Not too long ago, shortly after Chatelaine got on TikTok (hello!), my own account’s algorithm started showing me a steady stream of gross-out cooking videos—the kind purposefully meant to incite disgust, or rage, or any feeling more powerful (i.e. clicky) than “wow, I’d like to make that!” They’re fascinating in their own sort of sordid way, but I stopped short when I scrolled into one that had someone cooking rice in oil instead of water—the suggestion here being that rice and oil don’t go together, that the result is gross, and indeed the amount of oil being used in this clip was obscene. But hear me out: sautéing rice before cooking it is actually quite delicious, and you should try it.
Chances are you already have. If you’ve ever made pilaf, paella, or biryani, you’ve used a version this technique—though each of those things carry reputations of being high-effort main dishes. The kind of rice I’m talking about isn’t that. I mean quite simply frying your rice a little before boiling it, just enough to give it a slightly toasted flavour, but not so much as to cook it through before adding liquid. Maybe you’ll add a few smashed cloves of garlic to the oil while you’re frying. For extra flavour, maybe instead of water you use a little chicken or vegetable broth. Either way, the result is a seasoned, hardy rice that’s far less likely to overcook or clump together if stored in the fridge. Households all over Latin America make it this way (it’s how my mom prepared it growing up), and it’s handy for cutting down cooking times on denser grains such as brown rice.
So what does this method do differently than the many East and Southeast Asian versions of fried rice, which involves stir-frying rice after it’s been cooked? On some level, they have a similar goal: articulated grains that don’t stick together, which is caused by excess starch. Frying well-rinsed rice before cooking achieves this by reducing starch before adding liquid and giving the grains a chewy, denser texture and slightly toasted taste. Frying afterwards—and ideally frying leftover rice that has had time to dry up a bit—means the hot oil is interacting with starches that have already gelatinized through cooking and firmed up again, resulting in something a bit crispier. Both methods are quick and extremely tasty.
Do I always cook rice this way? No: curries and saucy stews just soak into steamed rice better, and there is something so comforting about fragrant plain rice. But regardless of what TikTok says, it’s well worth trying.
Here’s how to do it:
- Heat 1 tbsp of oil for each cup of rice you’d like to cook in a lidded sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add aromatics (garlic, cilantro stems, dried chilies, saffron, you name it) and fry until fragrant.
- Add rice and toss to coat every grain; fry until slightly translucent and nutty, about 2-3 min.
- Add cooking liquid and cover pan with lid. Turn heat to high until rice comes to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until liquid is fully incorporated and rice is fluffy, 8 to 12 min. (Cooking times will vary depending on variety of rice.) Remove lid and fluff with a fork.