The Asian ‘Finger Trick’ to Cooking Perfect Rice


In most Asian households, rice on the table is synonymous to survival. It’s bamboo to a panda, fins to a shark and kotatsu to a shivering cat — you get the picture.

When it’s part of your meal at least three times a day, odds are you have no choice but learn how to cook it. This is especially important because no matter how “good” a type of rice is, it can turn bad with mistakes in preparation.

There is, of course, no single right method to make the perfect rice. However, there are simply guidelines that people follow and they’re worth trying the next time you’re cooking!

Check them out, Asian-style:

The First Knuckle Method

It’s universally understood that rice needs an ideal water-to-grain ratio for a delectable result. One way to achieve this is through the first knuckle method, which basically requires water to reach the first line of your index finger from the top — regardless of the amount of rice.

via Asians Never Die

Kristin Wong at Lifehacker swears by the method:

“I’ve seen most everyone in my family use this method, and I’ve recommended it to others when cooking rice, and the rice always comes out the way it’s supposed to. It’s not soggy, and it’s not undercooked. It’s fluffy and slightly sticky. Depending on your dish, you don’t always want this consistency. I grew up using this method for Chinese and Thai dishes.”

 

Sue Pressey, author of food blog My Korean Kitchen and two cookbooks, follows a variation that uses the third joints from the fingertips to mark.

“I always measure it manually. The so called ‘Knuckle method’ – Add the water until it covers near my knuckles when my hand is flat on the rice. Does it sound logical to you? A lot of Koreans seem to use this method too. It’s not just me.”

Soaking

Namiko Chen, the Japanese home cook behind Just One Cookbook, says it is important to soak rice — Japanese rice, that is — in water for 30 minutes before cooking.

“Rice has been sitting in the bag dried after milling, hence it needs moisture to revive the texture. It’s important that you give it enough time for rice to absorb water so that rice has a nice fluffy texture after it’s cooked.”

After soaking, the rice must be drained for at least five minutes so that it won’t end up mushy.

Nami also warns against opening the lid while cooking, which often happens when waiting to boil. Apparently, it helps to have good ears:

“I learned from my experience to catch the indication of ‘boiling’ by the sound. However, until you do, it’s okay to ‘quickly peek’ inside to see if it’s boiling.”

Finally, she suggests using a heavy-bottom pot with tight-fitting lid to keep steam in. A clean cloth may be placed between the lid and the pot when there is some space.

Boiling Uncovered

Food entrepreneur and self-taught cook Ching-He Huang notes on the Cooking Channel that jasmine rice, “the perfect canvas for punchy, bold, delicious Chinese dishes,” must be boiled without cover (when using a stove).

She says that the rice must be thoroughly cleaned — that is, it must be clear or free of excess starch before cooking.

On the amount of water, Huang says a rule of thumb doubles the quantity of water to that of the rice. For instance, 300 grams of rice would require 600 grams of water.

The rice is then boiled without cover. Once boiling, heat is then turned lower.

She explained the rationale behind:

“Turn the heat to the lowest setting (place the lid on) and cook covered for 15-20 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. Be sure to keep an eye on the time, or you will get burned rice at the bottom of the pan.”

“This way of cooking rice is, in fact, encompassing two cooking techniques: You are boiling the rice and then letting it simmer and cook in the steam created in the pot, so technically we should be calling it ‘boiled-steamed’ rice!”

Using a Stove

Huang’s technique of turning the heat lower after boiling is echoed by Rebecca Lynne Tan at The Straits Times, who calls cooking via stove “absorption method.”

For those who don’t cook rice using rice cookers, knowing how to work with stoves is a must. According to Tan, this involves “boiling the rice on high heat until most of the water is absorbed, then turning the heat to low, covering the pot, and leaving it to cook for about 15 minutes.”

She points that the “appropriate” amount of water varies depending on how you like your rice. But she cites that for white jasmine rice, a general rule of thumb is to use a cup to about 1 1/4 cups of water or less.

Interestingly, she also swears by the first knuckle method:

“What works best for me is using my index finger to measure the amount of water from the surface of the rice. I place my finger into the pot vertically. When the tip of my finger touches the surface of the rice, the water level should reach about three-fourths the way up, just under the first crease/joint in my finger.”

There are many other ways and tips about cooking rice, so it pays to experiment on different methods to find what works. It all boils down to how you want your rice!

Do you have a specific way/method of cooking rice? We’d love to hear them in the comments and you might help others, too!