you guys how it goes!

  3. Healthyliving says:

    Finally made the rice that I promised I would; it was the Trader Joe’s long grain wild rice that looks black in the bag. Followed Darya’s advice exactly, and the rice came out perfect!!! Interestingly though, the tough black rice pods opened up to expose their fleshy tan and white interiors, that created a bouquet of black/brown/white colors that one of my kids described as “gnarly.” Didn’t seem to stop him from finishing his plate….i highly recommend giving it a try!

  4. Dee Wilcox says:

    I made this recipe last night, and for the first time ever, my brown rice turned out perfectly. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Connie (Ariel Manx) says:

    Darya, I made a batch of brown rice today using your method here, and for the first time in my life I ended up with a pot full of wonderfully perfect rice! We had some with supper and the leftovers turned into cute little rice balls for the freezer. Thank you so much for teaching me how to make rice – it was the bane of my cooking existence!

    I did modify the steaming slightly, as the electric eyes on my stove keep their heat a ridiculously long time – I turned off the burner for the first 5 minutes of steaming, then moved it off the burner entirely for the last five minutes. It came out so perfect.

  6. Jan says:

    Hi Darya! Can we freeze/store quinoa how we would rice? Thanks!

  7. Steve J says:

    Hey Darya, thanks for the great idea of storing small servings of whole grains for later use! You should give rice cookers another try though. I’ve been using a $9.99 rice cooker from Walgreens for 2 years and it has always cooked brown rice and quinoa perfectly. If I had to cook my grains using your recipe, I never would simply because of the time and attention it requires. I add a cup of brown rice, two cups water, flip a switch, and 40 minutes later I have perfectly cooked rice.

  8. Sai says:

    Hi Darya,
    At my home, rice is cooked everyday; in Maharashtrian food rice has its own place. There are number on rice varities like plain steamed rice with dal, biryani rice, pulav, vegetable rice, spinach rice and tomato rice, sweetned coconut rice (cooked as a festival delicacy!).

    And what makes cooking the long list of rice varieties easy? It’s a pressure cooker! (even electrical rice cooker is available in the market, but pressure cooker has it’s own advantages!)

    Simple rule of thumb for adding water:
    1. Rinse rice twice.
    2. Drain out water completely.
    3. Keep it just like that for around 15-20 mins.
    4. Amount of water should be adjusted such as when you dip your finger the rice pot, water level should be only two fingertips.
    5. Put it on a stove on high flame till 2-3 whistle.
    6. Simmer further for 5 mins.
    7. Turn off the stove. Open the hook of the pressure cooker’s lid and keep it aside, it will fall down to open in couple of minutes.

    Approx time to cook steamed rice:15 mins!

  9. Scott says:

    Good idea… for some reason I never considered freezing rice.

  10. Gail says:

    My ex-husband’s 105 year old grandmother taught me this method years ago. Isn’t it great! Works every time.

  11. Khadijah says:

    Cool tip…

    One thing: “heat releases toxins in the plastic that can get into your food” is not scientifically accurate, nor true.

    • audas says:

      Thanks for writing that – really annoyed me.
      The best way to cook all kinds of things (gnocchi, and other dough based sausages is in plastic wrap into boiling water), he then states that he puts it into the micro wave with a plastic lid….um.

      Anyway – I had no idea people did not know to cook rice on the stove with plenty of water – I mean – how else do you do it ? This blows my mind. I have never had bad rice.

      Also the steaming part is actually just a second rinsing – here is the real way to cook rice.

      Cook your rice in plenty of hot water, test for readyness – then strain and rinse with boiling hot water. Thats what the steam is doing.

      This is just removing the starch which allows it to be loose, fluffy but not sticky – alternatively leave in pot with steam for sticky and fluffy.

    • David Maddern says:

      Not true eh? Why was the plasticiser in polycarbonate changed some years ago. Simply for that reason. Don’t use old polycarbonate (test tube plastic, glass substitute) therefore.

  12. I love fool safe tips for basic cooking ideas – I only recently mastered the perfect omelet – but it has made such a difference. There are so many healthy foods that SEEM so easy to cook, but never turn out as good as they should do and then we give up on the dish. I’m actually really into frying and then long cooking rice – this suppousedly makes it more digestible but mainly just tastes really good (esp if you do it with ghee!!!). Im very up for trying this way too though! :)

  13. Andrew Ryan says:

    This is approximately the method I use when preparing quinoa. Would the storage tip be just as useful with quinoa as it would the rice?

