HOW TO ACTUALLY COOK PERFECT RICE WITHOUT A RICE-COOKER

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LET’S SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT, ONCE AND FOR ALL…  DON’T YOU EVER, EVER, AND I MEAN NEVER EVER, BOIL YOUR SUSHI RICE

There are a lot of rumours out there about cooking rice without a rice-cooker.  And when I say “rice” in this particular case, I’m specifically referring to the Asian short-grain white rice, or mostly known as, the Japanese sushi rice (but not exclusively for making sushi).  Whether or not you grew up cooking/eating this type of rice, that for every different reasons, the idea of cooking it on the stove can be a very confusing matter.  Because if you did, like every other sensible Asians out there, you’ve been deferring this task to a trusty rice-cooker and the idea of doing it without one, for as long as you’ve been eating rice, has never even occur to you as a potential reality.  But if you didn’t, like every other typical non-Asians out there without a rice-cooker, the assortment of instructions for cooking this type of rice on the stove with bare flames and pots, is a maze laid out with conflicting informations, false promises, and more often than not, guaranteed failures.

And when I say “failure” in this particular case, I’m specifically referring to anything but the state of its optimal textures.  Look, it’s fairly easy to cook rice, or anything for that matter, until it’s no longer raw and passably edible, but it’s something else entirely to do it properly.  Asian short-grain rice/sushi rice, when cooked properly, should glisten with a gentle shimmer on the surface, where every grains are consistent with a soft but bouncy mouthfeel, moistly sticky but ease gracefully into individual selves when being chewed.  Now this, this is not something easily obtainable, not even for some less competent rice-cookers out there, let alone if you did it on the stove following many of the wrong directions online, which is to say, almost all of them.

So today, let’s set the record straight, once and for all.  Here’s how to actually cook sushi rice on the stove.

THE CORRECT RATIO AND TOOLS

The ratio between rice : water is perhaps the single, most confusing information on cooking sushi rice.  Most recipes out there ranges from 1 : 1.1 (too much water) to 1 : 1.5 (waaaaay too much water!).  But the correct ratio should always, and I mean always, be 1 part rice : 1 part water BY VOLUME.  Always!  It doesn’t matter if you are cooking rice for sushi, or just for plain eating.  Always. And when it comes to the right pot, I would highly suggest using a small, heavy-bottomed non-stick pot with clear glass lid.  There is a reason why all rice-cookers uses a non-stick inner-bowl, because when rice sticks (and it will stick), it breaks.  Broken rice = bad rice.  Then, instead of flying blind, the clear glass lid allows you to get a good idea of what’s going on inside.  Also, we don’t want a steam-hole for the lid, so if yours comes with one, simply block it with a damp paper-towel.  So:

Makes about 4 cups cooked rice:

  • 2 cups (400 grams) Asian short-grain white rice, or Japanese sushi rice
  • 2 cups (429 grams) water

UPDATE 2015/08/04:  You may be able to tell that the type of rice used in this particular example, was a typical Asian short-grain rice, which took 15 min in STEP 2.  But if you were using an even stubbier short-grain variety, specifically for making sushi, with a wider and rounder body, then please increase the duration of STEP 2 to 20 min.

* The instruction is for 2 cups of rice only.  Anything more or less by 1/2 cup will require adjustments on the cooking time.

UPDATE 2015/12/1:  Months after I tested this recipe on the gas-stove, I finally had a chance to test it on induction stove, and the heat-setting turned out to be a bit different.  It seems that induction stove requires a slightly higher setting to reach the description of each steps.  In STEP 2, instead of 1~2 for heat-setting (on a scale of 10), induction stove needs around 3~4.  Then for STEP 3, instead of 2~3, induction stove needs around 5~6.  So whatever stove you’re using, adjust the heat-setting to get you to the description for each steps, instead of relying on absolute heat-settings.

STEP 1:  Put the rice in a large sieve, then rinse under running cold water.  Gently rub the rice between your fingers, removing the excess starch, until the water runs clear.  Drain very very well, until the last drop of water seem to have been shaken off, then transfer the rice to heavy-bottomed non-stick pot.  Add the water and give it a stir, then put on the lid (if there’s a steam-hole, block it with a small piece of damp paper-towel.

