Thai people eat jasmine rice as our main staple, but we also eat sticky rice regularly, especially in the north and the northeast regions. But cooking it isn't straight forward and it's much less forgiving than jasmine rice. So I have put together 7 ways to cook sticky rice, and no matter your situation, one of these methods will work for you!
I highly suggest watching the video tutorial, especially if you're not experienced, as it is much easier to understand these methods by seeing them!
What is sticky rice?
Sticky rice, also called sweet rice or glutinous rice, is much chewier and denser than your average white rice. It's an ultra satisfying texture, and we love to pair it with meats and use it in desserts.
In Thailand, we use long grain sticky rice, which is usually labeled as "sweet rice" or "glutinous rice" and should be a product of Thailand. Short grain sticky rice is also available, but it is used in China and Japan, not in Southeast Asia. In this article, I'm talking about how to cook long grain sticky rice, and I have not tried these methods for short grain sticky rice.
Note that sticky rice is NOT sushi rice. Yes, sushi rice is sticky, but it is not what we're talking about here. When shopping, you should look for grains that are opaque, bright white, and not translucent.
Why Cooking Sticky Rice is (a bit) Tricky
Why are there at least 7 ways to cook sticky rice, and why are none of them just...throwing rice into a pot of water like you do with any other kind of rice? Well, it's because Thai sticky rice is a little bit...sensitive.
Trust me, if you could cook it like regular rice the whole nation of Thailand wouldn't do it any other way. Sticky rice can't absorb much water, and it is not forgiving at all if you add even a bit too much - so cooking it in water willy-nilly can result in mushy rice very easily.
So the wise people of the past discovered that if you soak the rice in water for at least 3 hours until it is completely saturated, and then steam it OUT of water, there is no chance that it can overcook. Brilliant, right?
But not all of us have the time or the equipment to do it traditionally, so here's my roundup of all the ways that I know of that you can cook sticky rice, along with the pros and cons of each method.
How to Make Sticky Rice
The 7 methods can be divided into 2 categories: soak and steam, and no soak. Usually, the results are better using the soak-and-steam methods for the reasons I described above, but if you're short on time, the no soak methods will do in a pinch, but some precision is required.
Methods 1-4: Soak and Steam
These methods start out the same way, so steps 1-2 apply to all 4 methods. The difference is in the steaming stage.
- WASH THE RICE in room temperature water a few times, swishing vigorously with your hand to release the loose starch into the water. Pour off most of the cloudy water and repeat the washing a few more times until the water runs mostly clear. (See video at 00:58) The washing is necessary regardless of which method you choose, otherwise you will end up with gummy rice!
- SOAK THE RICE in plenty of room temperature water for a minimum of 3 hours, preferably 4 (especially if your rice is old), and for up to 12 hours. You can leave the rice out at room temperature, but if it might run longer than 12 hours, put it in the fridge. (See video at 01:45).
- DRAIN THE RICE AND STEAM for 20-30 minutes, using one of the four methods below (see video at the time indicated for details):
- Using a traditional bamboo cone steamer (See video at 02:27)
- Using a regular steamer rack + cloth (See video at 04:50)
- Using a metal sieve (See video at 06:39)
- HACK for sticky rice that needs to be served at room temp. Add an extra steeping step. Steep your rice in hot off-the-boil water for 10 minutes, then drain and steam using any of the implements above. (see video at 07:26)
Note on steaming time: If making a small amount of rice (less than 2 cups) you will only need to steam for 20-25 minutes. For a larger batch, you will need closer to 30 minutes. When in doubt, steam it for longer as the rice will not be overcooked if steamed for a bit too long.
Methods 5-7: No Soak
All no-soak methods start out the same way, so steps 1-2 apply to all 3 methods.
- WASH THE RICE in room temp water a few times, swishing vigorously with your hand to release the loose starch into the water. Pour off most of the cloudy water and repeat the washing a few more times until the water runs mostly clear. (See video at 00:58) The washing is necessary regardless of which method you choose, otherwise you will end up with gummy rice!
- DRAIN THE RICE VERY WELL. This is the thing about not soaking rice - you need a precise amount of water, so you need to make sure that there's not too much washing water left in the rice. Use a sieve, then shake and shake until water is no longer dripping from the rice. .
- COOK THE RICE using any of the methods below using the ratio of 1 part rice to ⅔ parts water by volume. This means if you're cooking 1 cup of rice, you need ⅔ cups of water. Depending on the age of your rice, you may need a little more or less water, so use the first batch as a test and adjust accordingly for next time. See video at the indicated time for details.
- Steam-the-Bowl (See video at 10:56). Put the rice and water in a heatproof bowl and stir to break up any clusters. Cover the bowl with a plate to prevent condensation from dripping into the rice, and steam the bowl over rapidly boiling water for 25 to 30 minutes. You will need more time if making a larger amount. If you can, let the rice sit in the bowl for as long as you have time for before steaming it; even a very brief soak will be better than nothing!
