Jul 09 2012

Finally: Fluffy, Restaurant-Quality Rice

I don't have a great track record with cooking rice. Over the past 5 years that I've been cooking with intent and purpose (as opposed to reheating macaroni and cheese), I've failed at rice-cooking repeatedly. With each rice failure, I think, 'it's rice--why is this so hard?'. It's not hard, if you have a rice cooker or a consistent burner. It's surprisingly difficult if you cook rice on your stovetop and the flame shoots up irregularly or burns too hot. After too many of my eager attempts at rice-cooking ended in crispy, burned, or soggy grains, I relinquished rice duties to Justin for over two years. This freed me from the responsibility of potentially ruining a delicious stir-fry or curry by combining it with sub-par rice.

Mark Bittman was fielding caller questions last week on NPR and someone called in to ask about rice, specifically if he had any tips on how to make the fluffy rice you always get in restaurants. Bittman's reply came from a person who has cooked rice consistently well for years: it's rice, it's not hard! Grains, water, simmer. Voila. I empathized with the caller, because until you start consistently cooking fluffy rice, the idea that you can cook fluffy rice remains an illusion.

Recently, while preparing a vegetable biryani, I stumbled upon a technique that made me roll my eyes in humble exasperation, embarrassed that I hadn't thought of this technique before. You simmer the rice as usual, keeping a watchful eye. When the rice begins to show little air pockets, and the water is nearly gone, you place a damp towel over the pan before placing the pot's lid on top. Then, turn the heat as low as you can, and cook for an additional five minutes. Finally, carefully remove the towel (it will be quite hot) and fluff the rice up with a fork. This final slow steam yields moist, perfect, restaurant-quality rice.

If you're as obsessed with rice dishes as I am--or have leftover rice sitting around--I'd heartily recommend this summer rice salad. If you cook the rice the same day you're prepping the salad, make sure to let it cool. The rice acts as a hearty base for a delicious vinaigrette and the freshest vegetables at the market. It comes together like a cold rice bowl. When preparing this recipe, I chose to quickly sauté the snap peas and zucchini and leave the radishes raw.

Basmati Rice Summer Vegetable Salad

Recipe Source: Bon Appetit

Serves: 4-6


2 cups cooked basmati rice, cooled

1 shallot, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cups prepped seasonal vegetables: radishes, cherry tomatoes, peas, squash, etc. If using vegetables that you'd prefer to not eat completely raw, quickly sautee them and let them cool before using.

3/4 cup torn leafy greens

2 tablespoons chopped chives


1) Combine the shallot, parsley, thyme, and sherry vinegar in a blender or food processor. Pulse until combined. Season with salt and pepper. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil. Process until well-blended.

2) Place the remaining ingredients, including the rice and all of the vegetables, in a large bowl and toss to combine. Drizze the mixture with the dressing and toss again. Make sure to reserve some of the dressing to serve table-side. Enjoy!