How To Make Perfect Rice Without A Rice Cooker

How To Make Perfect Rice Without A Rice Cooker

Professional chefs and home cooks alike look down their noses at single-use kitchen appliances with one exception: the humble rice cooker. I don’t own one myself, but I totally get the appeal. Rice cookers succeed where alternative methods fail spectacularly.

Photo: A.A. Newton

Everyone’s been there: you buy a bag of rice, follow the stovetop directions on the package exactly and end up with something that’s soupy, burned on the bottom, sticky, crunchy, or somehow all of those at once. If that’s your first experience cooking rice, you’d be forgiven for deciding it’s impossible to make rice without a rice cooker — but it’s not! After all, a covered pot on a stove is the original rice cooker; electronic ones were just invented to automate the process.

There are three key tricks to not messing up stovetop rice: using the right amount of water, thoroughly rinsing white rice and letting the rice steam off-heat for 15 minutes before serving. To address the first point: the commonly recommended 2:1 water:rice ratio is bonkers. Your poor rice will drown. Instead of measuring cups, I use a chopstick to measure the amount of rice in the pot and add the same amount of water on top, resulting in a 1-ish:1 ratio, a process which I will explain in a moment.

(A lot of people swear by the first-knuckle method but it just hasn’t worked as well for me as this one does.)

As for rinsing, it’s non-negotiable for white rice. Rinsing removes the surface starch that the milling process leaves behind, and that starch is what turns gluey during cooking. Finally, finishing the rice off-heat helps it absorb any excess water without overcooking. Rice cookers don’t beep at you until after this crucial final step, which is why people have more success with them.

Here’s what you need to make perfect rice on the stove:

  • Any kind of rice
  • Fine mesh strainer (white rice only)
  • 1-2L saucepan with lid (for four or more cups of dry rice)
  • Chopstick, skewer, table knife, a finger — anything long and thin that you can use to gauge depth
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Butter or oil (optional)
  • A timer

Keeping in mind that rice roughly doubles in volume when cooked, decide how much dry rice you need. Eyeball the measure.

If you’re using white rice, rinse it very, very thoroughly in a fine mesh strainer under cold running water, agitating it with your fingers and/or swirling the strainer around.

How To Make Perfect Rice Without A Rice CookerPhoto: Thomas Lawn 

Photo: Thomas Lawn 

Keep at it until the water coming off the bottom is clear.

Dump the rice into the pot and level out the surface. Place the pot in the sink, directly under the faucet.

Wiggle a chopstick (or what have you) straight down to the bottom of the saucepan and use your fingers to mark the depth:

How To Make Perfect Rice Without A Rice CookerPhoto: Thomas Lawn

Photo: Thomas Lawn

Keep your fingers in the same place and lift the chopstick up until the tip of the chopstick gently rests on the surface of the rice:

How To Make Perfect Rice Without A Rice CookerPhoto: Thomas Lawn

Photo: Thomas Lawn

Holding the chopstick steady, turn the faucet on and add water until it just touches the tips of your fingers:

How To Make Perfect Rice Without A Rice CookerPhoto: Thomas Lawn

Photo: Thomas Lawn

How To Make Perfect Rice Without A Rice CookerPhoto: Thomas Lawn

Photo: Thomas Lawn

For white rice, stop here. For black or brown rice, keep adding water until your fingertips are submerged — I usually stop halfway up my nail bed.

Add a couple pinches of salt and some butter or oil if you like, then cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. It will only take about five minutes, so stick around. This is controversial, but I think it’s OK to lift the lid once or twice for a visual boil check.

Once the rice is boiling, immediately turn the heat to its lowest possible setting. (If you’re using an electric range, move the pot to a different burner on the lowest setting.) Start a timer: 20 minutes for white rice, 45 minutes for black or brown rice.

When the timer goes off, cut the heat and leave the pot alone for at least 15 minutes. (If you’re using an electric range, move the pot off the hot burner entirely.) Do not take the lid off to peek! Let it steam!

When the 15 minutes are up, fluff the rice with a fork and serve. Hum a few bars of Amaryllis — preferably directly into your guests’ ears at very close range, so they never forget who made this beautiful rice for them — and call it a day, baby!


  • 1 cup rice, 2 cups of water, 15 minutes in the microwave always gives me pretty good rice.

  • Jasmine rice (my favourite):
    Bring 1 small/medium saucepan of water to boil
    Rince rice thoroughly and place into boiling water
    Cook uncovered on medium heat: 10 mins for 2/3 cup rice, 12 mins for 1 cup
    Drain, then put rice back in saucepan until ready to serve

    Simple and easy, and takes 5 secs to clean out the saucepan afterwards

  • “Any kind of rice” “Salt” “Butter or oil”

    This was where you lost me. I cook rice most days, in a pot, with water.

    Some rice I buy takes 1:1 water to rice by volume. Some takes 2:1, some, very occasionally takes 2.5:1 – and every division between. It depends how fresh it is, whether it’s treated, whether it is polished or still has the husk. Different varieties take more water than others. A good guide is to read the instructions, but they aren’t always right. Buying rice from an ethnic market usually means fresher rice (and beans, etc.!) and usually the owners will know the right ratio, as they will likely be eating it themselves. Try not to line your Uncle Ben’s pockets – their stuff is just nasty.

    I and more than a billion other people living in Asia never salt our rice – it’s just unnecessary and also makes the rice tougher.

    Butter and oil? Only if you intend to make paella or risotto with it – that just makes it more difficult for the rice to absorb the water.

    You should always cook rice in the same pot, so you can eyeball the water level. Start off with a ‘new’ untried rice with 1:1.5 rice to water and see if you need to go less or more. I would usually use a quarter cup or so before committing to making enough for the whole family.

    The basic rules evolved over thousands of years in asia are:

    – Rinse your rice – just once or twice is all – and not rinsed under a running tap – fill your pot, swirl the water a few times and pour out.
    – Add your water and let sit for a few minutes. If your rice is old, leave it 15 minutes or so – just like you would for lentils or other dried foods.
    Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer. Once all the visible water has gone, turn the heat off and leave the water to evaporate into the rice.
    Fluff with a fork and leave to stand a few minutes.

    • I think this might be from the American site originally. They say to add salt and butter to everything.

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