While there are so many ways to properly prepare rice, professional chefs around the globe agree that it’s worth honing your cooking technique in order to make the most out of this versatile ingredient. Though easy to make, rice can go from delicious to unappetizing mush (or worse, undercooked toothiness) if your ratios or timing are off. Here, we chatted with a few expert chefs representing a range of cultures and cuisines to learn more about their foolproof methods for making rice that you can apply at home.
How to cook rice like a professional chef
1. Rinse your rice well, and give it time to sit after it has absorbed the liquid.
“First, and most importantly, rinse your rice or it will be sticky because of the starch,” says Robert Aikens, Executive Chef and Partner at Espita, Ghostburger, and Las Gemelas. His personal favorite rice dish to cook? Rice pilaf. “When making rice pilaf, I always use a small pot with tight fitting lid. Next, be sure to always let your rice sit covered after it has absorbed all cooking liquid for four to five minutes,” he says. Finally, fluff with a fork.
To make his rice pilaf, Chef Aikens uses the following recipe:
150 g butter
200 g shallots, finely-diced
600 g jasmine rice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
14 g salt
900 ml chicken stock
Melt the butter in a pan, add the shallots, and cook till light golden in color. Add the rice and garlic and toast them with the butter and shallots for two minutes. Follow with the bay leaves, salt, and chicken stock, and bring to a simmer. Cook covered on low heat for ten to 12 minutes until all liquid is absorbed. Let sit for four to five minutes before fluffing with a fork.
2. Enlist a rice cooker.
Chef Tim Ma, one of the masterminds behind modernized American Chinese takeout restaurant Lucky Danger and the nonprofit Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate, prefers to use a rice cooker to make his rice. Indeed, this tends to be the preferred method of many East Asian chefs.
“Wash your rice at least three or four times until the water runs clear,” Ma says. “Then, make sure that your rice is in an even layer in your rice cooker pot. Turn your rice cooker on, and when the rice is done, crosshatch and fluff your rice with a paddle.”
3. Try the finger trick to nail the ideal water to rice ratio every time.
Kevin Tien, the chef at the helm of the Vietnamese fine dining establishment Moon Rabbit, recommends using “the finger trick” method for better rice. “First, I wash my rice until the water runs clear to remove the starches,” Tien explains. “If I am around my Asian family members, I add water to the first line on my pointer finger,” he continues, demonstrating the measuring trick that always ensures you’re using the right ratio of water to rice (which magically works in any size pot or cooking vessel). Tien also leverages a rice cooker, and once finished, fluffs the rice. Finally, he lets it sit for another 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
4. Fry it up before you boil, then add vibrant vegetables and aromatic spices.
Lucas Delcid of Street Guys Hospitality, which operates DC-based Mexican restaurants TTT, makes a popular guajillo vegetable rice, employing a slightly different technique from other chefs. First, says Delcid, heat guajillo oil in a pan on medium heat. Then, hard fry your rice in the oil to release some of the nutty aromas of the grain before boiling the rice in water at medium temperature.
Once the rice is parboiled (aka halfway cooked), Delcid then adds the grain to a saute of yellow onions with red, yellow, and poblano peppers, and cooks everything for two to three minutes. He then adds water to just submerge the rice, and covers the pot and lets it cook for about 12 minutes over medium heat.
Finally, Delcid lowers the heat to low and cooks for an additional five to ten minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked. Once satisfied with the doneness of the rice, he turns off the heat and keeps the rice covered for 15 minutes. Finally, he recommends fluffing the rice and adding any finishing garnishes (like cilantro—yum).
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