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STEP 2:  Set the pot over the smallest flame that you can keep alive, then set the timer for 15~20 min (please see UPDATE above, for important information).  On the scale of 1~10 for the flame, I’m talking about a 1 or 2 here (see the first photo below).  This is the other mistake that most people make.  You should never ever, and I mean ever, never ever, boil this type of rice!  Never.  It leads to a softer, mushier outer layer of the grains instead of an uniformed texture, and it’s just… I mean… never, ok, just don’t.  By the end of the 15 min, the water should be just right on the verge of coming to a simmer but not yet.  OK?  This process warms the rice evenly, but moreover, it also acts as a pre-soaking step, “blooming” it if you will.  At the end of this step, the rice should look swelled up, but you should still see a thin layer of water above it (see the second photo below).

STEP 3:  Now turn the heat up by just a dial.  I’m talking about going from 1~2, to 2~3 here.  Just one dial up (see the third photo below), then set the timer for another 10 min.  This still won’t boil the water, because yes, you should never.  But you will see a steady stream of steam coming out of the pot, and you may see a bubble here and there at the centre of the pot.  At 5 min, there won’t be any water visible above the rice.  At the end of the 10 min, the steam should have reduced down to a whiff, signalling that most excess water have evaporated.  Good, this is what we want.

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STEP 4:  Now turn the heat off completely, and set the timer for another 5 min.  This step completes the cooking-part of it.  By the way, you should not, by any means, open the lid… or stir the rice… or so much so as talking/disturbing the rice at any point during the entire cooking process.  You get me?  Leave.  It.  Alone.

STEP 5:  Finally, you can remove the lid, but careful not to drop the excess water on the lid into the rice.  With wooden spoon or even wooden chopsticks, gently, and I mean gently, fold the rice from the bottom of the pot over the top (without crushing the grains), and repeat a couple more times until the rice is evenly “shuffled”.  Anyone who’s familiar with rice-cookers knows to do this step, which redistribute the moisture throughout the rice for more even and better textures.  You may notice a small nub of rice at the bottom-centre of the pot being slightly coloured (see the second photo below).  Unfortunately this is inevitable with stove-top cooking.  If you are using this rice for making sushi, remove the small nub, but if you’re eating it plain, then it doesn’t really bother anyone.

STEP 6:  Now, the final maturing step.  Put the lid back on and let sit for another 5 min.  If you are worried about keeping the rice warm, midway through this step, you can blast the pot over medium heat for 20 seconds to re-warm the pot.  Why do this?  You can eat the rice after STEP 5 without any trouble of course, but the rice after this extra 5 min of stand-alone time will tastes bouncier, livelier, and will take on a gentle luminous glow.

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So there.  Perfect, springy, glowy and delicious rice without a rice-cooker.  Stop doing it wrong.  Do it right.

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56 Comments

  • Thank you, I have had no end of problems cooking rice and by means of a knowledge share, this old site entry saved my life for Indian and Thai. it may seem fiddily at first reading but after a few goes it literally boils down to (pun intended) wash, soak, cook and let stand. Every time you get perfect single grains of fluffy rice. Dont forget to take the lid off when the time is up and cool if using for later.
    http://vegweb.com/recipes/perfect-basmati-rice-cooking-method

    To be a good cook and to falter at rice is a terrible shame. Thanks for all the lovely recipes!

  • Same water:rice ratio if you do have a rice cooker? Do you have a preferred brand and model rice cooker?

  • Wooow, that’s very specific just for cooking rice, intriguing, gonna try that. Thanks for the detailed instructions.
    Btw, have you mastered You tiao or Banh tieu?

  • Um hi I love the gravitas with which you are treating this situation. Instantly I read that first quote and thought oh sh*t I for sure boil my rice all the time. Please show mercy on my past sins, rice gods.

    We always had a rice cooker in our house so when I moved out and could not afford the counter space to house one of those things I never understood why my rice just didn’t turn out great. Pasta sure, just throw it into salty water and then fish it out X minutes later but with rice there was so much conflicting information (water ratios, rinse it first, salt/don’t salt, fluff it with a fork, fry it with some oil first, no that’s stupid don’t do that, etc). I legitimately just turned to the microwaveable rice packs for a while (dark times). But I too want perfect little opalescent grains staring back at me so…I’ll cover up the damn steam hole.

  • I needed these directions last week when I decided I needed a sashimi bowl stat. (The sushi bar in town had pathetic offerings, but the salmon at the store was glorious looking.) I made the worst rice of my life because the stupid instructions on the bag said to boil then drain. Fuckers are lucky I was tired and hungry and are the shitty rice.

