Rice can be very scientific and interesting at the same time.
It is widely used yet a good number of its users do not understand some few tricks under this little grain’s belt.
My curiosity and interest in rice was sparked a long time ago, which even made me choose it as my research project topic at the end of my food science course.
No surprise that there is a whole journal dedicated to publications about rice science.
That is why I think it is a scientific grain.
Well, back to the kitchen, rice is one of those foods that can pull a surprise on you when you least expect it.
You might get a recipe and follow it to the latter expecting a smooth, consistent, and fluffy end product, only to end up with undercooked or overcooked rice.
This mostly happens when steaming the rice in a cooking pan over the stove, which is the most used method of cooking rice in many households.
If this keeps happening to you, it could be due to a few things that you could be doing wrong repeatedly when steaming your rice.
Based on what I found out about rice science, I have come up with a few things that could be the main reason why your rice always comes out undercooked or overcooked and how to avoid the same.
1. Always Wash the Rice in Cold Water Before Cooking
One questions that keep popping up about rice is “should you wash rice before cooking?”
The answer is a solid Yes. Rinsing raw rice in cold water helps to clean out the excess starch on the rice surface that makes it sticky.
When rice is harvested, the grain that comes out of the husk is usually brownish in color.
This is due to a thin coating on the rice grain called Rice Bran which stores proteins and oils for the grain.
The proteins and oils would be important in germination if the rice wouldn’t be meant to end up in your stomach as food.
Under the rice bran is a solid endosperm filled with loads of starch.
Milling machines in rice factories polish the grain by getting rid of the bran and exposing the starchy white endosperm.
The milling process leaves some loose starch on the surface of the grain which when cooked together with the rice will make the end product gummy and mushy.
This is one reason for ending up with overcooked rice.
Washing rice in cold water helps to remove the excess starch on the rice grain thus allowing them to cook evenly.
2. Physically Measure the Water-rice Ratio
You will be surprised at how many rice cookers don’t use any measuring equipment in determining the water-rice ratio.
Some don’t even know that steaming rice isn’t like cooking meat or potatoes where you just put it in any amount of water and keep adding until it’s ready.
Generally, most rice varieties will steam well at a water-rice ratio of 2:1 when cooked under medium or low heat.
This ratio measuring doesn’t need specialized equipment. You can use any utensil in the kitchen; be it a cup, bowl, pan, or jug.
Do not rely on using your estimation, especially when steaming white rice. Always use something to measure the water and rice.
Getting the water-rice ratio wrong is one way to guarantee undercooked and overcooked rice at the end.
3. Boil the Water First Before Adding the Rice
After getting your ratio right, let the water boil first as you rinse the rice separately.
Add the rice later after the water has gained a considerable amount of heat.
However, do not let the water reach its boiling point before adding the rice.
Reaching boiling point means the water will evaporate from the pan and the ratio will be tempered with by the time you are adding the rice.
You should add salt and cooking oil in the water to make it boil faster since they will be acting as impurities in the water hence lowering its boiling point.
Add the washed rice into the boiled water and stir thoroughly then let it cook.
4. Use Liquid Cooking Oil Instead of Solid Fat
There is no doubt that liquid oil is healthier and much more preferred in the kitchen to solid fat.
However, some people may still insist on using solid fat in cooking rice for reasons best known to them.
One of the reasons for using cooking oil in rice preparation is because the oil lubricates the starchy surface of rice grains preventing them from sticking to each other.
Solid fat doesn’t distribute well in water and will mostly stay at the top of the water in the entire period of cooking.
This will leave the rice below less lubricated and sticky which may result in undercooking.
Fat also has a tendency of solidifying again after cooling. This is why they are not recommended for general cooking.
You can check out some suitable oils I recommended for various cooking temperatures in this article here.
5. Cook Rice in Medium to Low Heat
One thing that steaming rice doesn’t tolerate is an impatient cook.
If you are hungry and you want to take a shortcut with your rice preparation by increasing the heat, be ready to eat an undercooked meal.
The water-rice ratio is still the enemy of an impatient rice cook here.
Cooking rice on high heat leads to an undercooked product since the water in the cooking pot gets heated faster and evaporates before the rice is properly cooked.
Raw rice needs time to absorb the water into the core of the grain for it to be fully cooked.
Rushing the process by increasing its steaming temperature will only allow the outer parts of the grain to cook leaving you with a crunchy and chewy end product.
For good results, always allow the rice to cook at a steady simmer under medium or low heat on the stove.
6. Control Steam Loss from the Cooking Pot
Rice usually absorb water as it cooks. This water goes into the grain to soften its tissues so that you can have the soft fluffy rice meal after steaming.
Rice needs to absorb water almost two times its weight to be fully cooked.
If you let most of this water escape through evaporation, you will definitely end up with undercooked rice.
If the water is too much, you will need to cook it longer thus leading to overcooked rice.
The water-rice ratio should thus be maintained throughout the cooking process by trapping most of the moisture inside the cooking pot.
To achieve this, you need to keep the pot sealed with a vented cover that only allows minimum vapor to escape.
Most modern cookware such as nonstick pans, ceramic pots, and alloy pots come with a vented cover for this purpose.
Steaming the rice in low heat is also a good way to retain the much-needed moisture.
7. Use a Rice Cooker
If you keep getting frustrating results when cooking your rice, maybe it’s time to try new equipment.
There are people out there who have shared your frustrations and decided to come up with rice cookers that would reduce human errors that are sometimes inevitable in the kitchen.
This cooker automatically does most of the things I have mentioned here and saves you the hustle of trying to get it right every time you want to cook rice.
I will not go into brand recommendations here until I do a proper research on their reviews and maybe physically test them out.
If you can afford a good one, you should definitely go for it and let us know how it performs.
What to do with Undercooked and Overcooked Rice
Since mistakes happen all the time in the kitchen, you may one day fall victim to preparing undercooked or overcooked rice.
So, what should you do if something goes wrong and you end up with undercooked rice?
Well, you don’t need to rush into tossing it.
You can still fix it by sprinkling a little amount of water on the rice and allow it to simmer under low heat.
You can also take the pot with the undercooked rice out of the stove, cover it with a metallic cover and place a few chunks of burning coal from the fireplace on top of the cover for a few minutes to finish up the cooking.
If that is not an option, you may still use the microwave oven to finish up the steaming.
Just put the rice in a microwave-safe bowl, sprinkle some water on the rice, cover it with a wet paper towel and set it to microwave for 2-3 minutes while stirring intermittently.
As for overcooked rice, you may also fix it by drying it out in the microwave oven or cooker oven.
Put the overcooked rice in the microwave oven without the cover and microwave it for around 2 minutes.
Spreading the rice on an almost flat bowl would hasten the drying.
The good thing about overcooked rice is that you can still eat it without any problems.
Will Eating Undercooked Rice Lead to Food Poisoning?
So, what about eating undercooked rice? Is there a risk of food poisoning?
Yes, you can get food poisoning by eating undercooked rice, especially, if stored within the temperature danger zone and consumed thereafter.
According to medic8.com, undercooked rice offers a good breeding ground for a bacteria called Bacillus cereus that causes gastrointestinal illnesses when ingested.
It is thus important to ensure your rice is well cooked to avoid the risk of food poisoning.
As much as rice recipes vary from one kitchen to another, there is a general way to get the grain well cooked and enjoyable.
Ideally, every rice cook would want a final product that is appealing to the eye and tastes great.
But being the scientific grain that it is, rice cooking is a skill that will only be perfected by experimenting and attention to details.