Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Brown rice, good and easy

By Vesna Vuynovich Kovach
In Madison Magazine, 2001
Column: Table Talk

To read a longer, unpublished, version of this article, containing historical notes and more cookery details, click here.

– VVK, October 1, 2009

“I hate brown rice!” exclaimed my vegetarian editor, when I said I wanted to write about how to cook it.

I wasn’t surprised. I’ve heard lots of people complain they can’t get it to come out right—it’s mushy, crunchy, soupy or bland—and that’s why I wanted to share my simple method, developed over twenty years of whole foods cooking.

Brown rice is the quintessential natural food. Yet when I recently searched the Internet, cookbooks and even product packages, it was weirdly difficult to find effective, specific recipes for plain brown rice. When there were specifics, they often served to wreck the rice. For instance, after cooking a single cup of rice in a gallon-and-a-half size pressure cooker (the smaller of two sizes given as options—and anyway, how many people own such a thing?), I wound up with a flat layer of mush: slimy on top, crunchy brown singed beneath. Another cup of rice simmered in a saucepan for so long in so much water that it became a porridgey glue. A third ended up watery and hard.

Happily, good brown rice is easy and totally worth making. It’s fluffy, tasty, stick-to-your-ribs hearty. You can incorporate it into just about any meal as a side or as a bed for stir-fries, chili, omelettes. Toss leftover rice into soups and stews.

And it's good for you. With up to four times the fiber of white rice and lots of naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals (white rice is dusted with vitamins to make up for some of whatÕs polished off), brown rice is a great foundation for healthy eating.

Tips for brown rice perfection—and ease of use

  • One light rinse is sufficient—despite the instructions for multiple scrubbings you might find elsewhere.
  • If you find many rotten black grains or rocks, try a different brand next time. Green grains, on the other hand, are normal.
  • Use salt unless your doctor says you can’t. Saltless rice is insipid.
  • A low boil works much better than a slow simmer. It comes out mushy when you simmer at the lowest temp possible (as some advise).
  • Never stir during cooking. The delicate network of steam tunnels formed by the boiling water is the key to fluffy rice. Stir, and the end product is sodden.
  • Turn off heat according to the “tilt test.” Tilt the pot: if you see water pooling, leave the heat on. If there’s none, turn it off.
  • Remove rice from heat and let set at least ten minutes before serving. The rice continues to steam to fluffy perfection during this essential cooking phase. Otherwise, the rice will lie wet and flat on the plate.
  • Critical: Do not stir the rice after cooking! Nearly every recipe I found says to stir to "fluff," but stirring is really the anti-fluffer. It destroys the steam tunnels. Don't.
  • You can refrigerate unused rice in the saucepan you cooked it in, if you use stainless steel or stove-safe glass. With glass, you have another bonus: you can place the whole thing in the microwave to reheat.

Brown Rice

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 1/2 cups water (for short grain) or 2 cups water (for long grain)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Rinse rice. Combine all ingredients in a heavy 1 to 2 quart saucepan. On high heat, bring to full boil, uncovered (so it won't boil over). Turn down to a low boil and cover. Cook for 20–35 minutes (the time will vary depending on your stove, cookware, and variety of rice), until you can't see any water pooling when you tilt the pot.

Remove from heat and let stand, covered, at least 10 minutes.

Do not stir the rice at any point. Serve as desired. Refrigerate remainder for up to three days.

Vesna Vuynovich Kovach studied brown rice cookery with natural foods pioneer Aveline Kushi.

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