Rice sticking together isn't necessarily a bad thing. You want rice to stick together when you're making rice pudding, or risotto or even sushi. However, if you're using rice as a bed for stir-fries, thick stews or braises, you want to keep rice from sticking together.
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Sometimes it's not enough to follow the conventional method of cooking rice, which is to boil water, add the rice, place a tight lid on and simmer the rice until it's done. That might leave you with sticky rice that you really don't want. For a truly fluffy and separate rice, you might want to try something a little different.
Choose the Right Rice
Half of the battle to keep rice from sticking is having the right kind of rice. Generally, you want long-grain rice over medium and short-grain rice.
According to The Spruce Eats's article on how to cook different varieties of rice, there are many different varieties of rice out there. They vary in nutritional makeup, but the specific nutrient that determines whether they're going to be sticky or not is the type of starch they contain.
According to an October 2017 research article published in the International Journal of Research in Medicinal Sciences, rice contains two types of starch: amylose and amylopectin. Amylose is a long starch molecule without any branches. It won't gelatinize during the cooking process, which means that rice with amylose separates well and ends up nice and fluffy. Non-sticky rice types have plenty of amylose.
Amylopectin, on the other hand, is a highly branched starch molecule that causes rice to stick together during the cooking process. Long grain rice varieties, which are mostly non-sticky rice types, tend to have more amylose than amylopectin, while short-grain rice varieties have more amylopectin than amylose. The result is that long-grain rice tends to end up fluffy and separate while short-grain rice ends up sticky and clumped. Here is a short breakdown of the different rice types:
- Long Grain White Rice: This rice ends up fluffy and separated.
- Medium Grain Rice: This rice has more amylopectin and a relatively soft outer layer, which makes it creamy after cooking.
- Short Grain Rice: This rice has more amylopectin and ends up sticky and creamy after cooking.
- Brown Rice: Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice because of a harder outer layer. It cooks up fluffy due to the lower amylopectin and the hard outer layer.
- Basmati Rice: Basmati rice has long grains and is aromatic. It cooks up separate and fluffy.
- Jasmine Rice: Jasmine rice also has long grains and is aromatic. However, it has more amylopectin than the other long-grain rice varieties, causing it to be slightly creamier.
- Wild Rice: Wild rice isn't actually rice. It is the seed of a native grass that grows in North America. It takes longer than normal rice to cook, and is chewier, with a nutty flavor. It mostly cooks up separate and fluffy, unless you cook it until it pops, in which case it will be stickier and softer.
- Converted Rice: This is pre-cooked rice. It cooks faster and gives more consistent results than other non-sticky rice types. It cooks up fluffy and separate.
Keep Rice From Sticking
Get a fine mesh strainer (or a colander with small holes so the rice doesn't fall through) and put the rice in it. Rinse the rice under cool running water for a few minutes. Be as thorough as you can, in order to remove all of the extra starch from the individual grains of rice. You should try to be as thorough as you can during this step, since it can, if performed well, take out most of the starch on the individual grains, and ensure you have fluffier rice in the end.
Once you're done rinsing the rice, put it in a large bowl and cover it with cold water. Fine Cooking says you should allow the rice to soak in the water for 30 minutes, or as long as you can, depending on how much time you have. Once it has soaked enough, drain away as much water as you can.
Boil the Water in a Saucepan
Get a large saucepan and fill it with water. The larger the saucepan the better, since it will help the rice to cook more evenly. The amount of water to pour into the saucepan depends on the type of rice you're cooking. Long grain white rice requires about 2 parts water for 1 part rice. Brown rice requires 2 and a half parts water for 1 part rice. Wild rice requires 4 parts water for 1 part rice. Measure how many cups of rice you need to cook, and then get the appropriate number of cups of water, depending on the type of rice that you're cooking.
Add a teaspoon of salt and bring the water to a boil. The salt helps to remove even more starch, keeping the rice from sticking, and also helps remove any talcum the rice might contain. Some foreign mills add talcum to rice to make it stick less. The salt also helps with seasoning.
Cook the Rice
Once the water in the saucepan is boiling, add the rice. Stir it just once, so that the water can go back to boiling steadily. You don't want to stir it too many times, as that will actually make the rice stick together. Bring it down to a simmer, and leave it for a bit so that the rice can absorb all of the water.
Allow the rice to cook until it reaches the level of tenderness you want for your recipe. Don't do any additional stirring. You can use a timer as you cook the rice, so you know when it will be done. White rice should be done in about 20 minutes, brown rice should be done in about 30 minutes and wild rice should be done in about 45 minutes. You can taste-test a few grains with a spoon, after the appropriate time, to ensure that the rice is tender enough.
Drain and Serve the Rice
When the rice is ready, drain it in the fine mesh strainer to get rid of any remaining water. Rinse it with hot water and drain it again.
According to a Martha Stewart article on making fluffy rice, you should let it sit untouched for about 5 minutes to allow any remaining water to either evaporate or be absorbed by the rice.
After letting it stand, fluff it with a fork. Finally, serve the rice, or use it as you wish.
- The Spruce Eats: "How to Cook Different Types of Rice Using Science"
- Fine Cooking: "How to Cook Rice Perfectly"
- Martha Stewart: "Fluffy Rice Recipe"
- International Journal of Research in Medicinal Sciences: "Ratio of Amylose and Amylopectin as Indicators of Glycaemic Index and in Vitro Enzymatic Hydrolysisof Starches of Long, Medium and Short Grain Rice"