How to Cook Brown Rice

A pretty pedestrian topic, I know, but I’ve run into a lot of people who are intimidated by rice cooking. Too bad, since cooking rice from the bulk bin is a lot tastier, healthier and cheaper than instant and packaged rices. (To see the dollars you stand to save, see “Convenience Foods Cost, but How Do You Make Dinner without Them?” ) So here’s a primer on rice cooking. In terms of ingredients, there aren’t many:

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Cooking it is pretty simple, too. Combine everything in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, put on a tight-fitting lid and bring it to a boil. Immediately turn the heat down to the lowest setting so the rice just simmers. Cook until all the water is evaporated and rice is tender. Makes about 7 cups rice.

Here’s the only hard part: Getting in the habit of cooking a pot of brown rice every few days or once a week. You can’t wait until 5:30 p.m. and then decide to have brown rice for dinner. Of course you could cook it while making dinner the previous night. But we usually don’t think ahead like that. Over the years, I’ve gotten in the habit of just cooking a pot about every week. then there’s always some rice at the ready for a quick stir-fry, to throw on a salad or soup, or to make a casserole. It lasts at least 4-5 days, but if you can’t use it up that quickly, just freeze whatever’s left.

Troubleshooting: So why do people feel uneasy making it without the help of a box? Likely as not, some rice disaster is lurking in their past, very often associated with the directions in italics. Most are easy to avoid/fix:

Simmer? A liquid is simmering when just the tiniest of bubbles are breaking the surface. Be sure your rice pot is covered and the heat is on the lowest setting to get the kind of simmer that’s just right for tenderizing rice.

Chewy Rice? Don’t forget to turn down the heat right after the water begins to boil. Otherwise, too much water will boil away before the rice has time to soften. If you get busy and forget, just add back a little more water, maybe 2-4 Tbsp. If the rice still isn’t tender when the water is evaporated, add a little more.

Gas Stove? Unless your gas stove has a very low setting, a gentle simmer can be hard to achieve. If your rice is drying out before it’s done, try getting a diffuser, a thick, cast iron disk that goes between pan and burner. It helps moderate the heat.

Tight-Fitting Lids This is not a place to use the “almost-fits” thrift store lid you picked up to replace the one you lost for your good saucepan. If it doesn’t fit well, once again, too much water will boil away before the rice has time to soften. Try adding water as in the previous hint, but for a more long-term solution find a better lid or a buy a new saucepan.

Heavy-Bottomed Saucepan? Speaking of saucepans, if your rice burned prematurely, make sure your pan is a heavy-bottomed one, with layers of metal, not just a single sheet between food and heat source. If you need help knowing how to buy a good pan, talk to me.

How can you tell if the rice is done? Take a fork and dig down into the rice, all the way to the bottom of the pan. You shouldn’t see any water, just nice fluffy rice. Also, taste a cross section. If all the rice is tender, you’re good to go. If not, add maybe 1/4 cup more water and simmer, with the lid on, a little longer.

No Stirring, No Peeking Once you put the rice on to cook, don’t stir it. That will turn it into mush. Also, don’t keep lifting the lid to gauge it. Wait until it’s almost done by the clock to begin checking.

Timing? Speaking of clocks, how long does it take to cook rice? It varies by rice type and altitude. Generally, it takes a full hour here in the mile-high Denver area. But when we visit relatives in Portland, the rice cooks a lot faster, maybe 35-40 minutes. The aromatic rices like basmati and Texmati seem to cook more quickly, too.

Rice Types That brings up the subject of rices. There are many different kinds and they are all wonderful. Use any of the whole grain (not white) rices, but don’t get stuck on just one kind. Bring in a red, wild or jasmine here and there, and try long, short and medium. Note some can be a little pricey, so they might be treats more than standbys.

Get the White Out! Warning, I’m going to be a food snob here. White rice is bland and void of nutritional value. You don’t want to waste your money or calories or time on non-foods like this.

Soaking, Kombu, Rice Cookers, Getting Creative. . . more on those later


6 Responses

  1. Hello.

    I would like to put a link to your site on my blog roll if you want to do the same for mine. It would be a good way to build up both of our readerships.

    thank you.


  2. I am one those people who have never successfully cooked bulk rice. Thanks for the good info. I am going to put a pot on now. Nina


  3. Thanks so much! I took your advice and cooked perfect rice for the first time. I appreciate your understanding that such a simple topic, easily overlooked can make such a difference to a person’s life!


  4. I have lived at a mile above sea level here in Albuquerque for twenty years and have never made brown rice successfully until I used your method. The hour-long simmer was the key. Thank you so much.


  5. I use a steam cooker to cook my brown rice and two cups takes about an hour and a half! What’s the deal?


    • I could see how steaming rice would take longer than boiling directly in water: Steaming applies only indirect heat at the rice. Although I’m wondering what you mean by a “steam cooker?” Would that be one of the stand alone, counter top steamers with a dish that fits inside? Perhaps you’d like to try the direct method on the stove.
      But here is a bottom line: Whole grain brown rice takes longer to cook than the time we have available at dinnertime, whatever way you cook it. So don’t try to cook it at dinnertime–at least not at the dinnertime when you want to use it! Here’s my trick: Whenever you run out of rice, start the next batch, whether that’s at dinner while making another meal, or on Monday morning as you’re getting ready for work (or working at home.) Let it sit on the stove and cool, then pop in the frig where it will last nearly a week. It warms very nicely in the microwave in a covered glass dish for healthy lunches, snacks, dinners–and even breakfast (with dried fruit, nuts and maple syrup.) In the rare even that you can’t use up a batch, toss in a freezer bag or container and store in the freezer for use in a pinch. Good luck!


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