How I Finally Learned To Make Fine Rice

Rice and chopsticks
My husband hails from China's land of fish and rice, and my rice cooking skills just didn't cut it. (photo by melanie kuipers)

“My wife cooks great Chinese food.” My husband could never resist saying this in front of other Chinese, especially people we invited for dinner.

Okay, I’ll confess, I make a mean mapo tofu. But I still considered his praise a little crazy. After all, I failed on the most basic measure of a Chinese cook — making steamed white rice.

I never admitted this before, probably because it leads to an unflattering thought — how could she possibly screw up steamed white rice? All right, let’s be clear here. I didn’t really screw it up; I just didn’t make it to my husband’s liking. And when your husband hails from a region of China known as the land of fish and rice, you’ve got a man with some high standards for a steamed bowl of white goodness. My rice — on the softer side, more like rice porridge — never cut it. Blame it on those six months I lived alone in Cleveland, Ohio and made extra-soft sticky rice for breakfast.

“Just imagine how much rice you’ll have when it’s cooked, and that’s how much water you should add,” John always used to say. I had no problems imagining molecule shapes in university-level organic chemistry. But faced with a rice cooker pot, I never got it right. (Damn that “needs more water” reflex.)

So I surrendered the rice cooker to John long ago, even as I handled the rest of the cooking at home. Why bother trying, when chances are he’s going to hate my rice anyhow?

Then came yesterday evening, when John needed to do some work in the department. I knew he wouldn’t be home until I finished dinner — or later. But our meal, curried cauliflower, wouldn’t be a meal without, well, you know.

“So I guess I have to make the rice?” I said.

“You see the tip of my finger? Just make the water on top of the rice no higher than that.”

So that evening, I rinsed the rice and added water until it was a “fingertip” above the rice. I then set the rice cooker on and waited for its click of judgment. When I finally looked under the lid, there it was — a steaming cooker filled with the most perfect rice I’d ever made, not too dry and not too soggy.

Too bad my husband came home too late to really appreciate it. He stumbled in almost two hours after I finished my curry, so I had to warm up the rice and curry.

Still, I couldn’t help but ask.

“So, how was my rice?”

“It’s fine.”

Maybe I hoped for something more, because I secretly knew this was some of the best rice I’d ever made. But then again, he never called my rice “fine” before.

Fine rice? Admit it John, you loved it. 😉

Have you ever struggled to cook food the kind of food your boyfriend/girlfriend or wife/husband would love?

17 Replies to “How I Finally Learned To Make Fine Rice”

  1. Haha if I were you, I would’ve expected more as well, although I understand that “fine” may be the best you can get. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had this exchange with my boyfriend:

    Me: How’s the food?
    My bf: Hai hao.
    Me (pretend-angry): Just okay??

    In his words, he’ll eat anything as long as it’s not bean sprouts (allergic). So anything else tastes good or “fine” to him, but some Chinese guys just don’t get excited about food like we do =)

  2. When my wife first came to America, she could cook most Chinese foods, but realized my stomach was still American and that I would want American food every now and then. One day while I was at work, she decided to have a pizza ready for me when I got home. She put a slice of white bread, with some ketchup with a cut up hot dog and a slice of American cheese in the toaster oven till the cheese melted. It was horrible, but I ate it, thanked her for it, then explained to her what went into making a pizza. She started watching the Food Network, researched the internet for a pizza dough recipe, found out what toppings I liked, accepted my suggestion that spaghetti sauce was great substitute for pizza sauce, bought a pizza pan and went to town. By her third pizza she had surpassed Domino’s and Pizza Hut in taste and now her pizzas are as good as the best pizzas anywhere. Since we moved to China she buys all the necessary spices online, buys the veggies at the store and now makes sauce from scratch.
    In Texas, her Chinese were legendary in my workplace and the hit of every potluck, but here in China, her pizzas are the hit of the party whenever family or friends get together.

    But I digress…. I told her a long time ago, that “It was OK” or “It was good” was high praise from me. what’s important is that I’ll eat more than one helping of it, and afterwards I give her a kiss and say thank you and offer to do the dishes.

  3. My Korean ex loved my tea. I’d make tea for him the way I wouldn’t even make it for myself; I make sure there was no spoon in the cup, that the teabag is in tea for a number of minutes and that cold air wasn’t circling the room. He always asked me for seconds and thirds when it came to tea. (He did tell me that he enjoyed tea, but the fact he asked more for it, well that’s a sign he loved it.)

  4. When I first saw the rice cooker, I was fascinated. I asked my husband, “What is that?” My husband showed me how to use it and I was so impressed. I grew up making rice in the pain-in-the-butt way. I called all my relatives about such a miracle worker. 😀 I have been meaning to buy my family members all their own rice cooker. Love it.

