The secret of Cooking Rice: It's how much water you lose, not how much you need
Is cooking rice difficult for you? Or is it as easy as ABC?
Because I grew up eating rice almost every day in Japan, for me, cooking rice was no mystery. Still, I learned lots of techniques after becoming a sushi chef.
Many of our sushi class participants told me cooking rice was a mystery. The word "mystery" puzzled me. I always thought cooking rice was a simple technique, though not an easy task to make great rice. Sometimes, the simplest thing can be the most difficult to master.
I decided to investigate the reason for the "mystery." I looked at many online recipes, videos, and read books. I studied rice - chemistry and science and the difference between short, medium, long and where they are grown.
After all this research, I found a fascinating article by Pete Vegas, the owner of Sage V Foods (Sage Five Foods). In his article (no longer available), he articulated the science of cooking rice so beautifully saying: It's how much water you lose when cooking rice.
Wait, what? Not how much water to use, but how much to lose? Doesn't it sound backward? Yes, and that is exactly what we need to do first.
Let me explain what I mean by that.
The (simple) science of the "perfect" rice
What exactly is the "perfect" rice? It's complicated because it depends on the type of rice (short, medium, long), and what you will use the rice for (plain, cooking, sushi rice, etc.). So for the sake of this discussion, let's say it's rice with 50% moisture.
Cooking rice is about transfer the water into the rice using heat.
Let's use 1:1 ratio: 1 cup of water for 1 cup of rice. If we could transfer all the 1 cup water into the rice, then it will be 100% moisture (hypothetically, not realistically achievable or true.) To make 50% moisture rice, we only need to transfer 0.5 cup of water into the rice.
What happens to the rest of the 0.5 cup of water? Have you ever thought about that? Of course, the rest of the water goes away in the form of steam. Sounds obvious, but, have any of the recipes you read told you about this at all? To my (limited) knowledge, I haven't found one single recipe.
So why how much water you lose is so important when no recipe seems to mention?
Because the amount you lose will determine how much water you need to start cooking.
For example, if you lose 60% of water during cooking, you need 1.1 cup of water to 1 cup of water. If you lose (whopping) 100% of water, you need 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice, etc.
Does this make sense?
Now, you know we need to pay attention to the water loss, we now need to figure out what we use to cook rice and how you cook it.
Do you use a pot or rice cooker? Do you cook with a lid on or off? Is there a tiny hole on your lid, and if so, how big? Again, it's about how much you water you lose using a particular container to coo rice, which will determine how much water you end up in the rice, which will make the "perfect" moisture content for your cooked rice.
So, once you figure out the container to cook rice and how much the container will lose, you can figure out how much water to use cooking the rice.
But, that is not all.
Other factors affect the moisture percentage of your rice.
What was the moisture content of rice before you rinsed in the water?
If you soak the rice in water before you cooked, how long did you soak? (this changes the moisture content of the rice before being cooked, affecting how much water you need to cook).
How much water did rice absorbed when you rinsed in water (some recipes call for washing/rinsing rice in water for two to three times).
On top of that, the perfect moisture content will be different based on the type of rice: short, medium, long, Basmati, Jasmine, Japanese, and so on.
All these make cooking rice not as easy as it seems. It's complicated and based on science and some physics (I think).
Solution - Use a rice cooker!
If you are using a pot for cooking rice, especially for the first time, I highly recommend using a rice cooker.
Because Rice cooker is so much easier, or I should say, consistent. The reason is the amount of water you lose is pretty much the same every time, so once you use it a several times, you will be able to figure out how much water to use for cooking specific rice, as long as you use the same rice and use the same rice washing technique.
If you use a pot, the heat distribution will be different every time you cook, unless you pay careful attention, which does affect the water loss during the cooking, which will result in the different rice moisture content.
So my recommendation for cooking rice.
Buy a rice cooker
Find the recipe you like (or use the one on the rice package, company website)
Use the same rice
Use the same technique/method on the recipe
Cook several times and adjust the amount of water to cook, or soaking time.
Then, you should be able to figure out how much water you need to cook your particular rice, using your rice cooker.
Hopefully, now you understand the basic science of cooking rice to help you to make the "perfect" rice.
Let me know how it goes.
My recommendation for rice cooker: