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Cooking Tips

For a Better Rice Salad, Cook the Rice Like Pasta

I only cooked rice pilaf-style before I learned this tip. Now my rice salads are better than ever.

Published Jan. 28, 2022.

If you’re stirring in hearty vegetables like cauliflower or chicken to your refreshing rice salads, you just can’t cook the rice the same way as if you were serving it straight from the pot. With each stir, the  soft, fluffy grains quickly begin to clump and fall apart. Now your rice salad is clumpy and mushy. 

To prevent this, cook your rice like pasta. This helps prevent the grains from blowing out and fraying, so they hold their structure while maintaining a tender chew. Plus, if you toast your rice before cooking it, you can still do that with this method.

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I only cooked rice pilaf-style before I learned this tip. But now my rice salads are better than ever, even after reheating. The secret is more water and less cooking. No, I don’t mean undercooking—think al dente, tender but not soft. The water washes away excess starch as the rice cooks, which staves off stickiness. Draining the rice after cooking keeps it from taking on additional water, and cooling it in one layer prevents clumping.

How to Cook Rice for a Salad

This method is specific to long-grain rice, but will work for all varieties within the group: basmati, jasmine, brown, black.

  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large stockpot. 
  2. For an added boost of nutty flavor, toast rice in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until faintly fragrant and some grains turn opaque, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add salt to boiling water and stir in toasted rice. 
  4. Return to boil and cook, uncovered, until rice is tender but not soft, 8 to 10 minutes for long-grain rice or about 15 minutes for basmati. Add an additional 5 to 10 minutes for black rice
  5. Meanwhile, line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. 
  6. Drain rice in a large fine-mesh strainer or colander; spread on prepared baking sheet. 
  7. Let cool completely before mixing in salad ingredients.
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