    My husband keeps saying he loves my food (even though I hate my own – I am much happier with other people’s cooking). He loves my own version of recipes: East meets West spaghetti (I changed it for his liking). My mother in law even liked my own version of Spaghetti; she quickly ate it up. I was shocked but happy. 🙂

    My husband would cook me Chinese dishes, I eat it, and then I would mimic it exactly. It freaks out my husband. He would say, “But I didn’t show you how I cooked it or what ingredients I use.”

    ….and there was a time when I accidently made a Taiwanese dish, but that’s another story.

    It’s true, I cook just to make my husband smile. 🙂

  5. Ah, the art of cooking the perfect rice! Is it an art really? I don’t know. I don’t cook. But with a rice cooker, the perfect rice shouldn’t be too difficult. Just remember the ideal water level above the rice, like John said and presto! you have “fine” rice! I like my rice white and fluffy, not too dry nor soggy. If it is too soggy, it is called porridge or congee as far as I am concerned. Fluffy white rice goes nicely with curry meat or vege Yes ma’am! Yummy!

  6. Don’t you just love the instruction of “finger tip over the rice”? I got the same instruction from my mom 🙂
    Here in US, you can get rice from all over the places. My favorite is the one from Tailand. However, each brand is different, some need more water, some need less. I just don’t get why there is no instruction on the ratio of rice vs water. (e.g. One cup rice, one and half cups of water)
    I guess it assumes one can cook rice without the learning process 🙂

  7. The reason that rice-water ratios don’t work is because the amount of water lost during cooking will be the same whether you cook a large amount or a small amount of rice. Using the rice to water ratio and cooking 2 cups of rice vs. cooking .5 cups of rice will leave the 2 cups of rice much wetter than the .5 cups. The type of pot you use matters as well because tighter lids will release less water while loose fitting lids will have the opposite effect. This article explains it much better than I can

    I cook my rice in a pot and what generally works for me (for a short grained calrose/sushi rice) is a ratio of 1:1 for rice and water plus a little extra water (about 1/4 cup). The “little extra” water is always the same whether I am cooking a little or a lot of rice. I rinse the rice two or three times, add the water and then let the rice soak for about 30 minutes. The soaking is important! Then cover, turn the heat on high to bring rice to a boil, boil for one minute, then turn the heat down as low as possible and cook for 15 minutes. No peeking! After 15 minutes, turn the heat off and let the rice sit for at least 10 minutes without lifting the lid.

  8. Once upon a time a pizza-loving friend asked me if I know something about pizzle, I told him no and I guessed the main ingredients of pizza should be just like Chinese steamed stuffed bun (baozi), then asked him if he know how to cook pizza, he also told me “No”.
    So I am totally not strange a foreign woman does not know how to cook rice even in China a ten-year old kid can cook delicious rice. You do not do it, so of course you do not know it.
    I think the main points of cooking rice is the ration of rice vs water and what taste you want the rice to be. Some people like softer rice, such as old people, some like stiffer rice. Just try several times, then you can make nice rice.
    Indeed there is nothing more easier than making rice in kitchen. Good luck.

  9. Different types of rice require certain amount of your hand flat in the rice cooker and put water close to your knuckle area

  10. I LOVE to cook, it is one of my favorite things to do.
    I’m not sure about anyone else but my cheap drugstore $10 rice cooker comes with a cup and lines on it to show where to fill with water.
    I honestly think if I tried to cook rice in a regular pan I would kill it…haha!
    The rice cooker is my best friend!

  11. Long time since I’ve cooked white rice in a pot, not a rice electric pot.

    Actually don’t eat much white rice these days compared to lst 30 yrs. in life when I had it nearly for every dinner. White rice is high glycemic stuff and I end up tipping towards diabetes 2. But you would never guess given my light weight, etc.

    Too much of the stuff, I just don’t feel well anymore.

    But yes, I did master how to make white rice before electric cookers.

  12. Don’t let him make the rice anymore. You need the practice! Start by NOT adding enough water. Cook it, and when the water is all soaked up, you can ADJUST by adding more hot water. You’ll figure it out very soon. Good luck!

  13. My husband told me about the finger method too, but I don’t use it because I find that it only works when you’re making a large quantity of rice. I often make one or two cups of rice at a time, because I’m the only one that eats it—I married a noodle man. A friend of mine, raised in a Japanese-American home, told me that the volume of water should be 1 to 1.5 times the volume of the rice. I’ve stared measuring my rice out with a paper cup, and I’ve never had a problem since.

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