If you’ve ever tried to cook sticky rice, you probably know that it isn’t quite as straightforward as cooking regular rice. There are lots of ways to do it, so many that I shared a video previously with 7 different ways to cook sticky rice.
I thought I had exhausted all my options. But, no. I saw Saeng from Saeng's Kitchen doing it differently, which intrigued me and launched me into further research. After some experimentation and tweaks of Saeng's method, THIS is how I'm cooking my sticky rice from now on!
The Problems with Other Ways of Cooking Sticky Rice
A bit of context, the 7 ways to cook sticky rice that I shared previously fell into 2 major categories:
- The "cold soak" methods (previously called soak-and-steam methods). This is the traditional way Thai and other Southeast Asian people cook sticky rice. You simply soak the rice in room temp water for an absolute minimum of 3 hours and upto overnight. Then drain and steam it using various steaming implements.
This method is super easy, foolproof, with no precision needed, but the several hours of advance planning it requires is the main issue.
- The no-soak methods. The sticky rice is cooked directly in water without soaking. This is the fastest way and solves the advance planning issue, but the results are generally not as good and you do need to be very precise - it is not foolproof at all.
The new method I’m sharing - "the hot soak" - takes the best of both worlds. It doesn’t require advance planning, and it yields a result that is even better than the traditional method!
How To Cook Sticky Rice - The Hot Soak Method
This is how it's done. It's very simple, but if this is your first time I recommend watching the video tutorial to ensure success!
- Bring plenty of water to a full boil; you need enough to submerge your rice by about an inch.
- While the water is heating, wash your sticky rice by placing the rice into a large mixing bowl, add plenty of room temp water and swish the rice aggressively with your hands to dislodge loose starch. Pour off the cloudy water and repeat the washing 3-4 times until the water runs mostly clear. Doesn't have to be crystal clear.
- Drain the rice well and then put the rice in a heat proof bowl.
- Once the water comes to a FULL rolling boil (not a simmer!) pour the water over the rice until it comes up about ½ - 1 inch above the rice. Give the rice a stir to break up any lumps, and let it soak for 20 minutes.
Tip: If cooking a very small or very large amount of rice, see caveats and tip below for some important adjustments.
- Meanwhile, set up your steamer and bring your steaming water to a boil. For more on different steaming implements that you can use to steam the sticky rice, see methods 1-3 of my 7 ways to cook sticky rice post.
- Once the rice is done soaking, rinse the rice with cool tap water to remove any starch that has come out during the soaking, then drain.
- Place the drained rice into your steamer and steam over boiling water for 20-30 minutes depending on the amount. That's it!
Why This Method Works
In the traditional method, the rice soaks up water slowly at room temperature. By using hot water, we speed up that soaking time AND the higher temperature forces the rice to absorb MORE water than it normally can at room temp, so the result is not only a much faster soak, but also a slightly softer rice.
And this is the reason why I actually prefer the hot soaked rice, because it stays soft even after it has cooled down. By contrast, cold soaked sticky rice hardens and dries out quite quickly once it cools.
Previously in my 7 ways to cook sticky rice post, I shared a hack for cooking sticky rice that would stay soft when cooled. It involves steeping cold-soaked sticky rice in hot water for 10 minutes before steaming. Little did I know then that I can skip the cold soak altogether and just do a longer hot soak!
Some Caveats and Tips for Success
With this method, you don't need to be super precise, but here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don't add an excessive amount of water. The instruction is to add enough water so it comes up 0.5-1 inch above the rice, and while you don't need to get out your ruler, you don't want to add a ton of extra water. The larger the amount of water, the hotter it stays, and if it's too hot, the 20-min soak might be too long, causing the rice to be too soft.
- If you're cooking a large amount of rice, consider cutting down soaking time. I have tried this method successfully for up to 3 cups of uncooked rice. If you're cooking more, you may need to cut down soaking time by a few minutes for the same reason as above - a large amount of water stays hotter for longer. I don't imagine 4 cups would present an issue, but 5+ cups might start to make a significant difference.
- If you're cooking a very small amount of rice, 1 cup or less, you might want to up the water a bit as a small amount of water will cool down faster. So instead of covering the rice by 0.5-1 inch, make it 1-1.5 inches.
- Adjust according to your preference! The beauty of this method is that once you know how it works, it can be manipulated to produce the texture you prefer! If you prefer softer rice, add more hot water or extend soaking time. If you like it firmer, reduce the soaking time.
Summary: Pros and Cons of Different Sticky Rice Cooking Methods
As a summary, let's take a look at the pros and cons of each method:
Traditional Cold-Soak Methods:
+ Foolproof. No precision needed, no measuring or timing anything.
- Many hours of advance planning required.
- Rice dries out easily unless you use a hack to prevent it.
+ Gets rice on the table the fastest (takes ~30 mins all-in)
+ No advance prep required
- Rice texture not ideal
- Needs precision. Not foolproof.
+ No advance prep needed (takes about 45 mins all-in)
+ Perfect texture; rice stays soft when cool
- Some attention is required with timing and amount of water, but does not need precision.
Based on these pros and cons, it's no question for me that the hot-soak method is the best way to go!
