Why You Should Cook Rice Like Pasta

The life-changing magic of not using the rice cooker.


I didn't grow up in a rice-focused home. If rice was on the menu, it either came with the Chinese takeout or, rarely, it was boil-in-bag. For whatever reason, we just weren't rice people. When I got to college, I had a housemate who was of Chinese descent, and he introduced me to homemade stir fry, good pot sticker technique, and the rice cooker.

This magical appliance was in pretty constant use at our six-person rental house. Rice is a terrific staple for the budget challenged hungry student, and once I learned how to use the rice cooker I made up for lost time with home-cooked real rice. My pantry got stocked with everything from long grain white to nutty basmati and floral jasmine. Brown rice, sticky rice, even green bamboo rice.

overhead view of a single bowl of authentic Louisiana Red Beans and Rice
Dotdash Meredith Food Studio

Get the recipe: Authentic Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

It became the base for anything and everything, soupy beans, stir fris, sausages cooked with onions, hearty stews. Leftovers became fried rice or rice salads. One go-to was rice mixed with canned tuna and a little olive oil, which is about the most 20-year-old food choice imaginable.

But for all its awesomeness, the rice cooker isn't perfect. For starters, unless you buy a giant commercial version, it makes amounts that are great for a small family, but not so terrific for a crowd. The rice it makes tends to be a bit on the stickier side and gets a sort of congealed base layer that can never really be fluffed properly. And sometimes you want or need light rice with separate grains. While there are generations of people who have learned at their grandmother's knees exactly how to do this in a pot on the stove, I am not one of them.

I asked a chef friend for his advice and it was simple. Cook the rice like pasta. Use a large pot of salted water and cook it until it's al dente, then drain well. Add butter or oil if you want to, and you'll have any volume you like of fluffy rice with separate grains. Even if you want to make it ahead for your crowd, you can reheat it covered in a low oven.

How to Cook Rice Like Pasta

This is not a recipe. It is a technique, and one you are probably already very familiar with for pasta.

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add enough salt to make the water taste salty but not unpleasantly so. You are shooting for about a 2% salt content, so for every quart of water about ½ to 1 tablespoon.
  2. When the water is at a rolling boil, stir in your rice in a steady stream while stirring so that it doesn't clump. Boil uncovered for about 20-25 minutes, until the rice is to your preferred texture. I start tasting at about 18 minutes just in case.
  3. Once the rice is cooked to your taste, drain well. If you want to use for rice salad or another cold application, or if you are making ahead, rinse well under cold water to stop the cooking.
  4. Let sit uncovered for 15-20 minutes to let the last moisture steam itself off. If you want to serve hot, add butter or oil if you like, and any other seasonings. If you need to keep it warm, you can transfer to a slow cooker on warm or a 200-degree oven. Otherwise, transfer immediately to the refrigerator to chill before using in other applications.

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