How to troubleshoot rice cooking problems

Updated April 17, 2017

Cooking rice seems like it should be simple, but it'ss a common stumbling block even for experienced home cooks. Rice is a surprisingly finicky dish. Getting it just right, so that each grain is cooked evenly and the rice isn't too hard or too mushy, takes practice and a little know-how. But even if you perpetually undercook or overcook your rice, there are ways to salvage it. You might not end up with rice exactly the way you want it, but you won't have to waste it, either.

Employ the proper technique when you cook the rice. This can help prevent rice-cooking issues before they arise. Rinse the rice before you begin cooking. Use the right ratio of water to rice to ensure the rice doesn't turn out too wet or too dry. A good rule of thumb is to use 375 to 425 ml (1.5 to 1.75) cups of water for every cup of long-grain white rice. Shorter grains require less water; brown rice requires more water. Use a heavy-bottomed pan to prevent scorching, and use a lid that fits tightly over the pot so that no steam escapes.

Rest the rice, off-heat, with the lid on, for at least five minutes after cooking. When you first take the rice off the heat, the bottom layer will contain most of the moisture, while the top layer will be drier. Resting the rice allows the moisture to redistribute evenly throughout. Let the rice sit for as long as 30 minutes before tasting or serving. When rice is rested, taste the rice. If it isn't to your liking, try the following steps.

Add more water if the rice is too chewy or hard. Around 50 ml (1/4 cup) or less will be enough. You just need enough to steam the rice a little more. Cover the rice and cook over a low heat for another five minutes.

Evaporate excess water if the rice is too wet. Uncover the pot and cook over a low heat for another few minutes until the extra water evaporates and the rice is to your taste.

Make rice pudding out of rice that overcooks and turns mushy. You'll have to cook a new pan of rice to serve with your meal, but you won't have to waste the rice you overcooked. Rice pudding works well with mushy, soft or split rice, and it makes a tasty dessert.

Run cold water over the outside of the bottom of the pan if your rice burns. Keep the pan covered, and don't add water to the rice in the pan. Running cold water on the bottom of the pan from the outside will help keep the burnt layer at the bottom from permeating the rest of the rice. Then, salvage as much unburned rice as you can.


One way to prevent problems with cooking rice is to break a so-called cardinal rule of rice cooking: check under the lid and see how your rice is doing. If you do this too often you might disrupt the steaming process, but a quick glimpse will let you know when the water has been absorbed, or if your rice isn't shaping up the way it should.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Michelle Labbe has been writing online and for print since 2004. Her work has appeared in the online journals Reflection's Edge and Cabinet des Fées as well as in Harvard Book Store's anthology, "Michrochondria." She is pursuing a Master of Arts in publishing and writing at Emerson College.