The secret to perfect rice

by Tom Shingler 9 November 2015

Struggling to figure out why your rice is sticky, soggy or undercooked, despite following a recipe to the letter? The rice itself might be the root of the problem.

Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

Tom Shingler is the editor at Great British Chefs. After studying journalism and working on national food magazines, he joined Great British Chefs in 2015 and has travelled the length and breadth of the UK to interview chefs and photograph their beautiful plates of food ever since. Tom is responsible for all the editorial output of the website and, of course, is obsessed with everything to do with food and drink.

On the whole, the UK is a nation of rice lovers. Whether it’s served as a simple side to a curry or is centre of attention in a dish like risotto or Biryani, it plays a huge part in a lot of our favourite cuisines; most cook and eat it at least once a week. But based on our recent survey almost a quarter of people admit they struggle to cook rice that comes out fluffy and aromatic every single time – sometimes they’re left with soggy, overcooked grains that are waterlogged and stuck to each other instead.

The most important thing to acknowledge is that different types of rice cook at different times and temperatures, so unfortunately there isn’t one single rule for cooking all the grains grown around the world. That said, according to our survey results, Basmati is by far the most popular rice variety in Britain with seventy-seven per cent picking it as their favourite – so it’s definitely the one to focus on and ensure you know exactly what goes into it and what’s involved in cooking it to perfection every time.

Against the grain

Whilst there’s an ever increasing awareness of where our meat, fish and vegetables come from, people seem less knowledgeable about rice, paying little attention to the quality, consistency and care that’s gone into growing it.

The Food Standards Agency has conducted tests on bags of rice labelled Basmati, finding some of them contained a blend of both Basmati and long grains – effectively making them impure. Only pure Basmati rice has the unique aroma, taste and texture that elevates any dish.

However, the real culprits behind these pots of sticky, soggy rice are broken grains. When Basmati grains break or snap in half, there’s nothing to stop their starch leaking out into the boiling water and cook much quicker, which in turn causes rice to stick together and lose its delicate, fluffy texture. The solution? All rice should be as free from broken grains as possible, whether you’re choosing long slender Basmati grains or shorter grains like risotto or even pudding rice.

Only the premium rice producers take the extra time and effort to remove broken grains during milling (a process which removes the rice plant’s inedible husks). While this might mean paying a premium for their product, it’s worth it – you’ll be able to cook restaurant-quality rice without ever having to worry that your grains will turn soggy again.

Anna Beheshti, head of mainstream marketing at Tilda – The UK’s most well-known rice brand – told us, ‘The secret to perfect rice starts with selecting the best grains. It’s important to make sure every single grain is the true Basmati variety; that’s why we built a dedicated facility to analyse our rice’s DNA and ensure purity. We don’t produce rice for any other company, so bags of Tilda rice are the only ones in existence which go through this process.’ With only eight per cent of those surveyed regarding themselves as experts in cooking rice, it might well be that everyone else can make things much easier for themselves by simply placing the right rice in their shopping basket.

Basmati rice: the numbers

– 8% of people see themselves as experts at preparing rice.

– 24% struggle to cook rice.

– 77% say Basmati is their favourite variety.