Back-of-the-package instructions for pantry basics such as angel hair pasta, rice, couscous, and quinoa may be simple, but blindly following them can often lead to soggy and/or tasteless results. Cooking these basics properly requires a finessed approach, which is what we offer you with the tried-and-true methods outlined below. They're still quick and easy, but we guarantee that they will produce perfectly cooked results, every time.
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How to Cook Angel Hair Pasta
With an average diameter of less than 1 millimeter, angel hair pasta is so delicate that it goes from pleasantly tender to hopelessly overcooked in a heartbeat. That means that in the few seconds required to taste-test a strand, the rest of the pot could overcook into a disappointing pile of mush. Because the cooking time on the box is generally too long, we eliminated any guesswork by determining exactly how long to boil three top-selling brands.
Boil angel hair pasta in 4 quarts of boiling water and 1 tablespoon of table salt using our recommended cooking times below.
How to Cook White Rice
Although many packages call for 2 parts water to 1 part rice, our recipe for Steamed White Rice uses a 3:2 ratio to produce tender, evenly cooked grains. We also found that rinsing the grains removed some of their surface starch and boiling during the first 5 minutes of cooking provided enough agitation to release the remaining starch, resulting in rice that was soft enough to soak up savory sauces and sticky enough to be picked up with chopsticks.
1. Place 2-cups long-grain white rice in fine-mesh strainer set over bowl. Rinse under running water, swishing with your hands, until water runs clear. Drain thoroughly.
2. Bring rice and 3 cups water to boil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, uncovered, until water level drops below surface of rice and small holes form, about 5 minutes.
3. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until rice is tender and water is fully absorbed. about 15 minutes. Serve.
How to Cook Couscous
No matter how precisely we followed the package directions on couscous (pouring boiling water onto the couscous and letting it stand off heat), the results were always discouragingly similar to wet sand: bland, blown-out pebbles that stuck together in clumps. We found that we could get much better results with a pilaf method. Our Basic Couscous starts by gently and uniformly browning the tiny grains of semolina pasta in butter to help them cook up fluffy and separate; it also provides some much-needed flavor. To bump up the flavor even further, we replace half of the water called for in the box instructions with chicken broth.
1. Heat 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in medium saucepan high heat. When foaming subsides, add 2 cups couscous and cook, stirring frequently, until grains are just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.
2. Add 1 cup water, 1 cup chicken broth, and 1 teaspoon table salt. Off heat, stir briefly to combine and then cover.
3. Let stand until grains are tender, about 7 minutes. Uncover and fluff grains with fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
How to Cook Quinoa
Most box instructions for quinoa produce grains that are soggy and woefully overcooked because they call for nearly twice as much liquid as they should. We cut the water way back: 1¾ cups water to 1½ cups quinoa ensures tender grains with a satisfying bite. For a satisfying Quinoa Pilaf with Chipotle, Queso Fresco, and Peanuts, we toast the quinoa in a dry saucepan to develop its natural nutty flavor before adding water, covering the pot, and letting it simmer for about 20 minutes until the grains are tender and the liquid is absorbed. To finish, we stir in a judicious amount of boldly flavored mix-ins.