Undercooked Rice? Here Are 4 Tester-Approved Ways to Fix It.

published Feb 18, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I have a confession: I only recently learned how to cook rice properly on the stovetop. Because I grew up in an Asian household, I have always used a rice cooker to make my rice, which turns out perfect rice every time.

In college, when I started experimenting with various cuisines, I tried making Spanish rice from scratch on the stovetop. While I thought I followed the recipe closely, I ended up with undercooked rice. After a few more attempts resulted in rice that was either dry, chewy, or soggy, I gave up — until a couple of months ago when a powerful tropical storm knocked out the power lines around my neighborhood, and we lost power for a couple days. The roads were blocked, so I couldn’t drive to the grocery store. Luckily, I had a 20-pound bag of rice sitting in my pantry. Although I couldn’t use the rice cooker, I could use my gas range.

In my candle-lit kitchen, I tried making rice on the stovetop. On my first attempt, it was chewy and still a tad hard in the middle — in other words, it was undercooked again! After that incident, I was determined to figure out the proper way to cook rice on the stovetop — and how to rescue it when things go wrong.

How to Properly Cook Rice — And What Can Go Wrong

For properly cooked rice — that is, rice that’s soft, fluffy, and cooked through without being soggy — you need to start with the correct ratio of rice to water, which varies depending on what sort of rice you’re cooking. (Kitchn’s Rice-o-pedia: A Cook’s Guide to Rice is an excellent resource for how much water and cook time each grain needs.)

Once you have your water and rice ratios down, you need to cook the rice for the appropriate amount of time at the right temperature.  If the heat is too high, the water evaporates before the rice has a chance to fully cook. If you don’t add enough water, the rice ends up dry and crunchy. And if you don’t cook the rice long enough, it gets soft on the outside but doesn’t cook through.

Of course, you also need to keep in mind variables that are unique to you and your kitchen, such as how hot your stove runs, if your stove runs on gas or electricity, and how thick or thin your pot is. But even if you get all of those things right, sometimes you still end up with undercooked rice. Don’t worry — here are some ways you can rescue your undercooked rice.   

Tips for Fixing Undercooked Rice

1. How to Fix Undercooked Rice with Liquid Left in the Pot

This one is easy to fix! If at the end of your designated cook time, the rice is still too firm but there’s still liquid in the pot, you just need to keep cooking the rice. Continue cooking the rice on low heat with the lid on for another five minutes (you can adjust this up or down depending on how firm the rice is). Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes before fluffing and serving.

2. How to Fix Rice That’s Too Dry with No Liquid Left in the Pot

If at the end of the cooking time your rice is dry and undercooked but all the water is gone, you’re gonna need more water. Add 1/4 cup boiling water to the pot, keep the flame low, and cook for another 5 minutes with the lid on. Then remove the pot from the stove and let it sit for another 10 minutes with the lid on. Fluff the rice with a rice paddle or fork and serve.  

3. How to Fix Rice That’s al Dente with No Liquid Left in the Pot 

While the term al dente is often used to refer to cooking pasta, it also applies to rice that is soft and moist on the outside but still firm and chewy in the middle — usually not the texture I’m going for. This is rice that’s closer to being done than the dry rice described above, but it still needs to be cooked longer. To fix it, transfer the rice to a microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a microwave-safe lid. (You can also purchase a plastic rice steamer made specifically for microwaves.) Microwave until the rice softens and you see steam rising, about 2 minutes. The microwave’s high heat creates steam between the bowl and lid, which cooks the rice without drying it out. Alternatively, you can return the pot to the stove on low heat for another 2 minutes. Once the time is up, remove the pot from the stove, and let it sit covered for another 10 minutes. Fluff up with a rice paddle or fork.  

4. How to Fix Rice That’s Just Slightly Uncooked with No Liquid Left in the Pot

If you bite into the rice and the grains are just a tad chewy and not too moist, your rice is almost there! It’s past al dente at this stage, so bypass further cooking on the stovetop or in the microwave and try this gentler remedy instead: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the rice evenly in a glass baking dish. Be careful not to press down on the rice. You don’t want to end up with stiff rice cakes. Bake, uncovered, until the rice softens, about 10 minutes. 

A Few Words on Overcooked Rice

Chances are, if you’ve undercooked rice once or twice, you’ve probably also overcooked it on some occasions. If you start to spoon the rice and see that the bottom is completely burnt to soot, salvage what you can and toss the rest. But if the rice is only slightly charred and crispy, there’s a silver lining! Add hot water to the pot, scrape up the rice, and turn it into sungnyung, Korean scorched rice water. The nutty drink is a great after-dinner digestif. 

Sadly, when rice is too mushy or soggy (usually the result of using too much water), it’s difficult to use for a side dish, but it’s still perfectly good for other dishes. One of my favorite uses for mushy rice is a soupy Japanese okayu (rice porridge). I add in additional water, mix in a beaten egg, and sprinkle with some chopped scallions for a quick lunch. 

See our guide to fixing overcooked rice for more ideas on how to salvage your rice.