The quest to make the perfect rice

The World
A worker holds rice at a rice mill during harvest time in Padalarang, Indonesia's West Java province, May 27, 2014.

If you want to know how to make the perfect rice, even the supposed experts are sometimes left stumped.

Kim Severson, a food writer for the New York Times, admitted this week that she's a novice when it comes to making rice. While she grew up watching her Italian mother make pasta, she's clueless when it comes to cooking rice.

So Severson went on a quest to find the best way to cook rice. She spoke to food writers and cooks and collected plenty of techniques. But in the end, her secret weapon was a combination of Southern chef Virginia Willis' method and some additional tactics of her own.

With all of this talk about rice-cooking techniques, I wanted to share my own method for making the perfect Persian rice.

Rice is a major part of Persian cuisine, and it’s very important to get it right. First, you have to find the right rice. It’s important which kind you use — that determines how long you need to cook it. I use Basmati rice that I purchase from an Indian gourmet shop near my home.

Then comes the method. Sorry, recipe hounds: I never measure anything, so I can’t be very specific here. But here’s how I do it:

I soak the rice in warm water for about 10 minutes, then add a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, I boil water in a pan. When I see it bubbling, I add the soaked rice to the boiling water. Timing is key here: If you let the rice boil for too long it would go soft — too short and it would be hard and undercooked.

Once the rice is not too hard — you can test it by taking a few grains out with a spoon — strain it out. Next, pour some oil at the bottom of a pre-heated pan and pour the rice in. Add a small amount of powdered saffron.

One trick I use here is that I cover the pan with a cloth or paper towel and let it steam for 10 to 15 minutes. You'll know you have the perfect Persian rice when the grains come out long, fluffy and separated. Then serve in a dish and voila!

Of course, there are many different ways to cook rice. Methods might differ, even among Iranians. But, just like everything else, perfecting it comes down to practice.

You can find more details about Persian rice and Persian cooking in general here and here. You can also find a recipe for the Persian saffron rice pudding here.

Happy cooking!

Shirin's rice is the real deal. She won our 4th of July dessert competition with ... rice pudding!

Will you support The World?

There is no paywall on the story you just read because a community of dedicated listeners and readers have contributed to keep the global news you rely on free and accessible for all. Will you join the 314 donors who’ve stepped up to support The World? From now until Dec. 31, your gift will help us unlock a $67,000 match. Donate today to double your impact and keep The World free and accessible.