In U.S. grocery stores, most packages of white rice include instructions for a hybrid method of cooking that parboils the grains at a simmer before a final few minutes of steaming after most of the cooking liquid evaporates. This may reflect an assumption that most U.S. kitchens don't have a rice cooker, the stovetop appliance that makes it easy to steam tender rice.
As with vegetables, the amount of water differentiates the process between boiling and steaming.
Boiled rice remains fully submerged in liquid for the cooking time whereas steamed rice relies on the heat of trapped vapors to soften the grains. You can produce fluffy, tender steamed rice on the stovetop by adjusting the amount of water you use.
Boiled vs. Steamed
Boiled rice tends to produce a firmer, more distinct grain, and works better with long-grain varieties such as basmati. Steaming turns out a stickier rice, which works well for sushi or dishes that might be eaten with chopsticks, and generally calls for a shorter-grain rice, such as the Spanish Valencia or Calrose.
Rinsing rice can wash away some of the nutrients, particularly with rice labeled "enriched." However, rinsing also removes extra starch and results in distinct grains. Rinse rice in two or three changes of water until it runs clear, with no milkiness, when you want to keep the grains separate and firm.
For a softer texture or shorter cooking time, you can soak rice for 30 minutes before you cook it. This preserves some of the aroma and flavors of the longer-grain varieties such as jasmine.
To steam rice using the standard stovetop simmer method for most medium- and long-grain varieties, start with a 1:2 ratio.
For example, one cup of uncooked rice, which serves two to three people, needs 2 cups of water.
Bring the water to a boil and add the rice, salt to taste and butter or oil, if desired. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer the rice for 20 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for an additional five minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.
To produce a stickier result with medium- to short-grain rice, reduce the amount of water to a 1.25 ratio. For example, 1 1/4 cups water for 1 cup of rice. Combine the water and rice in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and stir. Bring the water to a boil and cook, uncovered, until the water level drops below the surface of the rice, approximately 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer the rice for an additional 15 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for an additional five minutes.
Brown rice requires roughly a half part more water and double the cooking time. To achieve the signature creaminess of risotto, cooks add a 4:1 ratio of liquid to the rice in intervals punctuated by constant stirring. For boiled rice, a more standard preparation in Indian cuisine, start with enough water to cover the rice by an additional inch or two, keeping it at a moderate boil throughout the cooking time.
Simply drain off any remaining water once the rice reaches the desired texture.