  14. Mark says:

    Seriously? Rice is the easiest thing to cook and if you measure your rice using dry measure cups and your water or broth using a regular measuring cup, you will be just fine. Rinse the rice in a tight wire basket first, bring your water or broth to a boil, add rice, dash of salt, put on the tight fitting lid, reduce heat. 20 minutes for white, 40 for brown, works every time. I would never waste my time checking on it like in this article because I don’t need to!

  15. sb says:

    Umm, I’ve been making rice several times a week for 15 years and I have to say you are way overcomplicating this, and even adding steps that make the rice take longer to cook than it should.

    Putting brown rice aside, this is how you do stovetop white rice:

    1. Add 1 part rice and 2 parts water. You don’t need a measuring cup which will only make you practice math. Just use a glass or mug. 1 glass rice, 2 glasses water, etc. A Korean friend also tipped me off to another trick: just add enough water to sit 1/2 an inch above the level of rice in the pot, regardless of how much you are making. Add salt if you want.

    2. Bring to boil on high heat.

    3. Transfer to the lowest possible heat your stove will allow. Cover well.

    4. Set a timer for 17 minutes. DO NOT CHECK THE RICE AT ALL. EACH TIME YOU LIFT THE LID AND POKE AROUND IN THERE THE RICE LOSES STEAM WHICH INCREASES COOKING TIME AND MAKES IT MORE LIKELY TO DRY OUT AND BURN.

    5. Turn off heat when timer done. Leave covered til a few minutes while you set the table. Done!

    For brown rice, use the same system except use more water and increase the cook time as per the instructions on the package.

    • Peter James says:

      The comment about 1/2 inch of water above the level of rice makes a large difference depending on two things the volume of rice and the shape of the pot. a lot of rice in a tall narrow saucepan may be too dry and a small amount of rice in a shallow wide pan may be too wet.

      • Iz says:

        I disagree! Whether it is a tall pot or short pot, the volume of rice/water would be the same! I use the “thumb-nail of water above the rice” method every single time and it works 100%. 8 minutes boil with lid/5 minutes steaming white basmati; 20 mins boil/10 mins steam brown basmati. And always measure rice servings into the pot in handfuls, one per person. Quick, easy, foolproof!

  16. Here’s a tip for making rice.
    Whatever your rice amount is, when in the pan to cook it in.
    Add water enough to cover the First Joint of your Pointer Finger. Finger touching the rice…water should be above that first joint. Cook on medium heat for approx 20 min. Testing is OK too, you can add a bit more water if needed. this method hasn’t failed me yet.
    Learned this trick cooking for a Casino!

  17. Bob K says:

    Rice cooking is actually very simple. Try this: medium size saucepan (2L?), add a splash (tspoon) of olive oil and heat, before it starts to smoke add 2 cups long grain rice, stir until coated with oil and a few grains start to turn white (careful not to burn), add 2 cups boiling water, bring to boil, seal with close fitting lid, reduce heat to simmer and set a timer for 20 mins. Perfect EVERY TIME!

  18. Richard says:

    I haev no comment on the cooking method but the idea of allowing rice to cool and then reheating is potentially dangerous. If you are going to store frozen rice, it is important that it is cooled VERY quickly to prevent increase in Bacillus cereus. This is a bacteria that is dangerous to human health, increases quickly on rice when it is warm and is not killed by cooking, even at very high temperatures.

  19. Your mom says:

    What the hell is a quart? How do I measure since measuring cups in the rest of world are metric?

    :p

    • pmorrishtx says:

      @ Your mom – If you can’t find a measuring cup with imperial & metric markings try Googling for volume conversion sites instead of whinging at the author.

      • bigwhite says:

        Please use your online judgment and notice the “:p” at the bottom of the post. Thus, it was a joke.

  20. Ahlir says:

    Way too much work. Do this:

    Pour one measure rice into a thick-walled pot.
    Add two measures *hot* water.
    Stir to dislodge any adhesions (rice/pot, rice/rice).

    Cover and cook on lowest heat for 15 mins.
    Turn heat off, leave lid on; wait ~10 mins.
    Serve.

    – If you’re a worrier, at 15 mins take the lid off and observe. The top of the rice should be completely opaque and dry in appearance, with maybe some grains sticking up. If you’re still worried, tip the pan to make sure there’s no liquid at the bottom.

