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Reduce water for ‘perfect’ white rice

Skimpy sauce can sully a good stir-fry. But there’s nothing that compromises an Asian-style meal like poorly prepared rice.

I’m not the only Caucasian cook who’s sinned against steamed rice. Food writer Daniel Neman joked that he’d committed this transgression at least 17,000 before he finally realized the ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part rice is dead wrong.

“Twice as much water as rice is too much water. It makes the rice mushy, gooey, gummy and gross,” he wrote in an August story for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Home cooks aren’t entirely to blame, of course, when even bags and boxes of rice repeat the same fallacy that yields undesirable results. The solution? Use 1 2/3 cups uncooked rice and 2 1/3 cups water, which makes enough for 4 servings. But a ratio of 2 parts rice to 3 parts water also yields excellent results and is easier to remember.

Aha!, I thought. Finally someone confirmed what I’d long suspected. Aside from my kitchen’s lack of a countertop rice cooker, I was clearly doing something wrong.

I tried Neman’s method, careful to soak the rice for 30 minutes before I needed to start it for dinner, and I was sold on the first try. Subsequent preparations have been less successful, mainly because I’ve been distracted by other kitchen tasks, which caused me to boil off too much water before covering the rice. That misstep requires stirring in more water while the rice finishes cooking.

But I’ll never go back to 2-to-1. The improved method is detailed in the following recipe, yielding “perfect steamed rice” to pair with wok-style classics featured in my latest column.

Tribune News Service photo

Perfect Steamed Rice

Put 1 cup white rice into a large bowl and cover with water by several inches. Stir rice with a spoon or your clean hand until water becomes cloudy. Drain water through a strainer to catch any falling rice, and repeat 2 or 3 more times until water is largely clear.

Drain rice and put it into a heavy saucepan with the 1 1/2 cups water. If you have time, let it rest for 30 minutes to let rice absorb some water.

Bring to a boil. Continue boiling until water level is just at the top of rice, for about 15 minutes in all. Surface of rice should have small indentations, like a pitted crater. Cover saucepan with a lid, turn heat as low as possible and cook for 15 minutes; do not remove lid at any point during cooking. Turn off heat and let rice rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Makes 3 servings.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from “Complete Chinese Cookbook” by Ken Hom.