One of the first things I had to figure out to cook after I set up the kitchen at home, was rice. Like most other things, I looked up how to do so on the internet and then proceeded to fine tune the process myself, over repeated attempts.
I only recently found out that the method I was following was known as “the absorption method” (thanks to a certain competitive cooking reality TV series). The advantage this method has over the other popular method (boiling with a lot of water and then draining it once the rice is cooked) is that the grains of rice don’t clump up and get all lumpy and sticky. This is ideal when you’re incorporating it into things like fried rice, where you need to mix the rice up with vegetables and things without having it congeal into large sticky lumps.
It’s important that the rice is washed very thoroughly at the very beginning, because the powdery, starchy bits get washed away this way. With the boiling method, most of it gets poured out with the remaining water.
I usually cook about half a cup of rice for myself, so you could add an extra half cup for every extra serving. It’s best to wash the rice half a cup at a time because its easier to handle than a large amount of rice in a sieve. Washing it in the sieve makes it a lot easier to use the flow of water to wash the rice powder away. You know you’ve done a good job if the water in the vessel isn’t milky once you put the rice in it.
The amount of water you put in should be double that of the rice. A half teaspoon of salt gives the rice some flavour and the tablespoon of cooking oil in the water eventually boils down to the base of the vessel and coats it, preventing the rice from getting stuck at the bottom.
This method calls for monitoring the process around twice once its put on the flame. Let the water come to a full boil and evaporate away till the water level reaches the level of the rice. You’ll see little pits forming in the rice where it bubbles and steams. Once it reaches this point, turn the flame down to low and put the lid on the vessel.
It’ll take around five to ten minutes, depending on the heat of your flame and the quantity of rice, for it to cook completely. Open the lid and stick a fork in the rice all the way to the bottom and scrape some aside. You should turn the flame off just when the last of the water evaporates away. Test the rice at this point to see if its done. It should neither be hard (undercooked) or pasty (overcooked). If you hear a popping, crackling sound, it usually means the water has evaporated away completely and is burning the rice at the bottom of the vessel.
Put the lid back on the vessel and let it sit for five to ten minutes before serving. This last bit of self-steaming helps get the rice at the base unstuck (if in case it was left on the flame too long) and also makes the rice fluffier.
Fluff the rice up with a fork; this makes it easy to serve.
Different types of rice can take different times to cook completely. Varying the amounts of water also can help adjust this (more water for slower cooking rice, less for faster cooking rice).
Rice doesn’t essentially have to be boring. You can add a stick or two of cinnamon or a few stems of lemon grass (I usually separate out the blades of lemon grass and tie a few knots in it to release its flavour and also make extraction easy) at the very beginning to flavour the rice and give it an aroma.
Red Rice Update:
I’ve been attempting a shift to red rice for a bit (due to its higher nutritional value; it’s also supposed to be quite fibre-rich) so I thought I’d write this update on how to cook it, because cooking times are apparently quite different from regular white rice.
Just to be clear, this is Kerala Red Rice, or Matta rice, which is available par-boiled.
The first major difference is in the quantity of water that is used to cook the rice. Since this variety of rice absorbs water a lot slower, the ratio of rice to water is 1:3 (as opposed to 1:2, with normal rice). This variety of rice also takes a little longer to cook.
Add salt and oil as per the original method. Once you turn on the flame, it should take exactly 30 minutes to prepare (for half a cup of rice). The breakdown is something like this:
7 minutes, uncovered on high flame (the water should come to a boil, not much bubbling and froth with this variety)- turn flame down low and put lid on, cook for another 16 minutes- then let it sit for another 7 minutes (-at least, maximum 15 minutes, beyond which it’ll start going cold) before serving.
I usually run a fork through the rice after the first seven minutes to distribute the rice evenly, since the bits towards the middle would have cooked more than around the edges.
The last bit, when it is left with the lid on allows the rice to continue cooking in its own steam for a bit. This also contributes towards it being less sticky and lumpy. If any rice gets stuck to the bottom, it’ll also help moisten it up and make it easy to scrape off and clean.