    – The worst thing that can go wrong is not enough water: you end up with crunchy rice. If you suspect too much water, take the cover off earlier in the process and let some evaporate.

    – For predictability, make sure you keep your rice in an air-tight container. Humid weather will screw things up.

    – As in most of life, the key is practice, practice, practice. The more you cook rice the easier it is to figure out its cooking behavior and the less you need to measure, time and hover. Also, complexity in preparation is rarely a sign of correctness (unless you’re doing some haute cuisine).

    Comments:

    1) Washing rice before cooking will yield grains that clump less. Bear in mind that this instruction is likely a remnant from the days when rice was less clean: washing gets rid of insects, random hulls and other junk.

    2) Sauteing the rice in the pot (butter or oil) makes it less sticky but does give it a nice flavor. Consider adding spices (check an Indian cookbook for suggestions).

    I tend to prefer stickier rice. It works better in Western and Far Eastern cuisine. Un-sticky rice is ok if the customary cutlery includes a spoon or if there’s some other means for gathering up a mouthful (India comes to mind).

  21. Bookman says:

    I’m tired.

  22. Bookman says:

    Think I’ll just have a bowl of cereal.

  23. Vladimir says:

    Next drain off the remaining water. A mesh strainer or splatter guard works nicely for this (hold it over the pot and simply dump the water into the sink), but you can also carefully pour the water off and use a fork to keep loose kernels from falling out (but seriously be careful!).
    <-At this point between straining and putting back on the stovetop, do you add water or just put the pot with the rice on the stove? Doesn't it burn or stick to the pot? I'd love to try this, as I've been looking for such a recipe for a long time.
    Place the pot with rice back on the burner

  24. Battygirl says:

    I’m a big fan of cooking a large quantity and freezing single portions for later. I freeze rice but not in plastic wrap. One way is to buy a set of shallow plastic food containers with lids. I have a set that hold, I think 12 oz. each. Another is to put rice portions into 1 qt freezer bags and press them out to flatten the bags and press as much air out as you can before sealing the bags. In both cases, I think the rice has better moisture content and texture if you pack them for storage when the rice is cooled down to lukewarm, but has not lost all its heat. I really like the freezer bag method because (a) you can stack the flattened bags in the freezer and take up minimal space, and (b) this keeps your rigid food storage containers available for everyday short-term uses. Thaw the flattened portions of rice just until you can break them up into smaller chunks that will fit into a microwave-safe bowl, then microwave, covered, for about a minute per portion. You can use the bags repeatedly, even without washing them. After taking just slightly thawed rice out of a bag, there should be very little or no “rice residue” in the bag, so I just roll the bag up and stick it in a corner of the freezer until the next time I freeze a batch of rice.

  25. Lainie says:

    Gee whiz, people! Have you never heard, If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything?

    Darya,

    You’re in good company. I learned this method from one of Julia Child’s cookbooks. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  26. Rob says:

    This works perfectly. My brown rice is usually horribly soggy, so I just tried this and it’s delicious. Thanks!

  27. Rosemary says:

    I think that is a wonderful idea for storing rice in the freezer to wrap it in little pillows. I already use this method to cook rice after learning about it from Mary Mcdougal on the John Mcdougal MD site. There are so many different varieties of rice now that I was getting frustrated with the inconsistent results so I started cooking it in boiling salted water like pasta and now we eat tons of rice. I do drain it though in a shallow steamer pan section that has very tiny holes in it right in the sink from the stove. I do nothing but fluff it some a few times as it cools with a big spoon because I use plenty of water so there is not a lot of starch left in it. I always put the leftovers in the fridge and they are eaten within a few days. This works well for any kind of rice and once you get the time down for the specific kind and brand it only needs to be timed from then on.

  28. David says:

    You people are using far too much energy. The absorption method goes like this.

    Add rice to bowl. Add water up to one knuckle above the rice surface, bring to a raid boil, then turn as low as you can without turning off the flame/heat and cover. If it is too high it will boil away the water.

    About 20 min for white rice, 25 for brown (beautiful stuff) turn off, open up and using a large metal spoon aerate it. Cover, leave it for a minute or two and presto.

  29. laughingwaves says:

    Wouldnt draining of the water at later stage remove all the nutrients of rice?

