Is it baasmati or basmaati? Well, whatever it is, how do you get it so tender?

August 10th, 2011

Ever wondered what the basic differences are between the eating habits of Indians and Anglo-Saxons?

Ask an Anglo-Saxon what he/she had for lunch or dinner and 90 out of 100 times the answer is, “I had roast chicken or grilled lamb chops or steak and salad or…”

Ask the same question to an Indian and the most frequent answer is about having eaten roti or chaawal or saadam or bhakri or bati or poli ( these are the names of various breads or rice dishes).

Anglo-Saxon meals revolve around protein whereas the Indian diet is more about starch and hence it is extremely important for the average Indian to get his/her starch right or else all hell breaks loose!! You may be the best protein chef on the planet but if you don’t get the rice or the bread right you are doomed and could end up in the house of the big M!

“So, how do you cook your rice?”

Well, when I’m asked this question in my class, most participants will say that if they’re going to cook rice you put one cup of  rice in the rice cooker with enough water to cover and that’s it!! Easy. Easy? If I used this technique in my kitchen I would fail as a chef.


Well, because I believe that if you can’t see it you can’t control it; and if you can’t control it, then it is either going to be over or under cooked and both of these are unacceptable for the paying customer.

So how do I get it right every time? The answer is simple, I follow a technique that is good for a type of rice called baasmati (pronounced ‘baas’ which means flavour and ‘mati’ which means full of, as in literally full of flavour!!). There are two ways of cooking this wonderful rice: the first is by absorption and the second is by draining.

Using the absorption method I add one-part rice gradually to two-and-a-half-parts of boiling salted water, and I stir it continuously to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pot and to evenly distribute the water temperature.

I stir the pot  until the water is absorbed by the rice, eventually forming ‘craters’ (little steam holes) in the rice. This is an indication that the rice has absorbed all the moisture and needs more. But beware, because if you do add more water you will end up with baasmati ‘congee’ (porridge) which is a wonderful dish in its own right but not one we’re after!

Once the steam holes have formed on the rice it is time to cover the rice with a moist cloth and a tight-fitting lid. The pot then goes on top of a hot-plate or into a fan-forced oven (140 C) for about eight minutes.

When you then take the pot out of the oven the rice must be allowed to breathe and you do this by simply removing the lid and the moist cloth and lifting the rice with a spatula, just as if you were lifting a slice of cake. Lifting the rice separates the grains and also allows them to expand further, which is an absolute delight to the eyes and nose!

Let the rice cool and reheat in a microwave, as required. Serve as an accompaniment with your favourite protein and expect the customer to pay you at least $2.50 more as this is one of the best ways to cook rice!

The other way of cooking rice is called the draining method.

The draining method requires a little more patience, practice and perseverance but once you master it you will be so proud!!

Okay, so this is how it works: Soak 1 kg baasmati rice in a mixing bowl with about 1-inch of water to cover.

soaking the rice

Please note that I wrote ‘soak’. When you wash the rice in running water, don’t rub the rice between your fingers to clean it as is common practice! Baasmati rice is a polished grain and has no starch on its surface. If you rub it you actually remove its polish and bring out its starch to the surface, which is an absolute crime, as the rice will become sticky when it should be just the opposite! Got it?!!

Next, add some water  (five times the volume of the rice) to a heavy-based pan, add salt (1/2 teaspoon for 1 kg. of rice) and bring to the boil.

Drain the rice when it has risen to the surface of the water you were soaking it in and add it to the boiling water.

Stir gently with a slotted spoon (as  a slotted spoon is good to separate the rice , when stirring)  Bring the water back to the boil, stirring continuously, very slowly, and watch for any ‘froth’ that forms. Don’t take your eye off the boiling rice.

Adding the drained rice to make biryani

Once the froth forms, drain the rice in a strainer  and spread the rice on a tray. Break a grain of rice in the middle with your thumb and forefinger, take a deep breath, say your prayers and hope to find a white dot in the middle of the grain. This tiny white dot is the only uncooked rice there should be! When the rice is at this stage it’s called al dente in Italian and ek kan in dakhni. Ek kan rice can be layered on top of partially cooked meat and then dum cooked in the oven. This is the best way of cooking rice for biryanis and is just how they do it in the Paradise Hotel in Hyderabad!!

If you do find this white dot in the middle of your rice you can thank me. If you don’t, you’ve only got yourself to blame and you can get straight back into the kitchen and start washing the dishes as you’re not fit to be a cook. Just kidding! Take a deep breath and try again and again, till you get it right!!

When your rice is at this stage it’s also the best way of storing it for a few days without it going off. It is also a good method for steaming rice as it never overcooks and comes out soft and fluffy.

So, to make perfect steamed rice on the day of your Indian party, get a double boiler ready with a muslin cloth lined inside the strainer, bring the water to the boil and allow to simmer, then add your pre-cooked al dente rice to the double boiler. Cover with a lid and wait for the steam to start emerging. In a few minutes you will have perfectly cooked, steamed baasmati rice which will amaze your guests and then you can charge $5 per person for all the bl**dy hard work you’ve put in!!
My dear friends, next week we will talk about the other popular starch in India called atta that makes the roti, chapati, poli (Maharashtrian and not the Keralan ), rotli, phulka, and many more that even I am still learning about!

Untill then, happy cooking!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

Try these two delicious rice recipes: coconut rice and tomato rice.


  1. the zojirushi rice cooker

    I love looking through a post that can make people think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!

  2. Rob Hale

    Hi Ajoy. This is awesome!! I’ve never got rice right, and now am tempted to give it another go. Sure makes “roast chicken or grilled lamb chops or steak and salad” look very ordinary. Cheers!!

  3. alok Sharma

    Great bhaisahib.
    Meri saanson ko jo mehka rahi hai
    basmati chawal ki khushboo shayad teri baton se aa rahi hai

  4. Angelo Roche

    Ajoy, you are a passionate man on a great mission. Great work man. Placing this intricate and complex cuisine where it really belongs. It is just not a curry!!!!!

  5. Gulamrasool Noohu

    How many of us overlook these basic techniques of Indian cooking. Look forward to your next one already, Ajoy !!

  6. Anonymous

    How many of us overlook these basic facts of Indian cooking !!

  7. Anonymous

    WOW! Quite a bit I had not the faintest inkling on!!Fantabulous!

  8. Lathif- Wagga Wagga

    Dear Ajoy,
    That was fantastic Ajoy. It was nice to know the meaning of Basmati. I didn’t realise the importance of the washing technique of basmati and the reason for it. I agree with you that to get a good dish, you need to know the concept and there is a lot of hard work. I think its worth. Thanks Ajoy again and I have learnt a lot from you, Keep it up and I really appreciate sharing your knowledge.

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