An inquiry concerning the cooking and preservation of rice.
August 18, 2013 12:53 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to keep rice (primarily brown rice, although I could see other grains being used in the future) in the refrigerator overnight?

I want to start bringing lunch to work rather than burning $8-12 a day on some decidedly uninspired and usually unhealthy food.

The projected staple food would be brown rice with meat or fish. The few times that I have tried this, though, I've found that the rice I've made the night before is kind of dry, chewy and not very appetizing.

What's the best way to prepare rice for a brown-bag lunch and maintain decent texture and overall quality. Let's assume that preparing it in the morning while I'm running around and getting ready for work is not an option. The ideal is to prepare the whole shebang the night before and be able to grab it from the fridge on the way out the door.

Any tips or suggestions, factors I may have overlooked, etc. would be welcome.

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm interested to see what others say, but works best for me is to top the rice with whatever I'm eating during the week with it, in a container like this one, pump out the air, and refrigerate. That reheats nicely.
posted by bearwife at 1:09 PM on August 18, 2013

Response by poster: I'm guessing from what you're saying that vacuum-packing is key to this project?
posted by jason's_planet at 1:18 PM on August 18, 2013

Best answer: I find it is passable if you add some water and stir it around and break up clumps before microwaving the rice to reheat it. Leave your tupperware on but slightly ajar so the rice gets a bit steamed. You might want to look into fried rice recipes as well. They explicitly call for day old rice.

(Also if you haven't tried them rice makers are ridiculously easy to use - a half cup of rice and 3/4 cup of water, flick the switch and just walk away. It could easily cook while you are in the shower and they automatically switch to a warming mode when done).
posted by srboisvert at 1:18 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I make 50/50 brown-white rice in a good quality rice cooker. Helps deal with the downside of brown (toughness) and the downside of white (lack of flavour and fibre) nicely. Does require a good quality rice cooker though. I have a Tiger. Zoyaruchi or whatever it's called would work too.
posted by singingfish at 1:35 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Brown rice tends to be a bit drier than white rice. Then during the after-cooking storage stage in your fridge, it dries a bit more (I don't know if this is because the moisture is absorbed more into the rice, or evaporation, or what--but white & brown rice do it, but it seems more noticeable with brown rice, maybe because it has more fiber that absorbs moisture or something).

Anyway, there are two simple ways to counteract this--you might need to do only one of the two:

- When initially cooking the rice, add a bit more water. Like if you put in 2 1/4 cups water for every cup of rice, maybe try 2.5 cups water. Note that you'll want to increase the cooking time to compensate. The idea is to end up with rice that is moister than usual in the end but not soupy. If soupy, keep cooking until non-soupy. If using a rice cooker, just add a little more water than normally indicated & the rice cooker will automatically compensate on cooking time.

- The next day, when you warm up the rice in the microwave just before eating it, add a bit of water and keep it lightly covered while microwaving. You might also need to add a bit of cooking time here as the idea is to do more than just re-warm the rice--you're going to 're-steam' it just for a minute or so. Stirring to remove clumps is also a great idea.

The idea of adding your toppings into the rice before refrigerating is similar--you're adding a bit more moisture in with the rice to compensate for this drying effect that rice naturally has, and that brown rice seems to have even more so than white rice.
posted by flug at 1:37 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with the water-adding trick: when I microwave leftover fridge rice I'll add some water directly to the rice and then lay a wet paper towel flat over the container before I put it into the microwave. (I do the wet paper towel thing with pretty much everything I microwave, including hamburgers and stiff pizza slices. It works!)

If you pack your meat/fish and rice together before refrigerating, you should also include any cooked juices, which add flavor and moisture.

When fridge rice is clumped up in hard chunks, try wetting your fingers and then breaking up the chunks into smaller pieces before microwaving. It'll help with evenness of cooking.

If you want to take a more drastic approach, you could look into making a brown rice congee instead; it's significantly more porridge-y, but still perfectly adequate as a meal base.

(My household also does 50 brown/50 white.)
posted by brieche at 1:55 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

When the rice is still hot, I stir in margarine or butter. That seems to help the next day when I take the rice out of the fridge.
posted by megancita at 2:00 PM on August 18, 2013

dry...chewy and not very appetizing

Fat and salt!

