The experts all say the same thing. Even bags and boxes of rice say the same thing: The correct ratio for making rice, they say, is two parts water to one part rice.
Cooking a cup of rice? Use two cups of water. Making two cups of rice? Use four cups of water.
I say, balderdash.
Twice as much water as rice is too much water. It makes the rice mushy, gooey, gummy and gross.
Restaurants give you light, fluffy rice, where each individual grain could, if it wanted, keep socially distant from all the other grains. But I had never achieved anything remotely close to that kind of consistency until recently, because I had always followed the same two-to-one ratio.
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me 17,000 times, and maybe I should start using less water.
These days, my rice is a joy to eat. It requires a longer and more involved process to make than merely boiling two cups of salted water, tossing in the rice and simmering until it is a gloppy mess. But the effort is entirely worthwhile because the rice I create is utterly delicious and neither looks nor tastes like paste.
You begin by placing the uncooked rice in a large bowl and covering it with water by several inches. Agitate the rice — you can use a spoon, but a clean hand is more traditional — for several seconds until the water becomes cloudy. Pour out the water through a strainer to catch any rice that may fall and repeat two or three times until the water is nearly clear when you agitate it.
Place the rice in a pot, along with the proper amount of water. A good generalization is to use three parts of water for every two parts of rice; that is, a cup and a half of water for one cup of rice.
Ken Hom, in whose seminal “Complete Chinese Cookbook” I found most of this recipe, prefers a ratio of five parts rice to seven parts water. That is, 1⅔ cups of rice should be cooked in 2⅓ cups of water. But that ratio can be hard to figure out on the fly and is only negligibly different from the 3:2 ratio (Hom’s formula works out to 41.67% rice by volume as opposed to 40%).
An alternate way to determine how much water to use is the hand method: Place your hand on top of the rice and add water until it reaches the top of your hand or a little below it. But some people’s hands are meatier than others, so aim to fill the water to a level three-quarters of an inch to 1 inch above the top of the rice.
If you have the time, allow the rice to sit in the water for 30 minutes. This step results in fluffier rice, but is not absolutely essential. Bring the rice-and-water mixture to a boil and boil uncovered until the level of water is even with the rice, about 15 minutes total. Cover the pot and cook as low as you possibly can for 15 minutes. Let the pot rest, covered, off the heat for five more minutes, and then fluff the rice with a fork.
Once you have mastered the technique, which is easy, what can you do with it? I made four different recipes — five, if you count the plain rice — that celebrate the essential essence of rice. And let me tell you, each one was superb.
I began with a rice that can go with basically any Indian dish, Yellow Rice With Potatoes and Cumin, also called Peelay Chaaval. This dish uses basmati rice, and is there anything that tastes better than basmati rice? The beauty of the basmati, even beyond its seductive aroma and flavor, is that when it is cooked properly each grain is separate and perfect.
The rice gets its appealingly mild taste and color from turmeric, with toasted cumin providing little pops of sharp flavor as a balance. Browned onion and potato add their usual depth, as well. I, for one, could not stop eating it, and I kept looking for things to serve it with.
I next made a lovely Shrimp Fried Rice, a delicate celebration of the way some Chinese dishes build layers of flavor from just a few simple ingredients.
Traditionally, fried rice is a way to use leftover rice — and it is served more as a snack than a meal. But I don’t care, I made it a meal. Then again, I also specifically made the rice the night before so it would be left over. I like fried rice.
And I especially like this fried rice. Not only is the shrimp velveted before cooking, but eggs are cooked in probably too much oil, making them almost supernaturally fluffy. All the dish needs then are finely chopped scallions to bring it all together with a mild onion bite.
I ended my carb loading with a rice-based dessert. OK, two desserts.
As far as I’m concerned, rice pudding has never received the acclaim it deserves as one of the world’s great desserts. It’s rich, smooth and creamy, with an incredible texture (though some don’t care for it), and plenty of cinnamon, raisins and vanilla.
It’s basically everything you could want in a dessert that doesn’t include chocolate.
The other dessert I made comes from Thailand, Sticky Rice with Mango. This dish requires a kind of rice known variously as glutinous rice or sweet rice, though it isn’t sweet. Nothing else will work.
As with the other dishes, the rice is rinsed several times. But instead of soaking for 30 minutes, it soaks overnight, or at least a minimum of three hours. Then it is steamed, not boiled, until it all sticks together in an irresistible way.
The rice is flavored with coconut milk and sugar, making the dessert surprisingly high in calories. It’s best not to think about that. Which is where the mango comes in. Mango is a fruit. Fruit is good for you, right?
The mango also elevates this dessert to something transcendent. It’s so good, you'll forget it's rice.