  • I will definitely try this. Give me the most complicated recipe in the world and I’ll nail it. Ask me to cook rice and I’m guaranteed to screw it up. Living in Colorado though, I wonder how the altitude will effect the cooking times. I guess I’m about to find out!

  • The way I have been taught how to cook rice NOT using a rice cooker here in Japan is slightly different. I use either a plain metal pan or a “do-nabe” – a Japanese thick bottomed traditional pottery pot.

    I measure out the short grained rice. Wash it as mentioned. Drain out all the washing water. But then everyone here says to let it sit for 30 minutes. This point is stressed as being very important.

    Then, you measure it again. The grains will have slightly swollen. It is important to measure it exactly. And to use this new measurement for the water. Still, it is 1:1, but measured 30 minutes after washing.

    The Japanese always say to bring it to a rolling boil such that the lid of the pan giggles and jangles. Then the flame is taken down to its lowest point for about 12 minutes. If the flame is still too high, I sometimes raise the pan up a bit using a frame of some sort.

    After 12 minutes, turn off the flame. After that, do not open the lid. Leave it for 15-20 minutes. Then it is ready.

    ;-)

    • I forgot to add that I believe Japanese short grain rice is a bit different from other short grain rices and requires that 30 minute wait after the wash and the extra measuring step. Otherwise, everything is basically the same.

      I might add that cooking rice in a pan and not a rice cooker is really easy and NOT scary. Just keep giving it a try. I do it all the time. I know everyone can!! It is not rocket science!!

    • Pamela, the first 15 min of super low flame is really kind of like soaking the rice. The rice will swell up in the warm/almost hot water. This method is learnt from closely studying a very good rice-cooker that I have, and mimicking it’s actions min-by-min. Modern good rice-cookers do not boil to a rolling point. It’s a gentle and mild process. And I’ve noticed that it produces much better rice than the old models that boil the rice.

      • Good point!
        I am open to learning new things and you always have good ideas!! Yummy ones too! I will give this a try as I have to often cook rice in a pan….. Not a rice cooker!
        ;-)

        • This is how I learnt it as well Pamela, from a family friend named Yoko. So don’t stress that you’re the only one that did it that way!!

  • This technique reminds me of when my father taught me how to cook rice, or more specifically, Portuguese Jagacida, or Jag. On the lowest heat setting, don’t disturb the rice, or EVER lift the lid. My grandfather preferred his rice on the dry side, very similar to your 1:1 ratio, and his Jag was always magnificent. Each grain of rice was distinct and firm, yet perfectly done. Thanks for the memories!

  • Excellent timing. I am in a log cabin with limited cooking tools and a hungry family demanding sushi. I am now planning whether to flavor the rice with mirin, rice vinegar+sugar, seaweed stock or sesame oil (Korean style). Any suggestions?

  • Love this post on rice making techniques! I’ve always had a rice cooker since I was a kid but I think it’s important to know how to make rice on the stove like it was made back when. Have you had much success with getting the rice to get crispy on the bottom? I find that the newer pots aren’t too successful at that and I miss that old time treat.

  • I just tried this method of cooking rice but with 1/3 cup rice and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan. My gas stove does not have a good progressive flame when adjusted: it’s either HOT!!! or 1-2. I tried the lowest setting and still resulted in an almost-burnt shell on the bottom after Step 3 (I ate it without complaint). There’s that crispiness you crave, Kara. Perhaps I could argue ratio AND amounts of rice/water matter, adjusting for less time for each step if cooking less rice. Or this may be an argument to get get a better stove.

    • Story, you’re definitely right that less rice will take less time! 1/3 cup is very little rice and water, so when the moisture burns out, the rice burns. So without testing it, I would start with maybe half the time for each step.

  • That was interesting…I find it curious how in different parts of the planet we all manage to do different things with the same basic ingredients. Take rice, for instance. Does not seem that complicated, right? Wrong….but it really comes down to geography and the taste you develop depending on where you grew up. I wouldn’t say that any of the methods are intrinsically “wrong” or “flawed”…although maybe I would draw the line at completely undercooked rice or burnt beyond recognition…In Spain, where I am from, we use different varieties of rice and there are so, so many preparations. In some cases, a dish calls for a thing layer of slightly toasted rice at the bottom of the pan (socarrat) and some other times it is cooked soft and creamy with a great deal of liquid still in it. I love them all…being from Spain (we don’t really eat pasta traditionally), rice is also in my DNA.