  30. seaton says:

    When i was macrobiotic in 1974; I was taught to cook rice by George Oshawa, founder of macrobiotics.For brown rice in winter, 1 measure rice, 2 water (after rinsing).less water =’s more yang to ballance the cold. Summer 1 rice, 3 water, its more yin to ballance the heat of summer. Bring water to a boil, ,pour in rice, bring it to a bare boil again and reduce heat drastically so that you get a boil bubble about every 5 sec-10 sec. or so . Use a heavy cast iron pot with a tight fitting lid. let cook for about 45 min ,and check with a wooden spoon , sticking it straight down in the rice and pulling back so you can see the bottom . if there is water in the bottom cook it more untill all the water is gone and rice toasts LIGHTLY brown 0n bottom. serve by digging in vertically so you get even amounts of top rice,fluffy, and bottom rice, sticky. in macrobiotics the toasted rice on the bottom is said to be anti cancer.cooking this slow the rice is said to be still alive because of the low temp of cooking.

  31. Boobs everywhere says:

    What’s the trouble? I always cook rice in 20-30 min. Just get the rice, put it in a pot, fill with water, up to 1 1/2 of rice, and turn on the stove…

  32. bobcat says:

    Does anyone else have the problem where the frozen brown rice has a strange texture once thawed? I only froze my brown rice once, and after microwaving some of it, and also trying to thaw on stovetop, both bathces had a bizarre texture….

    ….I froze it in a small glass Pyrex dish, covered with plastic wrap (twice), pushed down to the surface to prevent freezer burn. It was probably frozen 2-3 weeks? It just had a weird “post-frozen”, almost crunchy inside texture. I cooked it perfectly, it was done. Troubleshooting? Did I leave too much air when freezing it? Or is this texture just something “normal” and no one else notices it?

    • bobcat says:

      ps- the texture of the thawed stuff was so weird that it was even bizarrely crunchy and “not right” when added to soup. I’d also add that the individual grains were kinda curled up and they separated easily from each other…the mass flaked/crumbled apart. Too weird for me. Thoughts?

    • Darya Pino says:

      Strange. I’ve been using this method for years and never had that problem. Sort of sounds like it got too dried or freezer burn, but hard to tell. My guess is that it’s your storing method….

  33. bobcat says:

    Thanks. Yes, I am wondering if it was freezer burn. Actually, now that it is coming back to me more, I used one of my Pyrex “lids,” instead of plastic wrap over it, so freezer burn would be even more likely. I need to somehow get more air out before freezing. Even though I know “plastic” wrap is a safe plastic (actually not a plastic at all because it has no plasticizers), I still prefer to store in glass. I think that is my downfall here and I’ll have to use something else.

  34. Luke says:

    I’m one of those people that is happy with the rice cooker set-it-and-forget-it method. The freezing tip sounds great. Any thoughts on using a vacuum sealer instead of plastic wrap? To avoid a compacted rice ball, I’m guessing that it might be a better idea to seal rather than vacuum seal the bag, but it might last longer this way and avoid freezer burn.

    A tip for those using rice cookers (it might also apply to stove top preparation, but I can’t verify it) that I picked up from a Chinese restaurant years ago: If you’re going to be eating the leftover rice the next day, it’s better to leave the rice in the rice cooker on your counter rather than to package and refrigerate the rice. It’s still fresh and moist the next day, rather than dry and lifeless like it tends to get in the fridge.

  35. David says:

    I am with you Luke, except the vacuum is supplied by my lungs, simply sucking out the bag. Of course, a flat pad of rice is a lot quicker to thaw than a ball.

  36. bbqbill says:

    Love this. I will be freezing batches for sure as I always want to buy the prepackaged cooked stuff in the store but can not allow myself to pay the higher price for something i KNOW is easy. Rice should be inexpensive.

  37. gigi says:

    wished I would have found your website an hour ago. I just finished cooking some rice on the stovetop. Usually it turns out al dente – so I rinsed it and cooked it longer – now it’s too sticky. Next time I’ll follow these directions. Thanks

  38. Cynthia M. says:

    I bought a rice cooker because I never liked how my brown rice came out on the stove top. Even with rice cooker I find you need to let it steam. I’ve heard of this method before but never tried it. Sounds good.

  39. hfhckh says:

    Bullshit. My rice is rock hard. Never doing that again. But I also can’t afford a rice cooker :\

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