Learning how to cook brown rice the easiest, simplest, and healthiest way can bring big health benefits. (In case you aren’t already convinced, I recommend watching Dr. Greger’s video on the topic.) If what’s stopping you from eating more brown rice is the inconveniently long cooking time, you need to learn how to cook brown rice in a batch session, following my easy, simple, healthy method.
It’s really a pity (and a public health catastrophe) that white rice has become standard all over the world. Historically, white rice became more prized than its whole version for understandable reasons. Being so much more nutritious than white rice, brown rice was always harder to protect from eager rodents and insects, and spoiled faster. However, modern food handling methods solve those problems. So why aren’t we eating more of it? Ignorance of the benefits aside, the biggest reason is probably convenience. But this is about to change for you as I will teach you how to cook brown rice the easiest and healthiest way, making it as simple to dish out as a convenience item.
How to cook brown rice the easy way… no special appliance required!
I cook with a bunch of different types of rice, from basmati brown to Bhutan red and wild rice (which actually isn’t rice, but that’s a topic for another day). What is the exact ratio of water to rice needed for each? I don’t know and I don’t care!
I just cook rice like pasta: in plenty of water. First, I bring a big pot of water to a boil. Then, as I wait for the water to boil, I thoroughly rinse the rice to remove the unappealing dust.
Once the water is boiling, I add the rinsed rice and set a timer for 22 minutes. I may reduce the heat a bit to keep the bubbles under control, and stir once in a while.
When the timer goes off, I taste the rice to make sure that it’s ready. If it’s hard, it needs to cook longer. If it’s just tender (al dente), it’s done. If it’s mushy… I’ll remember to check earlier next time.
I turn off the heat and drain the rice through a fine-mesh metal sieve, then I immediately return it to the hot pot – but off the heat – and cover with the lid. I probably get rid of about 97% of the water but I don’t bother letting it drip ’til the last drop. I wait 10 to 15 minutes then fluff with a fork. Done!
No looking up ratios. No brain clutter. No measuring cups. No watching the pot. No scorching. No scolding my husband as he lifts the lid (“Don’t uncover the rice!!!”).
Note that this method does not apply to risotto, which shouldn’t be rinsed at any point (you need all the starches to make it creamy).
How to cook brown rice… the healthy way
Aside from not having to remember the ratios corresponding to different kinds of rice, this method has another benefit: it reduces the amount of toxic arsenic found in rice. And, sadly, brown rice has more of that than white, which makes it all the more important to practice safer cooking.
If you haven’t heard the news about arsenic in rice, no need to panic. Yes, brown rice grown in certain soils (notably those that used to grow cotton crops) contains more arsenic than is acceptable. Yes, arsenic consumption increases one’s risk of lung and bladder cancer. But the risk has to be put in perspective: according to FDA calculations, only about 39 cases of those cancers per million people are related to rice-based arsenic, out of a total of 90,000 lung and bladder cancer cases per million (lifetime based; not per year!) in total. Quitting smoking and bugging your elected representatives for regulations that limit air and water pollution will be more effective, on the whole, than changing your rice cooking methods. Nevertheless, 39 cases per million for the United States and Canada together means over 15,000 people will get lung or bladder cancer from rice consumption over their lifetime, and both of those cancers are quite terrible to have. I prefer to avoid hospitals, and this method of cooking rice is both safer and easier, so why not avoid unnecessary risk?
The toxic arsenic content of rice varies largely based on where it was grown. Some companies claim that their rice has been tested and does not contain notable amounts of arsenic. That is reassuring, however I cannot bother to remember which origins and companies are “safe” and which aren’t. Generally, I mistrust food labeling. Plus, I usually buy rice in bulk to reduce packaging waste, and the provenance of bulk rice is even harder to ascertain. I’ll just stick to a single method to cook brown rice, which happens to be the simplest.
As described in a detailed review of recent studies by Dr. Greger, rinsing then cooking brown rice in a large volume of water as described above reduces the arsenic content to the point where they aren’t significant health threats. It’s worth watching:
As you can see in the video, unfortunately, this method also reduces the amount of iron and of some vitamins contained in the rice, including folate. However, if you are already eating a whole foods plant-based diet with lots of vegetables (including lots of greens and cruciferous veggies), you probably consume plenty of those vitamins already. I personally choose to have one extra piece of broccoli and not worry about it.
How to cook brown rice… the convenient way: batch it and freeze it
A downside of the “cook like pasta” method to cook brown rice is that it takes even longer than the conventional ratio-based method, since there is bigger volume of water to boil. Who has an hour to get rice ready on weeknights? Not me! That’s why I batch cook brown rice.
I thoroughly rinse 4 cups of brown rice, using my largest pot (to swish the rice in lots of water) and a fine-mesh metal sieve (to drain). Aside from removing some of the arsenic, rinsing gets rid of dust of unknown provenance and, to my taste, yields a nicer result (less sticky grains). I find it worth my time.
After the water runs clear, I let the rice rest in the fine-mesh metal sieve while I bring lots of water to a boil in the big pot. I do not measure exactly, but there is approximately 5 to 7 times more water than rice. It takes about 10-15 minutes to bring the water to a boil, and that’s when I add the rice. I give it a good stir, set the timer for 22 minutes, and move on to the next task, remembering to stir the rice every few minutes just to be safe.
When it’s done I drain it through the same fine-mesh metal sieve, return it to the pot and let it steam off for a while – at least 15 minutes, often more as I’m busy cooking something else. (It depends on whether I need that big pot for another dish!) I fluff with a fork and distribute across labelled containers in family-sized portions. I keep whatever we’ll eat in the next 4 days or so, and freeze the rest. Voilà!
How to thaw the brown rice after freezing
If I think about it, I transfer the frozen rice to the fridge the night before, but usually I forget. I uncover, sprinkle with a little water and thaw then heat in the microwave. The whole process takes about 10 minutes and yields perfect brown rice, just as good as fresh. If you do not have a microwave, reheating on the stove works great as long as your rice was previously thawed. Thawed rice is also perfect for fried-rice-style dishes.
How to cook brown rice: the easiest way to batch cook brown rice
- 2 to 5 cups brown rice just eyeball it
- Fill a big pot with lots of water (at least 5 cups of water per cup of rice) and set on high heat to bring to a boil.
- While you wait for the water to boil, pour your brown rice in a fine-mesh metal sieve.
- Rinse thoroughly, until the water runs clear.
- When the water is boiling, add the rinsed rice and give it a good stir. Set a timer for 22 minutes. Stir occasionally and reduce the heat a little if needed to prevent overboiling.
- When the timer goes off, taste the rice. It should be "al dente" - tooth tender, but not completely soft. Cook for an extra minute or too if it's still too firm. Taste again.
- Turn off the heat.
- Working with your fine-mesh metal sieve, drain the rice. Immediately return it to the hot pot. Do your best but don't worry about removing 100% of the water.
- Cover but keep the pot off the heat. (Residual heat from an electric element is OK.)
- After 15 minutes, fluff with a fork. There, you have it: perfect rice!
- Divide into family-sized portions and refrigerate what you'll eat this week, and freeze the rest. (Remember to label your container!)
What about rice cookers and Instant Pots?
I would not recommend trying this method in a rice cooker – if only because the pots aren’t usually big enough to accommodate so much water.
I have yet to try this method in my electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot), however I have heard of others who have tried it and report success. I would personally fear that the rice would overcook while the pressure is coming down naturally. I will try it with a small quantity and update this post whenever possible. In the meantime, if you have tried it, do let me know by commenting below!
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