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If anything in the kitchen proves the rule that the simplest things are often the most difficult, it is cooking a pot of white rice. (If you use a rice cooker, you don’t need this column; go away.)
If it weren’t such a bugaboo, why have there been so many recipes and methods over the years, from experts and home cooks both, for how to cook that one simple dish?
Like many Indian cooks, James Beard cooks a scant couple cups of rice in quarts of rolling, boiling water, open-topped, as the pasta is cooked. Mark Bittman weaves a variation on both Beard’s boiling and the folk recipe of “pour water over the dry rice to the first knuckle of your finger.” Bittman boils his white rice open-topped, too, just in less perturbed water.
Julia Child mimes an Asian way: two times the amount of water to rice; mix and bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat to a whimper for 15 minutes. (Both Cordon Bleu and Qin Dynasty finish with “Let stand 10 minutes, covered.”)
The 1931 first edition of “The Joy of Cooking” has several “try this” methods of boiling, steaming or oven-finishing white rice. It’s a head-spinning raft of recipes.
I used to hew to the China-Julia way to prepare my long-grained white rice, until I found Can’tMiss Rice by New York Times food writer Kim Severson. It is flawless, and the only — I repeat, only — recipe for cooking white rice.
Unless you own a rice cooker.
Kim Severson’s Can’t-Miss Rice
1 cup long-grain white rice 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water Directions
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse rice well under cold water. In a large ovenproof saucepan, heat butter over medium heat until foaming. Add rice and stir to combine. Cook until rice is coated with butter and starts to smell nutty. Add the water and the salt.
Bring to a boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid and place in oven. Bake for 17 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes without removing the lid.
Bill’s notes: At our altitude and humidity, I add 1 tablespoon water and bake the rice for 18, not 17, minutes. I also place 2-3 sheets of paper toweling between the lid and the pot of rice before placing them in the oven. This prevents condensation of steam dripping into the rice as it cooks.
Don’t skimp on the rice rinse — make it a good, thorough one at the beginning of the recipe. It is a step called for in nearly all recipes where you desire the kernels to be both fluffy and separate from each other. No rinse? Sticky, gloppy, gummy. Nope.
Rinsing rice is a critical step.