My Experiments: Searching for the perfect rice
If you like to get nerdy with food, as I like to, you might wonder what would happen if you start tweaking variables. This is what I did when testing out this method, and here's what I tried:
- I tried soaking the rice for 30 minutes. The rice was a bit too soft when hot, but was okay after it has cooled down. The "too soft" was still edible though, so FYI, it's not the end of the world if you over soak it by a few minutes.
- I tried soaking the rice for 10 minutes. This was not acceptable. The rice did not absorb enough water during the soak and was undercooked. So right around 20 minutes is the sweet spot here, plus/minus a few minutes is probably okay.
- I tried a "super hot soak" by using a larger amount of water, and then covered the bowl to keep it as hot as possible. After only a 10 minute soak, the rice came out too soft, so too-high temp is not good even with a short time. (BTW I turned it into rice pudding which was super delish.)
- I tried stopping the soak mid-way and doing it again the next day. This was a total accident that was quite informative. I had to soak some rice in order to take a photo for the video's thumbnail, but after the photo was done, I wasn't ready to eat it.
So I rinsed it in cold water, drained it, and put it away in the fridge. The next day, I soaked it again in hot water for 15 minutes (guessing that the initial soak was about 5 mins). After steaming, the rice was perfect as if the soak had happened in 1 session.
TAKEAWAY: My experimentation informed me that there are dials you can turn with this method. The important thing is that you need a certain amount of water to be absorbed into the rice, but you can tinker with the timing and temperature quite a bit to make it work with your situation and preference.
Troubleshooting and Sticky Rice FAQ
If after steaming, you still have rice that has opaque centers and is crunchy in the middle, your rice did not absorb enough water and steaming for longer time is not going to fix it.
In this case, remove the steamer basket from the heat and pour cold water over the rice, stirring it so that the additional water coats every grain. Then put it back on the steamer for another 10-15 minutes. The water that gets poured on top will cling onto the rice and gets absorbed during the steaming. Repeat this if necessary.
This means that you let the rice soak for too long, or used too much water, so adjust this accordingly next time. The rice should still be edible though, especially if you let it cool down to room temp, it'll firm up a bit.
Worst case scenario, turn it into tasty coconut rice pudding!
Maybe. It depends on the rice cooker. If you've got a fancy one with a "sweet rice" function, that's the function for sticky rice and it would work fine. (Sweet rice is another name for sticky rice). You will need to wash the rice as usual, and then use a ratio of 1 part water to 1.5 parts rice to start, and adjust as needed.
Yes and yes. Sweet rice and glutinous rice are both alternative names for sticky rice, and in fact, most rice bags will use one of these terms on the label. Note, however, that the rice is not actually sweet, nor does it contain gluten. (Which is why I prefer to call it sticky rice.)
No. Sushi rice may stick to your fingers, but it is not considered a type of "sticky rice". Sticky rice is much stickier and chewier than sushi rice. These sticky rice cooking methods do not apply to sushi rice.
Yes. After the rice has been soaked, rinsed and drained, it can just hang out until you're ready to cook it. You can leave it on the counter for up to 2 hours, or even keep it covered in the fridge for a few days! Steam the rice normally, but if the rice is fridge-cold, you might need to add a few minutes to steaming time.
If using a bamboo cone steamer, you need to soak the basket first. If using a steamer rack, you need to wet the cloth that you are using to line the steamer. If the rice comes into contact with dry absorbent surfaces, those surfaces will "suck in" moisture from the rice which causes sticking.
How to Cook Sticky Rice - Hot Soak Method
- Steamer see note 1
- 1½ cup Thai white glutinous rice, or however much you are cooking, see note 2
- If using a regular steamer rack, you'll need to line it with a muslin or tea towel to prevent the rice from falling through the holes. Make sure the cloth is wet, which will prevent the rice from sticking to the cloth. You can also use a traditional bamboo cone steamer. See the video tutorial for what this looks like.
- Thai sticky rice is often labeled as "glutinous rice" or "sweet rice". Look for long grain rice that is opaque, and it should be a product of Thailand.
FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL
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- Bring plenty of water to a FULL rolling boil; you need enough water to submerge your rice by about an inch.
- Meanwhile wash your sticky rice by placing the rice into a large mixing bowl, adding plenty of room temp water and swishing the rice around until the water is cloudy. Pour off the water and repeat the washing at least 3-4 times until the water runs mostly clear. Drain the rice well and then put the rice in a heatproof bowl.
- Pour the boiling water over the rice until it comes up to ½ - 1 inch above the rice. (You don't need to be precise, but don't add an excessive amount of water) Give the rice a stir to break up any lumps, then let it soak for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, set up your steamer and bring your steaming water to a boil. If using a cloth-lined steamer rack, make sure the cloth is wet so the rice won't stick to it. If using the bamboo cone steamer, soak the steaming basket beforehand also. (See the video tutorial above to see the correct set up if this is your first time steaming sticky rice.)
- Once the rice is done soaking, rinse the rice with cool tap water to remove any starch that might have come out during the soaking, then drain.
- Place the drained rice into your steamer, and use your finger to make a hole in the center to eliminate the "thick middle" that would take a longer time to cook. Steam over boiling water for 20-30 minutes depending on the amount of rice. Check the middle part of the rice, and if there are no more opaque centers, it's done and ready to serve!
- Serving tip: Keep the rice covered with a tea towel while it's on the table so it will stay warm and moist.