Steamed Rice

Steamed rice is rice cooked in water. 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. All rice delivers carbohydrates, a source of glucose, an essential nutrient.

White rice has been 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 delay the oils in the bran turning the rice rancid. Brown rice has more micronutrients and fiber than white rice.  Roger Owen, 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 increased because it has become perceived as a healthy whole food, and because restaurant chefs and food writers have developed palatable preparations.

Steamed rice is not fried first (as with some pilaf, biryani, Mexican styles). It is not cooked as a risotto, paella, rice pudding, congee or other flavoured rice dish. 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 white rice removes the fine rice talc that makes the cooked rice sticky. Rinsing is the correct preparation for white Basmati and long grain white rice, where the grains should be cooked but not sticky. This editors and authors of Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen announced this as concept 30 in The Science of Good Cooking (2012): “Rinsing (Not Soaking) Makes Rice Fluffy). Cooks have done this for centuries without the imprimatur of ATK. 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. ATK suggests soaking the rice before cooking makes rice soggy or sticky. It depends on the ratio of water to wet rice that is being cooked, and the method and tools used by the cook. It is a step followed in many recipes.

Steaming is an absorption preparation.  Sri Owen, in The Rice Book (1993), said that steaming rice in a vessel on a heat source should be seen as a 2 step process.  First, rice is simmered in a water in an uncovered pot at the boiling point until the rice has absorbed the water. The second step is “finishing”. All methods depend on measurement of rice and water. Owen describes 4 ways:

  1. Cover the vessel and leaving it on very low heat to steam the rice internally, taking it off the heat and leaving it covered;
  2. Moving the rice into a vessel such as collander and steaming the rice suspended over boiling water.   This is the method recommended by Jamie Oliver;
  3. Moving the rice into a casserole, covering it and baking in an oven;
  4. Moving the rice into a microwaving vessel, covering with the usual wrap or cover, and a few minutes in a microwave oven.

Also, 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.

A conventional method of steaming rice is a version of process 1 above. The rice (dry or rinsed or soaked) is added to boiling water and the temperature is lowered to a simmer, and the pot covered tightly:

  • Put the measured amount of rice in the measured amount of water and bring the water to a boil,  or add rice to boiling water and wait for the water to heat back up to a simmer,
  • Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot, 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.

This works best when the temperature is brought down at the right moment. It requires a pot that disperses the heat evenly, a tight lid to hold in the steam, and control of heat and time. The recipes for this technique emphasize a tight lid on the pot and other techniques to limit evaporation. The method works within a range of rice/water ratios and times. The results may be more or less fluffy, absorbent or sticky. 

Package directions for the standard varieties go high on water; many recipes do. This will lead to soggy overcooked rice. 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 ratios of long grain white rice to water is 1 cup of dry rice to 1.5 to 1.75  cups of water:

  • CI/ATK recommends the low end of this range, 3 cups of water for 2 cups of rinsed white long grain rice;
  • Sri Owen recommends 2 1/2 cups water to 2 cups of white rice;
  • Jill Nussenow, the Veggie Queen, suggests 1.5 cups of water for the first cup of rice, 1.25 cups of water for the second cup of rice – which means 2.75 cups of water for two cups of rice. Some of her recipes are for use in a pressure cooker, but this approach works with stovetop cooking.

The cooking time for white rice in a stovetop pan can be from 12 to 20 minutes. It depends on the stove, the heat, the pot, the rice, evaporation.

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. 1.5 cups of water to 1 cup of rice is too much water for Basmati rice. Ratios and times for steel pot with a clad disc base:

  • 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 . 

Package directions for brown rice tend to suggest 2 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. 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.

Steaming brown rice takes a longer cooking time – 40 minutes or so in a rice cooker or in a pot on a stove.

An Instant Pot or other pressure multi-cooker, or any pressure cooker can save time and energy and produce good results with white rice using the rice program and with brown rice using the pressure cooker program. The pressure cooker is not faster but with steps controlled by timers and sensors is more convenient. The rice/water ratio ican be the same as for a stovetop device, or a little less water on the basis that there may be less evaporation.


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