When I watch Top Chef, I’m amazed how many times rice is the downfall of a cheftestant.
I rarely have to cook mass quantities of rice, so it’s possible that it’s more difficult to cook rice for 10 or more people. But if you have to cook rice for less than 10 people, rice isn’t all that difficult, especially with basmati, my favorite rice (jasmine rice, a close cousin, is a close second).
First of all, for basmati, it’s very important to rinse well. You need to get rid of a little of the starch that’s on the outside, plus, occasionally you’ll find small grit and tiny stones that have to be eliminated. You need to rinse 4 or 5 times, or until the rinse water is clear and not cloudy.
I usually don’t measure, but most people think that a cup of cooked rice per person works pretty well. That’s about a half cup of raw rice.
The traditional ratio of rice to water is 2 parts water to 1 part rice. But I don’t worry about measuring. Here’s my trick, as taught to me by an accomplished Indian cook – add the rinsed rice to a pot and add enough water to be one inch above the rice.
I add some salt and ghee (although you can certainly use butter or vegetable oil – for an even more exotic flavor, you can add a dash of light colored sesame oil as well, but only a couple of dashes, because it’s quite strong in flavor). You put it on high heat and bring to a roiling boil. As soon as it hits the roiling boil, immediately turn down the heat to a simmer and cover.
Don’t peek until you get to the 12 minute mark. If you have a small amount of rice (say for 2 or 4 people), the rice will just about be finished. You’ll probably need to cook for another couple of minutes. How do you tell if it’s done? There will be steam holes on the top when it’s close. Take a chopstick and carefully open up the middle of the rice and expose the bottom. If there’s still a little water in the bottom, you’ll need to cover and continue to cook for at least 2 more minutes. Never stir the rice. This will make it gummy. Check again after 2 minutes. If all of the water has evaporated, you’re done! If not, cover and check every minute.
If you are cooking larger amounts, you’ll probably have to cook a little longer. You still want to check at the 12 minute mark just to see how close you are. You’ll basically be judging by the amount of water left in the bottom. After you cook a few batches, you’ll get a feel for how long it will take to evaporate the remaining water.
I like to leave just a tiny amount of water in the bottom, cover and remove from the heat. The rice will continue to cook off the remaining water even when it’s off of the heat if you keep it covered. If you do this, you won’t risk scorching the bottom of the rice.
When serving, take a large spoon and scoop it out, trying not to disturb it too much. It should be light and fluffy without having to “fluff it up” with a fork as is sometimes suggested.
If you follow these instructions, you’ll never have a problem with basmati rice.