Rice is one of the most versatile and inexpensive staple foods in the world, which is a good reason to build a meal around it any time you're cooking for a group. However, when planning the meal, you calculate the number of servings based on a given quantity of cooked rice, but dry, uncooked rice is what you start with. The conversion is actually easy, depending on the type of rice used in your recipe.
Uncooked to Cooked Rice
Most of the volume of a grain of rice is made up of tightly packed granules of starch. When you cook the rice those granules absorb the cooking liquid, softening, swelling up and increasing dramatically in size.
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Most varieties of rice absorb roughly twice their volume of water, so at the end of your cooking time they'll have tripled in volume. That means for every cup of uncooked rice you started with, you'll have approximately 3 cups of cooked rice. There is some variation between the uncooked and cooked rice, depending on the type of rice you've chosen.
Rice Selection and Volume
Broadly speaking, there are two types of rice. There is long-grain rice, which has a relatively cylindrical kernel. Long-grain rice includes white and brown long-grain rice, Thai scented rice and Indian basmati. Long-grain rice varieties are usually cooked in ways that make them light and fluffy, and can have a higher volume as a result.
Short- and medium-grain rice varieties are starchier and have a slightly oval shape, like tiny footballs. Because of the starchiness, a shorter-grained rice cooks up to a sticky consistency and holds together readily. This makes the rice compact when it is cooked, and closer to the three-to-one ratio.
Rice to Water Ratio
Part of the appeal of basmati and other long-grain rices is that they have a light, chewy consistency as opposed to the softer texture of short-grain rices. To emphasize this, they're usually cooked in less water than other rices.
When cooking long grain rice, the general rule is 1 cup white rice to 1 3/4 to 2 cups water, while brown rice requires 2 to 3 cups water, depending on how soft you prefer your rice. Add extra water to make softer rice.
Medium- and short-grain rice uses a ratio of 1 cup rice to 1 1/2 cups water. Converted rice is 1 cup rice to 2 to 2 1/2 cups water. If using instant rice, follow the package directions.
Fluffy Rice Method
Combine the rice and water in a pan. Bring to a boil, turn down and cook for the recommended time, or 15 minutes for long-, medium- or short-grain white rice. Cook brown rice for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the water has been completely absorbed.
When the rice is fully cooked, remove the lid and let steam escape for at least five minutes while the rice cools and then firms slightly. When you can lift it with a fork without the grains breaking, fluff it gently with the fork or turn out your rice into a bowl and toss it until the grains are loose and separate. This can increase your volume to as much as four cups of cooked rice for each cup of uncooked rice.
Rice and Portion Calculations
The other side of your recipe calculation is determining how much rice you'll actually need to serve. That depends largely on the type of meal you're planning. If rice is going to be one side dish among many, the usual allowance is a 1/2 cup of rice per diner. So when preparing the rice, 1 cup dry rice to cooked perfection becomes approximately 3 cups, or six 1/2 cup servings.
If you're planning to serve a dish centered around rice, such as a stir-fry, it's prudent to allow up to 1 cup per diner. For a rice pilaf or similar dish, stretching the rice with vegetables or other ingredients, assume 1 cup of rice per person but serve at least 1 1/2 cups of the finished pilaf.