Steaming Rice on the Stovetop

Adjusting the amount of water yields different results

Bowl of white rice
Alex Ortega/EyeEm /Getty Images

In U.S. grocery stores, most packages of white rice include simple instructions for a hybrid cooking method, starting with parboiling the grains at a simmer followed by steaming the rice after most of the cooking liquid evaporates. This likely reflects an assumption that most U.S. kitchens don't include a rice cooker, a countertop appliance that is popular in Asian households. Luckily, you don't need a special device to make rice. Steaming rice in a pot on the stovetop can be done with a few simple steps.

Boiled vs. Steamed

The major difference between boiling and steaming is the amount of water used during cooking. Boiled rice remains fully submerged in liquid for the cooking time, whereas steamed rice relies on the heat of trapped vapors to soften the grains. You can produce fluffy, tender steamed rice on the stovetop by adjusting the amount of water you use.

Boiled rice tends to produce a firmer, more distinct grain, and works better with long-grain varieties such as basmati. Steaming turns out stickier rice, which works well for sushi or dishes that might be eaten with chopsticks, and recipes that generally call for shorter-grain rice, such as Spanish Valencia or Calrose.

Preparation Tips

Some instructions for cooking rice instruct us to first rinse the grains in cold water. Rinsing removes excess starch and results in more distinct grains, so if you want to keep the grains separate and firm, rinse the rice in two or three changes of water until it the water is no longer milky and runs clear.

For a softer texture or shorter cooking time, you can soak rice for 30 minutes before cooking it. This preserves some of the aroma and flavors of the longer-grain varieties such as jasmine.

Rice-to-Water Ratios

You may want to change the amount of water based on what type of rice you are cooking and the desired final texture. To steam medium or long-grain rice using the standard stovetop simmer method, start with a 1-to-2 ratio. For example, 1 cup of uncooked rice, which serves 2 to 3 people, needs 2 cups of water.

Bring the water to a boil and add the rice, salt to taste, and butter or oil, if desired. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer the rice for 20 minutes (or according to package directions) without lifting the lid. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for an additional 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

To produce a stickier result with medium or short-grain rice, reduce the amount of water to a 1.25-to-1 ratio. For example, 1 1/4 cups water for 1 cup of rice. Combine the water and rice in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and stir. Bring the water to a boil and cook, uncovered, until the water level drops below the surface of the rice, approximately 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer the rice for an additional 15 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for an additional 5 minutes.

Other Preparations

Brown rice requires roughly 50 percent more water and at least double the cooking time. To achieve the signature creaminess of risotto (especially with short-grained rice), cooks add a 4-to-1 ratio of liquid to the rice in intervals accompanied by constant stirring. Boiled rice, a more common preparation in Indian cuisine, starts with enough water to cover the rice by an additional inch or two, maintaining a moderate boil throughout the cooking time. Any remaining water is drained once the rice reaches the desired texture.