  • I tried this again using less rice with your suggestion of less cook time. I used 1/3 cup rice (72g) and 1/3 cup water (79g). I also tried less “soaking” time. In the end, after multiple trials, the most important step was the length of soaking time (STEP 2). Full soak time yielded better rice in the end — no matter the amount of rice. The cook time was slightly variable depending on amount of rice, though needed more than half the time as you suggested with my 1/3 cup. Pot diameter also made a difference. Thanks for your recipe and exercise in this, Mandy! I like to think about these things! And your description of “luminous” rice is spot on. My rice now glows with a special light.

  • Love it Mandy. I have the perfect article to share to friends who haven’t been lucky enough to get a good rice cooker! I’m personally rocking a Panasonic that has made life a dream, even with some lovely Akitakomachi I got here in Melbourne it made perfect Sushi rice every time ^_^

  • OK, I got the short grain rice method. Question is, if I am to get rid of the rice cooker (small kitchen = premium cab space), is it a different ratio for medium and long grain rice? Cooks Illustrated mentions that you gotta account for water loss via steam, but if pot has tight fitting lid, no steam hole and low flame, water loss would be minimal. Do you still use the 1:1 ratio? Is that before or after soaking (sushi rice calls for soaking, measuring the water by volume prior to)? How would you apply that to wild rice? Or even brown rice?

    Sorry for all the questions…

    • Jit, no problem! I’m not an expert on all variety of rice, but for Thai jasmine rice (long grain), I still use 1:1. I’ve never cooked brown rice or wild rice before, so I cant say. But it’s easy to figure out your preference after a couple trials. I’ve cooked sushi rice with this method (with longer “step 2” as noted in the recipe) without presoaking, too. Hope that answers your questions :)

  • Or…you could just steam rice in a bowl…
    Then, you wouldn’t need to watch over the flame or about nonstick pans.

    • Odessaboots, I don’t know the brand of my pot, but I would choose a non stick with a relatively thick body (the actual thickness of the pot) so it contains heat well. Not sure if this helps.

  • You say that changing the amount of rice requires adjustments on the cooking time – is there a hard-and-fast way of computing this? There’s only one of me, you see, and 4 cups of rice is a lot. I’m also a student, and would rather not end up burning or otherwise destroying my rice through trial and error (though I suppose I could always turn it into congee if it’s a real disaster).

  • Thank you. SO. MUCH. I’m a 30 year old woman from a Chinese family (born in America) and I’ve eaten rice for at least 50% of all my meals. I’ve depended on a rice cooker my entire life. When I don’t have one and I even attempt making rice in a pot, I have never *EVER* been successful, be it plain white rice, long grain, short grain, even Spanish rice. This is going to change my life.

  • I’m in love with this. All the precise instructions and directions are my everything. Haha, I’m being dramatic, but this is great, Mandy. Thank you!

  • English mum attempting authentic Japanese meals all day from breakfast right thru to dinner (my eight-year-old obsessed with judo and samuri story books) to introduce kids to different cultural traditions. Breakfast: miso soup huge hit! Omlete with rice less awesome due to BAD RICE COOKING! Stumbled on your blog and followed instructions (to the letter!) resulting in totally transformed rice complete with soft and bouncy mouthfeel and luminous glow. Lunch: veg sushi constructed with help from the kids. Result likely to be ‘interesting’ appearance but at least rice will be perfect. Rei to you, rice-sensei!

  • This post is everything!! Working on perfecting my stovetop method for the unfortunate seasons of life I must go sans-rice cooker. Excited to try out your tips!

  • This was best cooked shortgrain rice I ever had (do not recommend skip the last step to anybody! Rice got really bouncy and glossy thanks to it). Thank you so much!
    It didnt even burn on the bottom! I used chopsticks to toss the rice and I think it’s much much better way than using spoon.
    Greetings from Poland

  • I had my kitchen refitted 6 weeks ago and i not been able to cook a decent pot of rice since. I did not make any adjustments for the new 10 setting temperature control compared to former 5 settings. I have bought variety of pots from inexpensive to obscene with no joy. I found your post today after many weeks of trying to find out what i was doing wrong in order to get to a solution.

    I tried your method on 1 cup of jasmine rice to 1 cup of water and worked perfectly. Yes!, ” Stella has got her groove back” ! Thank you so much, i was tearing my hair out trying to find a solution and ready to resot to a rice cooker when i found your comments.

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