Mastering the skills to cook rice that’s perfectly fluffy and tender every time can be a bit trickier than many websites might lead you to believe — especially if you’ve mostly been mastering your microwave when it comes to rice.
Cooking rice on the stovetop requires constant monitoring and can often lead to inconsistent results. Despite your best efforts, your rice is either dry, crunchy and burned in the center or soupy like your aunt’s risotto. Higher-end rice cookers are better but are expensive for what they are, take up valuable kitchen space and, with few exceptions, don’t seem to really handle anything but basic white rice very well. No, your best chance at foolproof rice with a superior texture and flavor is a pressure cooker — either the next-generation electronic models that have started appearing everywhere, or the tried-and-true stainless steel (or aluminum) cookers you use on your stovetop.
Why is a pressure cooker better?
Pressure cookers prevent air from escaping the cooker and force a higher boiling point (250 degrees F), cooking your food in super-heated wet steam. Besides much shorter cook times and more concentrated flavors, cooking rice under pressure like this promotes the Maillard reaction (the chemical reaction that gives browned food its intense flavor) and gelatinizes the starch in rice to the maximum degree, creating a much softer, stickier grain texture than cannot be replicated through conventional cooking. This microscopic effect on the grain also makes the rice far more digestible, increasing the nutritional value of your meal. As a bonus, the higher cooking temperatures even bring the harmful bacteria and fungus commonly found in improperly stored rice to safe levels. These immediate and obvious advantages are why so many dedicated rice cookers have jumped over to models with pressure cooker functionality.
Which kind of pressure cooker should you use?
Electric pressure cookers
Electric pressure cookers are extremely easy to use and maintain. Just add your water and rice, press the button, and forget it. You can attend to other tasks, and when you’re done, your rice will be waiting for you (just don’t take too long).
That said, electric pressure cookers don’t necessarily work for everyone. Most have capacity for under 6 quarts, perfect for couples but perhaps too small for big families. Some (though not all) have nonstick inner pots that don’t brown well, are easily scratched and spin in place while you stir the contents. So if you’re in the market for an electric pressure cooker, look for one with handles, a stainless steel inner pot and definitely a quick steam release.
Stovetop pressure cookers
Stovetop pressure cookers are heavy, cumbersome and expensive — and as far as I’m concerned, they’re probably the best choice for serious cooks. The stainless steel construction is far more durable and allows for multiple types of steam release, so it’s much more versatile for pressure cooker recipes. While your electric is taking up space, your much larger stovetop pot will be busy simmering stocks and sauces, canning food for the winter and steaming tamales. They’re more work but worth the extra investment of time and money.
Preparing rice in an electric pressure cooker couldn’t be simpler. Just follow the directions of the manufacturer, and enjoy.
Stovetop pressure cookers are a little more complicated. Add water, rice and a bit of oil or butter (to prevent foaming), lock the lid and, when your pressure cooker is ready to go, follow the cooking times listed in the recipe using a high, even heat. When the time is up, take the rice off the heat for 10 minutes, release any extra pressure, and you should be set.
Pressure cooker tips for making perfect rice
- Some electric pressure cookers don’t get up to 15 psi (or pounds per square inch), making their overall temperature much cooler. You’ll need to add about 20 percent more time to the listed times (short-grain white rice would cook for 9 to 10 minutes, not 8, for instance).
- External pressure is also a factor in cooking times. You’ll need to add 5 percent to the overall cook time for every additional 1,000 feet above 2,000 feet.
- Never fill a pressure cooker above the maximum fill level of your pot.
- If you use stock instead of water for your rice, add an extra three minutes of cooking time.
- Start your timer only when the pressure cooker indicates that it is at the proper temperature.
- When buying a pressure cooker, choose one that has a layered base to eliminate hot spots.
And there you go. With this foundation, you can make all kinds of rice dishes using your pressure cooker, from pullau to pilaf.