What's going on with this rice?
April 18, 2012 7:28 AM   Subscribe

Why didn't my white rice cook through?

Last night while cooking dinner, I put long-grain white rice on to cook the way I always do: ratio of slightly less than 2:1 (water:rice), bring to a boil, turn to very low and cover until done. Except it never got done. After 20 minutes or so it looked fine, so I tasted it and the center was still hard. Most of the water had been absorbed, however, so I added a couple tablespoons more water and left it to cook while I finished everything else up. Forty minutes later, it was still the same. I added more water a few times, tried turning the temperature up and then back down, and nothing. At the end, after an hour on the stovetop, I had a gloppy mess of white rice that was still crunchy in the center. If anything, it seemed to get worse as the time passed. What happened?

I'm a good cook who makes dinner from scratch every night. I'm also vegetarian, which means I eat (and cook) a lot of rice, and have been for about fifteen years. I do seem to remember this happening once before, years ago, but have no recollection as to the details. My working theories are that I possibly let it boil a minute or so too long before turning the heat down, or that my rice is bad. (Can this happen?) Ideas?
posted by something something to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so glad you asked this. I've been having problems with rice too lately and I've been cooking rice for forty years. I wonder if they've started using some preservative or some fertilizer.
posted by mareli at 7:30 AM on April 18, 2012

When adding more water, bring the water to a boil before you add it. Adding cool water stops cooking for a while, until the temperature gets up above 180°F again.
posted by Ery at 7:34 AM on April 18, 2012

I have read (McGee on Food and Cooking) that sometimes particularly old beans or legumes can become too old to properly re-hydrate fully and will never get fully soft even after hours of cooking.

Something similar may be possible with rice: was it particularly old rice?
posted by mary8nne at 7:35 AM on April 18, 2012

I wondered about that, but I checked the package and it said "Best before Nov 2014."
posted by something something at 7:39 AM on April 18, 2012

Did you move to the mountains last night?
posted by SLC Mom at 7:51 AM on April 18, 2012

My riceologist, Mr. SLC, suggests that your flame was too low.
Not that this happened, but something like it: if you bring rice to a boil and then turn it off, it will not cook through.
It needs to be visibly simmering after you turn it down.

That's what he says, and I've been eating his rice for years.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:02 AM on April 18, 2012

Try cooking the rice a slightly different way. Add water, lots of water, keep boiling, stir occasionally, if water bubbling too much, add more cold water. As it reaches 'almost cooked' as you'll recognize it, taste for preferred firm/softness and then switch off the heat and drain the rice out. See if this system works for this batch of rice.

This method, without #3, #4 or #7

If still not working, then there's something fishy with the rice as mareli suggests
posted by infini at 8:04 AM on April 18, 2012

If I don't stir the rice while in the pot of water waiting to boil, the clump of rice in the middle fails to break up and absorb enough water to cook it sufficiently. Sounds like that's what's happened. Make sure the rice grains aren't clumped as a mass in the center to ensure even cooking.
posted by loquat at 8:55 AM on April 18, 2012

Not that this happened, but something like it: if you bring rice to a boil and then turn it off, it will not cook through.

The way I've done it is to bring the water to a full rolling boil, add the rice, cover with a clear cover, and watch. When the water and rice mixture is again at a full boil, then I turn it down and wait 20 minutes. You don't actually have to cover it until the 2nd boil occurs, so if you don't have a clear cover, no worries, but it may take a little longer for it to come to a full boil again.

Basically, it makes sure the rice is at cooking temperature before you start the clock. You'll need to adjust time based on your simmer temperature -- it's easier if you can use the lowest setting, because then you know what that setting is. The water does need to be simmering, though, so if low isn't doing that, you'll have to set it higher.

Once you have the numbers down (these are for my right front burner) then it becomes automatic.
posted by eriko at 9:27 AM on April 18, 2012

Check the packaging. It sounds like you didnt use either (a) the right temperature to cook the rice or (b) the right amount of water initially. Different rices need different temperature/water amounts.
posted by emilynoa at 9:32 AM on April 18, 2012

Try soaking your rice before cooking. You can soak it for up to 12 hours beforehand. I think it gives long-grain white rice a better texture. You have to shorten the cooking time generally, but if you're testing that shouldn't be a problem.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:21 AM on April 18, 2012

Lid possibly no longer sealing properly on pot, allowing steam to escape and causing absorption method to fail?

Otherwise you're cooking your rice almost exactly as I do. Times and water quantities vary a little with different pots, stoves and different brands/batches of rice, but only ever just a little. So I don't think you really need to try a different method unless you want to do some home experimentation on that batch of rice.

Something else that springs to mind is the water. Several times in Ask I've seen people ask about beans staying hard in the middle despite very long cooking. And the usual answer has been that they've been cooked in an acidic medium. Eg cooking beans in tomatoes causes the carbs in them to contract and become tough (or something like that).

(Same thing definitely goes for potatoes cooked in yogurt - I cook a dish where the firming up of already cooked potatoes by simmering in yogurt is meant to be a feature.)

Might something have been in your pot that acidified (acidulated?) your water (ie did you wash it in a recently de-scaled dishwasher, or use it cook something strongly acid that might have left a residue? Lemon juice, tamarind, tomatoes, something like that?). Or might your water supply have undergone a change of some kind (ie a seasonally different water source, work on the mains supply pipes, or a different treatment regime as you come into summer) that has left it more acidic?

To check it all out, you could make sure the pot lid still fits well (bring some water to the boil and watch for escaping vapor), then try a batch of rice with the pot scrupulously cleaned and rinsed, and if that yields no joy try another batch after adding just a little baking soda to raise the pH of the water and render it slightly alkaline.

If all that fails, it's probably the rice..
posted by Ahab at 3:00 PM on April 18, 2012

Well, in the interest of science, I made rice again tonight, from the same bag, and did it exactly the same way - except I used a bigger pot on a bigger burner. Loquat's post above made me wonder if my pan was too small and everything was too bunched up in there without adequate even heat. Although the science behind that seems iffy, it came out completely perfectly tonight. Now, I suppose, I need to try it a third time but using the small pan again to see if that really was the culprit.
posted by something something at 6:04 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

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