Mushy bulgur makes soggy salads and pilafs. Although you may want your bulgur soft enough to start breaking down if you're using it as a breakfast cereal, bulgur is usually most appealing cooked until it is no longer crunchy but still firm enough to provide texture in a salad. Slightly firm bulgur also absorbs flavor more fully than overcooked bulgur, which already contains so much moisture that soaks up little marinade.
Soaking bulgur takes longer than cooking it on a steady flame, but soaked bulgur is less likely to be mushy because it absorbs less water. Use 2 cups of boiling water per cup of fine-grind or medium-grind bulgur. Don't try soaking coarse-grain bulgur, because the pieces are too large to fully cook without ongoing heat. Fine-grind bulgur absorbs all the water it needs in about 7 minutes; medium-grind bulgur takes 15 minutes.
When you cook bulgur on the stovetop, the continuous heat makes the grain absorb water more quickly than if you simply poured boiling water over the bulgur and let it cool. Use three parts water to one part fine bulgur, cook for 2 minutes, and then turn off the heat and let it stand another 4 minutes to soften without growing mushy. Use the same proportion of water for medium bulgur, but cook it for 8 minutes and let it stand for 5 minutes.
Slowing the Cooking Process
Bulgur that sits in extra water continues absorbing it, especially if the bulgur and water are warm. Abate the cooking process before your bulgur grows mushy by chilling grain that has been cooked or soaked in warm water, especially if you will use the bulgur in a salad or stew that you plan to cook later. Drain excess moisture to prevent additional absorption once your bulgur has reached the consistency you desire.
Using Firm Bulgur
Bulgur that has been cooked until firm but not mushy has relatively little excess moisture. Unlike mushy bulgur, which may even release some of its extra cooking liquid when you mix it with other recipe ingredients, bulgur that has been properly cooked won't dilute sauces or soften other ingredients. Season firm bulgur liberally with flavorful marinades, and prevent extra cooking by adding it to stews once accompanying ingredients are almost fully cooked.
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