At first glance, basmati rice may appear like any other white rice -- but that's before you experience its nutty flavors and aroma. A type of long-grain rice predominant in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, basmati rice is extremely thin, so it's sometimes described as "needle-shaped." It lengthens as it cooks, and the grains remain distinctly separate from one another, rather than clumping or sticking as other long-grain varietals might. Proper cooking is a must for you to truly enjoy the nuances of basmati. Plain cooked basmati soaks up flavorful Indian curries and is classically served alongside tandoori barbecue. Alternatively, cook basmati into a flavorful Indian pilaf redolent with spices such as saffron. or cinnamon and cardamom.
Seek out high-quality basmati, which is readily found at most large grocery stores and specialty markets. Basmati is traditionally rinsed and soaked before cooking. Simply place the dry rice in a fine mesh colander and run it under running water; place into a shallow bowl and cover with cool, clean water. Allow it to sit for about 30 minutes. You can skip the soaking method, but the rice may come out unevenly cooked and may clump together.
Lots of Water
Traditional Indian cooks boil basmati in an abundant amount of water, just like pasta. Bring about 6 cups of plain, unsalted water to a boil and then add 1 cup of soaked rice. Allow to boil for three to five minutes, until the grains are barely tender. Drain the rice in a fine sieve and return it to a pot with a pat of butter or clarified butter, known as ghee. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and steam over very low heat for another 20 minutes. You may also put the boiled rice into a baking pan with butter, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 45 minutes.
Simple Absorption Method
Alternatively, you can cook basmati like any other long-grain white rice. First soak one cup of rice in 2 1/2 cups of cool water for about 30 minutes. Once it's soaked, drain and reserve the water. Place about 1 cup of rice in a saucepan and cover with the leftover water. If you skip soaking, place one cup of water in a pan with 1 1/2 cups of water -- and a pinch of salt, if desired. Some purists discourage salting the water while cooking basmati rice as they feel it masks some of the pure flavor of the rice. Bring the water and rice to a boil over high heat, cover and reduce the heat to low. After 15 to 20 minutes, remove the rice from the heat and let it sit -- still covered -- for five to 10 more minutes. Stir lightly with a spoon or fork to separate the grains before serving.
To flavor basmati with saffron, soak a few strands of saffron in a tablespoon or two of warm milk. Boil the dry rice in lots of water for several minutes, drain and place into a baking pan. Cover with drizzles of the saffron milk and pats of butter before covering tightly with foil and baking in the 300-degree oven for 45 minutes. The rice steams as it cooks, becoming infused with the aroma of the spice.
Other spices, such as whole cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and cardamom pods, complement the nutty taste of basmati and the heady spices of Indian curries. If you plan to flavor the rice with these spices, lightly toast them in a medium saucepan coated with oil over high heat for 20 to 30 seconds first. You know they're ready when they begin to release their aromas. Add the soaked, drained rice and coat with the spices and oil. Pour in about 2 1/4 cups of water per 2 cups of grains and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly with a lid and allow to cook for 20 minutes.
Optionally top the rice with a drizzle of milk-soaked saffron and recap the lid to allow the rice to soak up the spice for another 10 minutes or so. Resist the urge to lift the lid and check on the rice as it cooks; this disturbs the steaming process and risks unevenly cooked rice.