You could start doing a rice pilaf instead of plain rice, but the easiest way to improve the rice would be to stir in a glob of salted butter. There are other rice fiddles like frying it before cooking that you could experiment with.
posted by kmennie at 2:02 PM on August 18, 2013

Best answer: With the money you're saving on lunch, you might have better results long term with a rice cooker, which can keep the rice warm for many many hours. It is easy to cook the night before and box up the next morning. Or use the timer function to have it be ready for the time you need it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:24 PM on August 18, 2013

Best answer: Use shorter grain rice. I like Botan Calrose brown rice. Long-grain rice (e.g., basmati) has more amylose than amylopectin. (These are kinds of starch.) Amylose doesn't gelatinize when cooking and gets unpleasantly hard the next day. Rice that's high in amylopectin (like those used in risotto or for sushi, for example) is better and softer straight from the fridge. Read more here.
posted by purpleclover at 2:27 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Add a little bit of bacon grease to your rice.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:29 PM on August 18, 2013

Best answer: I use a Zojirushi on the timer to have it ready in the morning at the beginning of the week. I make two cups at a time and refrigerate what I don't take for the day. My commute is half an hour so I can safely bring the slightly cooled rice to work and put it in the fridge at work. I've never noticed it being dry made this way. When I used to make it on the stovetop, it was never as moist and tender to begin with. I had given up eating brown rice until I was given the Zojirushi.
posted by waterandrock at 2:30 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I take rice (brown, white and/or a mix), for lunch with great frequency and find that freezing it works better than simply refrigerating it if I am going to nuke it at lunch.

FWIW, I portion rice into lunch-sized containers and freeze overnight. At work, I open the lid, drop in a bit of chopped up butter, nuke for 3 minutes and stir. Add salt and pepper and it's good.

I also extend that idea by adding chopped meat and frozen veg to the rice container. Again at work I add butter (or in a pinch, a bit of olive oil), nuke between three and four minutes and hey presto, excellent lunch.
posted by faineant at 2:33 PM on August 18, 2013

Best answer: You can freeze and thaw cooked rice.

Cook a week's worth on Sunday, freeze it in single servings in plastic food bins, and take one to work with you each day.
posted by ardgedee at 3:28 PM on August 18, 2013

Sprinkle a little butter on the rice before reheating and it will come out a lot less dry. A dash of chicken stock, water, olive oil or soy (or combination of all that) works and what you use really depends on what flavors you like. Basically the rice dries out a little in the fridge and you just want to add some moisture back to it. If you are serving it with something, then having that dish have some sort of sauce solves a lot of the problems too.

I keep rice in the fridge in vac seals plastic bags (that work a bit like the containers linked to earlier). I find they work very well at keeping the rice.

Rice cooker on a timer would work, they are super easy to use and you could set them up the night before. Or I guess depending on your office set it to cook at work and have fresh rice.
posted by wwax at 3:45 PM on August 18, 2013

Best answer: I know this sounds bizarre, but at Trader Joe's (and presumably other grocery stores although I have not looked) you can get frozen, microwaveable brown rice. It comes in small portions (maybe two person) and microwaves in 2-3 minutes. I'm no nice snob or anything, but I think it's pretty tasty, Maybe bring one of those and microwave it, then heat up your other stuff and stir together?
posted by radioamy at 4:08 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

My secret to this is...some kind of sauce packed on the side and heated separately. Curry, meat with gravy, a little bit of butter, something cream based. Lately, it's beans and their juiciness.

If you pack the sauce and rice together then the rice just absorbs all the sauce in transit and the flavor But enough sauce added right before eating, brown rice is awesome.
posted by bilabial at 4:23 PM on August 18, 2013

If I can piggyback a question: how do you make rice that's a combination of brown and white? I've always found brown rice needs a longer cooking time than white does.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:32 PM on August 18, 2013

Best answer: TCitL, A nice compromise rice is Haiga which has been become very affordable in the last few years. Nishiki has entered the US market and you get a decent amount for the money. It is still more expensive than pure white medium grain Nishiki but nothing as outrageous as previous. It cooks the same amount of time as white and is way more nutritious than white and just as tasty as white. My personal favorite is Temaki. It cooks at the regular white setting on your rice cooker.
posted by jadepearl at 6:28 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry to be late responding, jp. I guess I think the vacuum sealing is the key -- it certainly has solved my dry rice problems, and also seems to make all leftovers last for a very long time.
posted by bearwife at 6:38 PM on August 18, 2013

Best answer: Frozen rice wrapped in plastic wrap works the best for having nice fluffy rice after cooking. If you have a microwave at work, you can just bring the frozen packet and heat it up there. You just have to be careful to get high-quality plastic wrap and not heat it too long (2 minutes on my microwave is enough to get it really hot), so the wrap doesn't melt. If you can get to a Japanese grocery that sells Japanese plastic wrap, it's really the best.

Also, I cook brown rice in the microwave, and it works out remarkably well. The rice is not too tough, although it has a bit more "teeth" than white rice, of course. I have a little glass rice-cooking pot, but I'm sure you could do it just as well in a big pyrex bowl. It takes about half an hour to cook with an hour of soaking time (that I'm not sure does very much).
posted by that girl at 8:44 PM on August 18, 2013

FWIW we often mix white rice 50/50 with pearled barley (something like this). The barley cooks up just like rice, in fact quite similar to brown rice. But for whatever reason, we like it better than brown rice.
posted by flug at 9:25 PM on August 20, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I think I'm leaning in the direction of the zojirushi rice cooker. This, of course, is a payday project. Thanks again.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:59 PM on September 8, 2013

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