Steamed Rice

Steamed rice is rice cooked in water. It is not fried first (as with some pilaf, biryani, Mexican styles) or cooked as a risotto, paella, rice pudding, congee or other flavoured rice dish.  Cooked rice can used in a dish, as an accompaniment to other dishes, fried or processed further, or added to other dishes e.g. Nasi Goreng is preparation of fried cooked white rice.

Steaming is an absorption preparation.  Salt is optional; it is added for taste. Steamed rice can be cooked in a pot or cooking vessel over a heat source, or in a rice cooker appliance. Pressure cookers and pressure multi-cooker appliances (most multi-cookers are basically electric pressure cookers – e.g. Instant Pot) can do steamed rice. The slow cooker can cook rice in a soup or stew. It does not do well with plain rice where the goal is fluffy grains.

Rinsing brown rice is pointless – the grain is still coated with bran. The editors and authors of Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen have a theory about rinsing white rice: concept 30 in The Science of Good Cooking (2012). Their aphorism is “Rinsing (Not Soaking) Makes Rice Fluffy). CI/ATK publishes summaries of its test kitchen tests. Rinsing removes rice flour and talc and helps to keep it from getting sticky. Rinsing is normal for White Basmati but uncommon with long grain white rice grown in the Southern USA, and with short grain rices. Rinsing is not useful for short grain rice that is supposed to be creamy (for risotto) or sticky (for sushi and other Asian dishes). Or with with Spanish Bomba or other paella varieties. Soaking rice before cooking is not useful. It is recommended by some sources, but it is not useful.

It is possible to put rice in ample boiling water and strain it like pasta. Some cookbooks promote this; many suggest this as an option among other methods.

Sri Owen, in The Rice Book (1993), said that steaming rice in a vessel on a heat source can be a 2 step process.  First, rice is simmered in a measured amount of water in an uncovered pot at the boiling point until the rice has absorbed the water. The second step is “finishing”; Owen describes 4 ways:

  • Cover the vessel and leaving it on very low heat to steam the rice internally, taking it off the heat and leaving it covered;
  • Moving the rice into a collander and steaming the rice suspended in another vessel over boiling water.   This is basically parcooking the rice and put it in a steamer or collander, recommended by Jamie Oliver;
  • Moving the rice into a casserole, covering it and baking in an oven;
  • Moving the rice into a microwaving vessel, covering with the usual wrap or cover, and a few minutes in a microwave oven.

Owen pointed out that a rice cooker was a good tool; she did not write about presssure cookers or multi-cookers.

The conventional method of steaming rice is a slow simmer at the point that water steams. It is simpler than the two step processes above, and allows the cook to deal with other tasks once the temperature has been brought down to a simmer. It requires a pot that disperses the heat evenly, a tight lid to hold in the steam, and control of heat and time.

Put rice in a meaured amount of water, bring the water to a boil,  cover the pot, reduce the heat, simmer. Leave it covered and set a timer. Remove from heat and rest off heat, covered for 10-15 minutes. Set the timer for the final rest.

The cooking time can be from 12 to 20 minutes. The method works within a range of rice/water ratios and times. The results may be more or less fluffy, absorbent or sticky.  The rice recipe at What’s Cooking America has a table of rice to water ratio and cooking times for several kinds of rice. The instructions at that site for cooking white rice are a bit contradictory.  There is a concise article by Fine Cooking magazine and some videos and notes at the Kitchn site. The normally stated ratio of long grain white rice to water is 1 cup of dry rice to 1.5 to 1.75  cups of water.  CI/ATK recommend the low end of this range. 1.5 cups of water to 1 cup of rice is too much water for Basmati rice. It may be suitable for pilafs of other long grained white rice.

Package directions for the standard varieties such as long grain white rice tend to go high on water; many recipes do. This will lead to soggy overcooked rice.

Steamed rice can be cooked in a pressure cooker. I normally use a normal pot on a stove for white rice. The pressure cooker is not faster or more convenient.

White Basmati Rice, a long grain aromatic rice originating from Northern India, Pakistan and Nepal can be cooked by the slow simmer method. Refer to: article from the Guardian; Madhur Jaffry recipe from the Telegraph. I like the rice fluffy and go light on the water:

  • 2.33 cups of water to 2 cups of rice, simmering 23 minutes, or
  • 2 cups of water to 1.5 cups of rice, simmering 20 minutes . 

All rice delivers carbohydrates, a source of glucose, an essential nutrient. Rice is normally milled to remove the husk or bran and germ, leaving the white kernel of endosperm with the carbs. White rice can be cooked quickly, saving time and fuel/energy.

Brown or whole rice has been dried, but the bran has been left. It is heat treated to keep the oils in the bran turning the rice rancid. Roger Own, in his essay “A Rice Landscape”, published in Sri Owen’s The Rice Book (1993) wrote: “… brown rice always costs more because there is less demand for it, and because the bran … milled off … would have been sold separately.”

The demand for brown rice has been increasing because it has become perceived as a healthy whole food, and because restaurant chefs and food writers have developed palatable preparations. Good preparation liberated healthy foods from the ideas that eating should be directed to the hope of healthful longevity, and that tasty food must be unhealthy. Brown rice has more micronutrients and fiber than white rice. 

Steaming brown rice takes a longer cooking time – 40 minutes or so in a rice cooker or in a pot on a stove. Many recipes suggest 2 cups of water to one cup of brown rice. CI/ATK suggests 1.5 cups of rice in 2.33 cups of water. Sri Owen suggests that white and brown rice should have the same amount of water for some techniques.

An Instant Pot or other pressure multi-cooker, or any pressure cooker can save time and energy and produce good results with brown rice.

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