For such a humble ingredient, rice sure can stir the pot. There's a small cultural war happening across the socials and everyone's mum knows how to make it 'the right way'.
It all started in the Facebook group Subtle Asian Traits, where someone shared a video of Hersha Patel of BBC Food showing how to cook rice. Cue social media pile-on, with one of the group members sharing the video with Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng, aka Uncle Roger. Ng's YouTube response, entitled "DISGUSTED by this Egg Fried Rice Video," quickly went viral. More than 10 million views kind of viral.
"There are so many different ways people swear by for cooking rice it should be obvious that it's actually a very easy thing to cook."
"What she doing? Oh my god. You're killing me, woman. Drain the - she's draining rice with a colander! How can you drain rice with a colander? This is not pasta!" he exclaimed. He then went on to list the many ways Patel was "ruining" the rice: she hadn't washed it before cooking, she boiled it, she overcooked it, she used a, gasp, colander.
Later, London-based Asian-American celebrity Jenny Yang jokingly called Patel's method "a hate crime".
Both Ng and Yang have since made friends with Patel (Ng and Patel are said to be working on a collaboration), but it's fair to say that people are very upset about rice.
Ask the experts
To get to the bottom of things (preferably without ruining the pan), we talked to a few rice-cooking experts to finally decide the 'correct' method for cooking rice.
Adam Liaw - There's only one person who could possibly diffuse this ticking time bomb: the affable Adam Liaw.
"There are so many different ways people swear by for cooking rice it should be obvious that it's actually a very easy thing to cook," he tells SBS Food. We're ready for all that ease.
Winnie Chu - Chu is from Sha Tau Kok in Hong Kong and emigrated to Australia in 1975 at age 20. She got a job as a kitchen hand in a Chinese restaurant and within three months she became an oil wok cook, a role she kept for over 40 years, becoming one of the best in the Perth industry.
Debbie Tsang - Winne's daughter, owner of The Creative Laser and renowned home cook.
The SBS Food Facebook Group - barring the fact that many of the group mentioned using the microwave to cook their rice (hopefully Ng and Yang never hear about that), these guys had lots of great tips - read on!
First, wash your rice
This is a step that everyone agrees on: don't skip the rice rinse. Washing the rice before cooking removes any random particles that may have found their way into the rice bag during packing.
If you don't want your rice to clump together, don't miss the washing step.
Just as importantly, rinsing removes the surface starch on the rice grains. The more starch that remains on the rice, the gummier the rice remains during cooking and the less fluffy the end result will be.
So, if you don't want your rice to clump together, don't miss the washing step. Some people like group member Karen Yessaeian like to soak the rice for an hour or more, but most prefer to simply rinse.
Here's the method Tsang recommends for washing your rice:
- Fully cover with cold water and use your hand to swish the rice grains around to loosen up starch.
- Gently tip the bowl over until the milky water runs out, leaving the rice grains behind.
- Repeat a minimum two washes until water is mostly clear - you're not aiming for completely clear, a little remaining starch is a good thing.
Next, add the water
"Using a rice cooker is easiest," Liaw says. "But basically cooking rice requires washed rice to be boiled over high heat, and then leftover low heat to allow the grains to absorb the water. The rice is then fluffed to allow excess water to evaporate."
So, not exactly rocket science, but still quite tricky to get right. The water-to-rice ratio is critical.
"Even the tried and true "knuckle" method used by Asian families around the world provides only an approximate ratio of rice to water," explains Liaw. "The method is what makes it work."
The "knuckle" method Liaw refers to is simply putting the amount of rice you want to cook into a saucepan, flattening it with your palm, then placing your index finger on top of the rice and filling with cold water up to the first knuckle.
It's a simple method but beware. As Chu points out (possibly with humour, but possibly not), "if you are fat with fat hands, less water may be needed than your knuckle."
It might be safest to use Neil Shaba's tried-and-tested ratio. "Cover with boiling water which should be about 1.5 cm above the rice level," he shared in the SBS Food Facebook group. Incidentally, Shaba is the first person to mention boiling the water first, with everyone else starting from cold.
Throw out your colander
Chu is also at great pains to point out that if there is leftover water after you've cooked your rice, you've cooked it wrong.
"At NO point should a COLANDER be involved," she stressed, making sure that capital letters would be printed in this article for necessary emphasis.
"At NO point should a COLANDER be involved."
Tsang remembers watching non-Asian friends' parents draining rice into a colander as a kid. "I wondered why they stopped the cooking process to essentially eat what we consider to be half-raw rice," she remembers. "It was a horrific thing to see, but I didn't say anything as it would have been rude."
"Over-cooked (or more likely over-wet rice, as it's very hard to "overcook" rice) can be turned into porridge," says Liaw.
A play on the traditional khao tom gung (rice congee), Thailand's beloved king of breakfasts. Instead of white rice, we've used brown, which does not break down completely, resulting in a satisfying congee with grunt.
Depending on the type of rice you are cooking, you will need approximately 1:1.5 rice to water ratio. This isn't at all set in stone, however. It's closer to 1:1.5 for long-grain basmati rice and 1:6 for the softer long-grain jasmine or short-grain arborio rice. Short-grain japonica requires less water at 1:1.2 and brown rice of any variety will need more water, generally a ratio of 1:2 for brown basmati.
If that's not confusing enough, Chu swears that even the same type of rice grown in different parts of the world can be harder or softer and require more or less water in the cooking.
"I wondered why they stopped the cooking process to essentially eat what we consider to be half-raw rice."
"Thai rice is softer, Aussie rice much harder," she says.
Until you've experimented to find the right ratio for the quantity, type, and origin of the rice your want to cook, it's better to err on the side of too little water than too much.
"I’ve found that it’s better to start with less," says Tsang. "You can always add more water but if you add too much, it’s a nightmare."
Or, as Ng explains in his YouTube video: "If your rice is too wet, you f**ked up."
Then, cook your rice
Bring the rice to the boil, lid on. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer very gently for around 15 minutes.
"After about 15-20 minutes you’ll start to hear this crackling sound from the pot," says Tsang. "It means all the water is gone."
This is where you take the rice off the heat, then the lid off your pot and check your rice. It should be just a little moister than you want the finished product to be.
If it looks too dry, says SBS Food Facebook group member Sarah Louise, add more water and simmer. If it looks just right, pop the lid back on and leave it to sit for around five-10 minutes before serving.
Tsang says that leaving the rice to sit not only finishes off the cooking, but it also starts the washing up for you. The steam generated by the closed pot ensures that every grain of rice comes away from the bottom of the pot.
Leaving the rice to sit not only finishes off the cooking, but it also starts the washing up for you.
If you need some inspiration for what to turn your perfectly cooked rice into, Liaw says his favourite rice dish is Hainanese chicken rice. "My grandma always taught me that when making chicken rice you should make double the quantity of rice because it's so delicious people always eat a lot more than they usually do." Double the quantity? Um... how many knuckles of water to rice is that?
Finally, buy a rice cooker
The stovetop method is definitely one to master, but it appears to be a truth universally acknowledged that if you truly love your rice, you'll want to get a rice cooker.
"Don't mess with a saucepan like this lady here," Ng says in his roasting video. He later mentions in a follow-up Instagram video that "proper Asians use rice cooker".
Once you've got a rice cooker, it's all easy from there. Wash your rice as above, then use the knuckle method to measure your water, press 'play', then, as Ng says, "let the rice cooker handle the cooking".
It does seem to be the least controversial way and we know what we'll be doing come the weekend.
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