Rice, rice baby.
In grad school, I ate rice every day. It's cheap, it's one of the best side dishes out there and it never gets old if you switch up your recipes. You can add kimchi, herbs, soy sauce, Sriracha, pickled veggies, toasted sesame oil, wilted spinach -- the possibilities are endless. But the base of any good rice bowl is, you guessed it, rice.
So what's the best way to cook rice? You can use your Instant Pot, a dedicated rice cooker, the stove or even a microwave. All of these yield varying results. The first question you have to ask yourself as you plan how you want to cook rice is "what do I want out of my method?" The right approach for speed is different from the right approach for perfect texture. Luckily, I've tested them out and I have the tea on what makes the best rice.
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(A quick warning: Rinse your rice a few times before using any of these methods. It removes surface starch that makes your rice gummy and over-sticky. Also, it's a common misconception that rinsing rice washes away its nutrients -- the loss is minimal, and rice honestly shouldn't be your main source of nutrients anyway. If you want vitamins, add some veggies; if you want protein, add a soft-boiled egg.)
The fluffiest rice with the most consistent cook comes from high quality rice cookers like the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy. These things are pricey -- a 5.5-cup capacity Neuro Fuzzy goes for a bit over $200 on Amazon -- but they produce consistently high quality results. All you do is toss in a cup of rice and fill the pot with water up to the appropriate line. Hit "cook" and you'll get perfect rice in less than an hour.
Of course, that's the problem with the Zojirushi -- other than its steep price tag: it takes around 45 minutes to cook rice. Quality comes at a price.
Read any article about cooking rice online, then scroll down to the comments. Half of them will be people sharing their secret methods for cooking rice. There's a reason: Perfect rice is a sort of holy grail for many people, and the stovetop offers the most flexible method for questing after that prize. Plus, it's free (assuming you already have rice and a pot with a lid).
Generally, 2 cups of water per 1 cup of American white rice, and 1.5 cups of water per 1 cup of Japanese short-grain rice or Basmati rice, is the standard ratio. I soak my rice for 20 minutes, then bring it to a boil, and finally turn down the heat and let it simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and tasting along the way. This, as opposed to instant pots and rice cookers, thoroughly and evenly cooks the rice.
Throw a bay leaf in the mix and you're in business.
I love cooking rice on the stove -- there's something therapeutic about it, even -- but when I'm preoccupied with other dishes, a cheap rice cooker is always the way to go. Load in the rice, fill the pot with water up to the appropriate mark on the inside, put on the lid and hit "cook." The rice should be done between 12 and 25 minutes, depending on the cooker and serving size. Rice cookers are simple to use and perfect for individual serving sizes: That's where the Instant Pot struggles to achieve an even cook and stove-top cooking feels like a waste of time.
You can find a dedicated rice cooker with reliable results for $15 or $20, which is a real steal if you're looking to integrate the grain into your regular diet.
An instant pot isn't the ideal tool to cook rice, but it's also not bad, especially if you're short on time. The process is simple: Just load equal parts rice and water into the pot and hit "rice." The rice often turns out a little uneven, especially with smaller servings. It's too toothsome in some sections and somewhat slimy in others. But with larger servings, and after fluffing to redistribute moisture, cooking rice in an Instant Pot achieves solid results. Plus, it's the fastest method of the bunch, clocking in at around 12 minutes.
So if you like rice but find yourself short on time, pick up an Instant Pot and get cooking.
I gave cooking rice in the microwave the old college try (because I suspect the population using this method consists mainly of college students), and the results were about what you'd expect. After many attempts with largely inedible results, I found the best (for lack of a better term) results: the rice was a little crunchy and over-sticky.
I can imagine few instances in which I would use a microwave to cook rice -- perhaps if I were stranded in a tundra with only a functional microwave and bag of uncooked rice on hand -- but if you find yourself in such a circumstance, at least the method is quick. Just toss a cup of rice into a microwave-safe bowl with the same ratio of water you'd use for stovetop cooking. Microwave for 10 minutes, remove the bowl and immediately cover with plastic wrap for 3 minutes.
Boom, your science experiment is complete, and you have edible sustenance.