VII.  Cooking of Rice

Cooking Rice is a Science. Everyone seems to have his or her own method of cooking rice. Cooking instructions on rice packages differ a great deal and cookbooks further confuse the issue with additional methods of cooking rice. Sage V Foods cooks rice on a commercial scale every day of the week. There are some basic scientific principles that take the black art out of cooking rice. For almost all types of white rice, the best quality is achieved when the rice is washed, soaked, blanched or boiled, and then steamed.

Ratio of water to rice. This is the area where most people have trouble cooking rice. Most rice is perfectly cooked when the final moisture content is between 58% and 64% moisture. At lower moisture contents, the rice is firmer. The final moisture content is a matter of preference and preference can differ with the type of rice and final cooked application. The math is very simple; 100 grams of rice with a starting moisture content of 12% needs 110 grams of water to be fully cooked at 58% moisture. 100 grams of rice with a starting moisture of 12% needs 145 grams of water to be fully cooked at 64% moisture. One cup of rice weighs about 205 grams. The same cup of water weights about 240 grams. If no water is lost in the cooking process, one cup of water is enough to cook one cup of rice, and yet most recipes call for two cups of water to one cup of rice.

It all comes down to how much water is lost in the cooking process. This is a matter of time required to cook and the nature of the cooking container. Most white rice cooks in 15 to 20 minutes. Instant rice or presoaked rice that cooks in half the time requires less water (Not half as much. Half as much is lost as vapor, but the rice takes up a constant amount.) Brown rice that takes 45 to 60 minutes to cook requires much more water because of the vapor loss, even though the final moisture content of the rice is the same as white rice. If the lid is off, much more water is needed. If the lid is really tight (like in a good rice cooker), very little extra water is needed. The width of the pot (surface area of the rice) affects the water loss. A deep narrow pot requires less water than a wide shallow pot. Following are some simple examples of existing instructions: A good rice cooker may call for one cup of rice and one cup of water. Most instructions on packages of regular rice call for one cup of rice and two cups of water. (You will need a pot that loses a lot of vapor to evaporate a cup of water and make that rice come out well.) Instant rice recipes call for a cup of rice and a cup and a half of water. Instant cooks in half the time and so if you are using the same pot that works with 2 to 1 on regular rice, the rice will cook properly.

Unfortunately, everyone uses different cooking containers, and so rice cooking instructions rarely work out. Trial and error will yield the best results. Keep in mind that when using the same pot, when more rice is added and the water is at a deeper level, the same amount of water will be boiled off regardless of the level of water in the pot. This is why simple ratio formulas (like 2 to 1) donít work. Two cups (versus one cup) of rice will need two cups of water to be absorbed into the rice and one extra (not two) to be lost to vapor. This is why many experienced rice cooks usually measure a relatively constant level (like Ĺ inch) of water above the level of the rice, regardless of the quantity of rice. By far the best solution is to have a good rice cooker, follow the instructions, and let it take the guesswork out of the process.

Rinsing the rice. This is another issue that causes quite a bit of debate. Almost all serious consumers of rice rinse the rice thoroughly before cooking. There are good reasons to do so. Cooking instructions in the U.S. instruct you not to rinse the rice. By law, rice for the consumer in the U.S. has been fortified with powdered vitamins that are removed when rinsed. If you want the vitamins (which are not necessary with a well balanced diet), then do not rinse. If you want the best quality cooked rice, then rinsing helps. The difference is subtle, but a real rice consumer can tell the difference. Sage V Foods did exhaustive studies on washing rice before putting in equipment to wash rice before grinding it into flour for the Japanese market. It seemed like such a waste of money and effort to wash and dry rice prior to grinding into flour. But we learned that some bran (with free fatty acids) and other contaminants do remain on even the best milled rice and the flavor is cleaner when the rice is washed. The whiteness improves and much of the loose surface starch is removed. The rice will be cleaner and less sticky when cooked. (This is preferred even for sticky type rice.) And of course, the flavors of the vitamins are removed.

Soaking the rice. Soaking the rice reduces the cooking time of the rice and improves the final cooked texture. Rice is not done until the center is cooked. Moisture does not transfer easily through rice. It take about 15 minutes in boiling water to get water and heat to the center of the kernel. So the outside of the kernel has been cooked for 15 minutes while the center has been cooked only a minute or so. The more the outside of the kernel cooks, the more starch leaches out and the mushier it gets. Soaking white rice for about an hour before cooking allows moisture to get to the center of the kernel. During cooking, the heat will transfer quicker to the center and the rice will be done in six to eight minutes causing less damage to the outside of the kernel.

Blanching or boiling the rice. The rice needs to cook in hot water in order to get additional moisture into the rice and transfer the heat necessary to gelatinize the starch. It is possible to steam cook rice, particularly if water is added during the process.

Steaming. Steaming is an important part of the cooking process. Steaming rice that has been blanched helps more evenly distribute moisture within the kernel (from the outside to inside). Steaming allows further cooking of the rice without the starch loss and swelling damage that occurs in blanching. Steaming helps heal cracks in the rice.

The rice cooker. The rice cooker does a great job of handling all of these processes. The rice can be placed in the cooker one hour early to soak. (most people skip this process). When the cooker is turned on, the blanching process starts. As the water level drops, the upper layers of rice get steamed. The rice steams in the cooker until temperatures exceed 212 and the cooker cuts off. Vapor and water cannot exceed the temperature of 212, and so the cooker knows all water is gone when the temperature exceeds this level. (The secret of how the cooker knows the rice is ready.)

Brown Rice and Wild Rice. Both of these types of rice have a thick bran layer that is coated with a waxy layer. It is very difficult for moisture to penetrate these layers. Requirements for cooking and soaking times are dramatically increased to almost an hour, but the cooking process remains the same.

Parboiled Rice. The parboiling process makes parboiled rice an almost indestructible kernel. Parboil rice does not readily continue to take up moisture when over cooked and does not easily get mushy. Parboiled rice can be boiled with excess water and then drained. The quality of parboiled rice cooked in this manner is almost as good as the full cooking process.

Arborio or Carnaroli Rice. When used in Risotto, these rice types are cooked in a different manner. The rice is first cooked in the skillet with oil or butter until translucent to change the nature of the starches in the surface of the kernel. Then cooking stock (chicken, vegetable, mushroom, ect.) is added in increments and stirred in. The rice is intentionally overcooked (more than 15 minutes). The resulting product has a creamy starchy surface and yet a firm bite through the kernel.