6 Common Rice Cooking Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Rice in a wooden bowl
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Cooking rice should be automatic, not something you have to figure out each time. To help streamline the process, we've compiled a list of common rice cooking mistakes that might stand in the way of the goal of making perfect rice every time. We'll discuss each problem in the order of the cooking process rather than how important each one is. (The third item on the list is likely the biggest one.) But first...

  • 01 of 06

    Soaking or Rinsing the Rice

    How to wash rice
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    Neither of these is a huge mistake. It's actually the act of worrying about whether to rinse or soak the rice before cooking that's the bigger error because neither will have as terrible of an effect on the finished product as some of the mistakes listed below. At worst, soaking rice will make it gummier. Likewise, rinsing white rice washes away many of its nutrients along with some of its excess starch. Whether you choose to rinse, soak, both, or neither, pick a method and do it the same way every time for consistency.

  • 02 of 06

    Using Flavorless Cooking Liquid

    Cardamom Rice Pilaf
    Anita Schecter

    Unsalted water is the biggest culprit here. Ideally you'll cook your rice in some sort of stock or broth, but if that's not available or it's just not your thing, at the very least, be sure to salt your water. Half a tablespoon of Kosher salt per 12 fluid ounces of water should do it. A tablespoon of olive oil per 12 fluid ounces of water also works, and will help prevent sticking.

  • 03 of 06

    Following a Recipe Exactly

    Rice grains, cereal. White rice, ingredient close up. Raw food close up
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    This includes following the cooking instructions on the package!

    Perfectly cooked rice is produced by simmering a certain amount of rice in a certain amount of water for a certain amount of time. Assuming a constant volume of uncooked rice (say, one cup), the necessary amount of water and cooking time are affected by properties of the pot, mainly the lid and how tightly it seals.

    A tight seal results in little evaporation, because little steam can escape. This means you need less water for each cup of uncooked rice. A tight seal might result from a heavy lid (like a cast iron pot), or a rubber gasket.

    The reason rice cookers work so well is that the manufacturer knows exactly how hot the water is going to get and how much evaporation to account for (because it knows how exactly how tightly the lid will seal). That's how it can tell you exactly how much water to use for a given amount of rice.

    But of course, there's no rice recipe in the world that can take into account every conceivable single kind of cookware. Thus, every recipe, including the cooking instructions on the package of rice, is at best an approximation.

    Note, too, that while brown rice needs a longer cooking time than white rice, it might not necessarily need more water. Again, as evaporation is controlled for, cooking time depends on the absorption rate of the rice.

    The solution: Experiment! Use the cooking instructions on the package as a guideline, and if the rice is too wet or too dry, adjust your future cook times accordingly. For best results, use the same pot-lid combination every time you cook rice.

  • 04 of 06

    Boiling the Rice

    White Rice
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    The key word here is boiling rather than simmering. Not only will boiling cause your water to evaporate more quickly, the violent agitation will also stir up additional starches from the rice, making it extra sticky. Simmering corresponds with a water temperature of 180 F to 205 F, producing small, gentle bubbles as opposed to a full rolling boil. In many cases, this is achieved by bringing the water to a full boil and then lowering it to the lowest setting on the burner (although ranges and other factors vary).

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Removing the Lid

    Rice Prepared in Crock Pot
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    Opening the lid to check on the doneness or see how much water is left in the pot is well-intentioned but counterproductive. You may also be tempted remove the lid to stir the rice while it cooks, which is wholly disastrous and will lead to starchy, goopy rice.

    Stirring rice while it cooks ought to have its own place on this list as one of the top mistakes. However, if you remember never to remove the lid during cooking, there's no way you'll accidentally stir.

    Once you've established the proper volume of water and simmering time via trial and error, you'll never have to peek under the lid again. When your timer goes off, you can confidently turn off the burner and proceed to the next step.

  • 06 of 06

    Not Fluffing the Rice

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    Fluffing the rice allows excess steam trapped in the rice to escape, which would otherwise continue to heat the rice and ultimately overcook it. Fluffing rice is simply a matter of dispersing the grains away from each other with the tines of a fork or slotted spoon. A wooden spoon might crush or break the grains, so a long-tined fork, even a meat fork, works best.