A few years ago at a family meal my dad randomly launched into a lengthy panegyric to rice. He does this sometimes—proclaims a deep but previously unvoiced passion—and my mother, sister, and I roll our eyes at the poor outnumbered guy in our family and keep talking about shoes or Martha Stewart or whatever. At the time I thought, How can anyone get excited about rice? It doesn’t taste like anything.
Now I’ve come to see the wisdom of my father’s palate, and if I weren't scared of getting fat I’d eat white rice several times a week, with Indian food, soy sauce and vegetables, or naked but for a pat of butter. Why didn’t dad eat a lot of rice in college, I wonder now. One of his stock stories is how he could subsist for weeks at a time on canned tomato soup when he was putting himself through school, when he would have to sit at a bar and watch his buddies drink beer because he couldn’t afford to buy one for himself. Sometimes for a treat he would eat jelly. So why didn’t he buy himself a big old bag of rice and feast on that? Is it possible that he was scared to cook it?
In my experience, fear of rice cookery is a surprisingly common affliction. A friend of mine, one of the most accomplished and confident cooks I know, refuses to make white rice. When I was first feeding myself, I didn’t even try to make it because I had heard was complicated; I relied on parboiled, plastic-bagged rice in a box. Once I got my confidence up and made a pot of regular, long-grain white rice, I discovered that...it isn’t hard at all. In fact, it was perfect every time. What was everyone talking about? I puffed up a little. I got cocky.
Eventually, my future husband and I began one of those great New York love affairs in which real estate plays a disproportionately large role. Soon—much sooner than I would have been anywhere else in the country—I was living and cooking in his apartment, where, I was chagrined to discover, I was incapable of cooking rice. It was as if I had forgotten how to ride a bicycle. I mean, I made perfectly serviceable dinners, moan-inducing desserts, and my first cinnamon rolls in that kitchen, but I never made a successful pot of rice, a fact that inspired merciless teasing. This was all the more maddening because Andrew’s rice was perfect every time, even though he just eyeballed the quantities and frequently forgot that it was on the stove until well past the point at which it should have been ruined.
Did my success reside in the cheap saucepan, now in storage, that I had bought at a grocery store during college? Was I cursed by performance anxiety after the first few failures? The mystery was never solved. But when we moved into a new apartment, I got my rice mojo back immediately.
Are you scared of cooking rice? And do you have a foolproof method for brown rice? Because my brown rice is still pretty hit or miss, and I could use some advice. Sometimes it’s perfectly cooked, chewy and delicious; sometimes it’s half mushy and half raw, or unpleasantly crispy. Help!
1 cup white rice
1 3/4 cups water
Pinch of salt
Glug of olive oil
Combine all ingredients (I don’t bother to rinse the rice) in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer. As soon as the water reaches a lively simmer, give everything a good stir, cover the pot, and lower the heat as much as possible. After 15 minutes, turn off the burner, remove the pot from the heat, and let it sit for at least 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork and serving.