Even as a culinary school graduate, I couldn’t get how to cook brown rice right for years: It was gluey. Or crunchy. Or burned. I knew how to French a rack of lamb, but I couldn’t cook a staple grain. I mean, it’s rice and water. What’s the big deal?
Now I am a brown rice master. What changed? I became patient. You can’t rush good rice. Soon, you too, will be on the road to brown rice success!
What’s the Difference Between Brown and White Rice?
Brown rice is a whole grain. The outer hull is still on there (that’s what makes it brown). It’s got the germ and bran, as well. These things give it more fiber, a slightly nutty flavor, and a chewy texture.
The hull, germ, and bran have been removed from white rice. That makes it cook pretty fast—as little as 15 minutes. But brown rice can take up to 45 minutes to cook. That’s the other big difference.
Rice First, Then the Rest of Dinner
Since brown rice takes a bit to cook, it’s smart to get it going before you start prepping other parts of your meal. Monitor your rice as you go about other cooking tasks, and by the time the rest of your food is ready, your rice will be, too.
Brown Rice Comes in Different Sizes and Styles
Is your rice long-grain? Medium-grain? Short-grain? Sprouted? Converted or quick-cooking? Brown basmati? Some of these cook more or less the same. Some don’t.
Check the package to see what you’re dealing with. Our method here is for long grain brown rice.
Pick the Right Pot
For cooking 1 to 2 cups of dry brown rice, a 2-quart saucepan is just the right size. Too big and the rice may not steam right. Too small and it will boil over and make a sticky mess. And you want a lid that fits well and does not let tons of steam escape.
Keep a Lid on It
Try not to open the lid a million times as the rice cooks. Once again, it’s a prevention-of-steam-escaping thing. You can take a few peeks, but once you get the hang of it, peeking won’t even be necessary.
Why You Should Cook Rice Low and Slow
Start the rice at a hard boil over medium-high heat with the lid on. When you hear your pot hissing or the lid jittering, immediately turn the heat down to medium-low, or as low as you can get it yet still have the liquid simmering. Why? Rice likes it nice and easy. Lower heat ensures tender, evenly cooked grains. And it discourages the liquid from boiling over and making a mess.
Every stove is different, and it might take a little fiddling to get to the ideal nice-and-gentle burner heat on yours.
Look for Steam Holes
Right after the rice reaches that initial hard boil, set your timer for 35 minutes. When it goes off, lift the lid and check for doneness. Steam holes scattered through the surface of the cooked rice indicate it’s fully cooked. Cool, huh?
Let It Rest After Cooking
Do you like to be rushed? No, and brown rice does not like to be rushed, either. Patience makes brown rice fluffy.
The difference between okay rice and perfectly cooked rice is letting it sit 10 minutes and passively steam after it’s done simmering. This is something 95% of package instructions neglect to tell you, but it’s really important.
Think of these 10 minutes as part of the cooking time. Now you know the secret!
When to Add Salt
I don’t add salt to my rice because usually I’m serving it with something saucy, like a curry or stir-fry, and that’s what will season my rice. But if you don’t plan on serving it to sop up sauce or flavorful cooking liquid, you may want to add 1/4 teaspoon of salt for every cup of dry rice.
- Watery Rice: There’s too much liquid. Strain out the excess liquid, return the rice to the pot, and let it sit on the lowest heat for 10 minutes with the lid on (if the rice is still hard) or the lid off (if it’s on the mushy side).
- Mushy Rice: The rice had too much liquid added to it, or cooked for too long. Probably both.
- Crunchy or Dry Rice: There was not enough liquid, or it didn’t cook long enough. Did you let it passively steam for 10 minutes after turning off the heat? Oftentimes, that final rest will fix everything. If it’s still too crunchy, add a little more liquid and cook it 10 minutes on low, then steam 5 minutes.
- Burned Rice: The heat was too high, or there wasn’t enough liquid, or both. Presumably, only the rice on the bottom of the pot is burned. If the remaining rice is edible, remove it without disturbing the burned rice. Then fill the pot with water and let it soak for a while so you can scrub out and discard the burned rice.
Jazz It Up!
If you think brown rice is blah, consider upping the flavor with one of these techniques:
- Toast the rice in a teaspoon of flavorful fat—butter, olive oil, or sesame oil—before adding the liquid.
- Before cooking, add a few sprigs of fresh thyme, or a dried bay leaf.
- Use vegetable or chicken stock instead of water.
- Use coconut milk for half of the amount of liquid.
- For an Indian flair, add two green cardamom pods and a small cinnamon stick before cooking.
Got Lotsa Cooked Brown Rice? Try These Recipes!
- Curry Rice Salad
- Easy Vegetable Fried Rice
- 5 Ways to Use a Pot of Rice All Week
- Sous Vide Beef Bulgogi Bowls
- Chicken Fried Rice
How to Cook Brown Rice
- 1 cup long-grain brown rice
- 1 3/4 cups water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
Rinse the rice
Put the rice in a wire mesh sieve or strainer and rinse it under cold water for about 10 seconds. Swish it around to get the excess water off.
Combine the rice and liquid
In a medium saucepan (about 2 quarts), combine the rice and water. Add the salt, if using.
Cover and bring to a boil
Put on the lid. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the rice to a boil. The liquid can quickly boil over and make a big mess, so watch the pot for steam, or listen for the lid making jiggling sounds.
Turn down the heat and set the timer
Once the rice comes to a boil, set a timer for 35 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, or as low as it can go while still maintaining a very gently simmer (look for wisps of steam around the lid). It’s okay to take off the lid a few times to check on the progress of the rice, but try to keep it to a minimum.
When the timer goes off, open the lid
Check on the doneness of the rice. You should see crater-like steam holes in the surface of the rice, and there should not be any liquid sloshing around in the bottom of the pot. If you taste a grain, it may be a little toothy, which is fine. If the rice is still outright crunchy, return it to the burner on medium-low in increments of 5 minutes.
Turn off the burner and let the rice steam
Turn off the heat. Let the rice sit with the lid on for 10 minutes so it can steam. Even though the pot is not on the heat, this is part of your cooking time.
Fluff and serve
Use a fork or spoon to fluff the rice before serving it.
Freeze cooled leftovers, if you like
Brown rice freezes great! Put the cooled rice in a zip-top freezer bag. Press out as much air as you can, seal it, and freeze for up to 6 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight, or plunge the bag in a bowl of warm water and massage every few minutes to break up the grains. Here's more on freezing rice.