Who doesn’t love a great risotto, a pilaf, a rice salad, or even a simple rice dessert? No matter how simple though, there are plenty of cooking rice mistakes you might be making, that lead to mushy, melty rice, drowned in liquids or make it too dry to have an actual taste. If you’re having trouble cooking with rice, read the list below.
Rice seems to be that simple ingredient that nobody can go wrong with when making lunch or dinner. But unfortunately, life has taught me otherwise. When going to dodgy places for lunch or having a meal at previous work cafeterias, I considered rice to be Old Reliable: simple, efficient, and with nothing offensive about it. A few events led to some disappointments, but these cooking rice mistakes can totally be avoided if you know what to look out for!
Some rice dishes I tried smelled and tasted like hospital food, or that summer camp dish that I had two forks of and then I decided to go to bed on an empty stomach. Well, that surely was one unforgettable meal, since I think about it even after 16 years. Why did this happen? Well, I have some thoughts, some theories, and some knowledge of cooking rice mistakes and I’m about to explore them right about now!
What are the cooking rice mistakes you might be making?
1. You’re not choosing the right rice for the right dish
There are plenty of rice types out there and they don’t work as substitutes for one another, because they have different cooking times and different liquid needs, to name just two of the differences. There’s wild rice, white rice, brown rice, black rice, basmati rice, long grain rice, and so on and so forth.
I know that maybe you have that bag of black rice in your cupboard that you bought out of curiosity. Maybe you’re in love with a recipe and want to try it. But in general, keep the instructions as closely as possible. Think about it like this: if you cook that black rice with the wrong technique and ingredients, you might be missing out on loving it in the future. Be patient then! Make risotto with arborio rice, not with basmati, ok?
2. You’re not using the best pot for the job
Said best pot for the job is one with a thick bottom, which deals better with heat, both retaining it and distributing it like the rice needs. Some recipes require the rice to also go in the oven for a while, so make sure that your pot is up to the task. And not only your pot. The lid and the handles should be there as well – choose all metal lid and handles and you won’t regret it.
3. You are not washing your rice!
This is one of those common cooking rice mistakes a lot of people make. There are two things that rinsing your rice in a sieve helps you with: firstly, it removes some of the starches on the surface of the rice, which leads to a better-cooked product. And secondly, washing the rice under a stream of water helps get rid of some of the impurities and other byproducts of the milling process that might be stuck to the grains. After you’ve washed the rice, it should end up fluffier and have a better taste.
Just check out the labels when it comes to this, because some brands don’t need pre-washing, and that should be written on the label! If you are making risotto, then don’t wash, because the dish needs the starchiness to work.
4. You’re not seasoning the water
Seasoning is maybe that number one thing you should never forget about when cooking, especially when it comes to salting your dishes. It’s not just about taste, because salt has a chemical role in cooking. Apropos of rice, salt prevents the rice from becoming that gooey gelatin-like mess because it interferes in the gelatinization process by which starches connect with each other. So salt your water before adding the rice, for the love of humanity! 1-2 teaspoons should do the trick. But it depends on you, your diet, and how much of a... salty tooth you have.
But since we’re talking about seasoning, you should know that salt is not the only thing you could add to the boiling water! It depends on what you’re cooking, of course. But the boiling process helps bring out flavors in other condiments.
I mean the thing about rice is that it’s a great base to build a dish upon, but it can be bland if you don’t take care of it. So you can add condiments and other elements to the water, like sliced and dried mushrooms, some butter, your favorite nut, and even some cinnamon. Go crazy (but not exactly: pick two flavors and stick with them) with bay leaves or dried peppers, some lemon juice. Or you could just get yourself an advantage by boiling the rice in the homemade stock of your choosing. You have many many options: don’t go for the bland simple water alternative.
5. You’re not keeping the lid on things
If you’re cooking rice, then don’t lift the lid to check on it. Remember: you’re working with a calculated rice to water ratio, which you need to keep inside the pot. If you lift the lid, the rice will need to cook for a longer time, because it will lose some steam! And not to mention it will end up dry and supremely unfriendly.
Don’t stir the rice, because it will activate the starches within and make everything creamier. You only want that if you’re making risotto. But not for boiling rice. If you are making risotto, then the opposite is true. You will be cooking it in a pan and stir it to release the starches so that the dish has that creamy consistency.
6. You’re using too much heat
That’s a surefire (pun intended) way to destroy the grains of rice because the heat will make them burst open and release their starch. Your meal will be ruined in return for your trouble. So the key here is patience: if you feel there’s no progress, I assure you that a watched pot of rice does indeed boil. If you crank up the heat, you will overcook the rice and ruin your dinner.
7. You won’t let it rest already
After you’ve moved past all the other obstacles and managed to cook yourself some exemplary rice, there’s one final hurdle of patience you need to get over: letting the rice rest after removing from heat. If you’ve done your job properly, then it will be a little drier on the top and have more moisture on the bottom. The dish now needs some time to redistribute its moisture and liquids all over that wonderful pot you chose. Give it 5-10 minutes to do just that. Maybe even more if you’re working with an exceptionally large pot. Especially since it will be tougher to fluff in large quantities. Give it the nap it deserves before dinner, then fluff it and serve it!