How to cook rice?

1. The best rice to use for separate, fluffy grains is basmati. This has long, thin, pointed grains, and is more expensive than others but, since cooking is about flavour, it is the one to buy as it has a far superior taste. Always measure rice by volume and not by weight: use a measuring jug and measure 2½ fl oz (65 ml) per person (5 fl oz/150 ml for two, 10 fl oz/275 ml for four and so on). The quantity of liquid you will need is roughly double the volume of rice; so 5 fl oz (150 ml) of rice needs 10 fl oz (275 ml) of hot water or stock.

2. The very best utensil for cooking fluffy, separate rice is a frying pan with a lid. Over the years I have found that the shallower the rice is spread out during cooking, the better. Buying a 10 inch (25.5 cm) pan with a lid would be a good lifetime investment for rice cooking. Failing that, try to find a large saucepan lid that will fit your normal frying pan. First cook some onions, which can provide extra flavour but are not a necessity as rice can be cooked quite simply in water. Then add the rice, which doesn't need to be washed because it is thoroughly cleaned at the milling stage, and washing it removes some of the nutrients (anyway the high temperature of the cooking will purify it). Turn the grains over in the pan until they are nicely coated and glistening with oil. This helps to keep the grains separate.

3. The next stage is to add the boiling water to the pan (to save time I always pour it into the measuring jug straight from a boiling kettle). Stock is an excellent alternative particularly if the rice is to be served with chicken (use chicken stock) or beef (use beef stock), and for fish a fish stock is particularly good. I don't recommend stock cubes, as I find them too strong, masking the delicate flavour of the rice. Also don't forget to add salt; about 1 level teaspoon to every 5 fl oz (150 ml) of rice.

4. Once the hot liquid has been added, stir once only as you don't want to break the delicate grains – this releases the starch and results in sticky rice, spoiling it utterly. Because people get nervous and anxious, or because they just have a habit of stirring things, this is the fatal flaw.

5. Cover with the lid and turn the heat down to its lowest setting. Leave it alone – once the lid is on, set the timer and go away! If you lift the lid and let the steam out you can slow down the cooking process, and rice should always be cooked as briefly as possible. Give white rice 15 minutes and brown rice 40 and use a timer – overcooking is what spoils rice. The best way to test if it is cooked is simply to bite a grain. Another way is to tilt the pan and, if liquid collects at the edge, it will need a couple more minutes' cooking.

6. When the rice is cooked, remove the lid, turn the heat off and place a clean tea cloth over the pan for 5-10 minutes. This will absorb the steam and help keep the grains dry and separate. Just before serving, use the tip of a skewer or a fork to lightly fluff up the grains.


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