- Rice Cooker (See video at 12:32). This doesn’t work with all rice cookers, but it’s worth a try to find out because if it works, it's life-changing! If you have a multifunction machine that has a “sweet rice” mode, perfect—it’s meant for sticky rice and it should do the job very well. My Zojirushi rice cooker has this function and does an excellent job, but I do find that it needs to sit for another 10 minutes after the timer goes off. If your rice cooker only has a brown rice function, it’s worth trying that out too.
- Microwave (See video at 14:52). This should be your last resort, as it yields less than ideal rice. But in times of desperation, it will work well enough. Note: I tested this using a 900-watt microwave. For a 1100-watt machine, reduce the first round to 2 minutes. You may need to adjust timing for your machine.
Start out with a quick soak by placing the rice in a microwave-safe bowl and adding hot off-the-boil water so it comes up about ½ inch (1.2 cm ) over the rice; let it sit for 15 minutes. Drain very well, then add the measured amount of cold water.
Cover the rice with a plate and microwave on full power for 3 minutes. Stir the rice, then microwave for another 2 mins. Stir again, folding the bottom up to the top, and microwave for 1 more minute. Finally, stir and let it sit at room temp, covered, for 5 minutes before serving.
Do I need to pre-soak sticky rice?
Pre-soaking sticky rice is the most foolproof way to make sticky rice, because you literally can not overcook it (though it is still possible to undercook it). So to be safe, it is recommended, but it is certainly not necessary.
I suggest mastering one of the no-soak methods above so you have it in your back pocket when you want sticky rice on a whim!
Tips for Preparing Sticky rice
Sticky rice can be a bit tricky for the inexperienced, here are some important things to note:
- If possible, soak the rice for 4 hours. 3 hours is technically the minimum, but if your rice is old, it maybe extra dry and need more time.
- Wash sticky rice until the water runs almost clear. If you want to wash until the water is crystal clear, that's fine, but for plain sticky rice, it isn't necessary. If you're making desserts such as mango sticky rice, however, it's important to wash until it's clear.
- If using soak and steam method, the rice needs to be served warm. Steamed sticky rice dries out quickly when cooled, so if the rice needs to sit out, I recommend using the #4 hack discussed above.
How to Store and Reheat
The cooked rice will last in the fridge for a couple of days, but be sure to seal it tightly as it dries out quickly. Beyond that, the rice is still edible but will lose stickiness and softness even when reheated, so see freezing tips below for longer term storage.
To reheat, microwave or steam until piping hot. Steaming is better, but if microwaving, cover it with a damp towel so it doesn't dry out. The rice needs to be fully heated in order to regain its softness.
How to Freeze Sticky Rice
Sticky rice can be frozen for about a month before it starts to dry out permanently. It won't spoil, but it won't have as good of a texture.
To freeze, you'll want to separate them into portions before freezing as it's impossible to separate the rice when frozen. Wrap each portion in plastic wrap or foil (foil will prevent freezer burn for longer), then put them in a freezer bag.
Reheating is the same as refrigerated rice: microwave or steam until piping hot. Steaming is better, but if microwaving, cover it with a damp towel so it doesn't dry out and you may need to stir it in between for even heating. The rice needs to be fully heated in order to regain its softness.
Recipes Using Sticky Rice
Generally, we love to eat sticky rice with meats. Here are a few classic meat dishes that are often paired with sticky rice:
- BBQ Chicken
- Fried chicken wings
- BBQ pork skewers,
- Ground meat salad (Laab).
- Or try it with northern Thai food, which is commonly eaten with sticky rice. You can dip it into the thick sauce of Hung Lay curry; or if you like carb-on-carb, it's fantastic with spicy curry glass noodle stir-fry.
We also feature sticky rice prominently in desserts:
- A popular classic that's a must-try during mango season: mango sticky rice
- For fellow durian lovers, durian sticky rice is absolutely divine.
- We eat sticky rice with ice cream! Any ice cream will work, but the classic pairing is this street-style coconut ice cream.
- Thai glutinous rice, aka "Thai sweet rice". I recommend cooking around ⅓ - ½ cup uncooked sticky rice per person.
- Water, amount depending on method, see instructions below
SOAK & STEAM METHODS:
Step 1: Wash your rice in room temp water for a few times until the water runs mostly clear. [Video 00:58] This is necessary regardless of which method you choose, otherwise you will end up with gummy rice!
Step 2: Soak your rice in plenty of room temp water for a minimum of 3 hours, preferably 4 (especially if your rice is old), and for up to 12 hours. [Video 01:45]
Step 3: Drain the rice and steam for 20-25 minutes (may take longer if making a lot), using any of the following implements (see video at the time indicated for details):
- Bamboo Cone Steamer [Video 02:27]
- Steamer Rack + Cloth [Video 04:50]
- Metal Sieve [Video 06:39]
- HACK for extra soft sticky rice, and highly recommended if you are serving rice at room temp: Soak-Steep-Steam [Video 07:26]
NO SOAK METHODS (cooking rice in water):
Step 1: Wash your rice. [Video 00:58]
Step 2: Drain your rice EXTREMELY WELL. You want to use a sieve, then shake and shake until water is no longer dripping from the rice. As I mentioned above, sticky rice overcooks very easily. So if we're going to cook sticky rice IN water it's important that you do not accidentally use too much water by not draining well enough.
Step 3: Cook the rice using any of the methods below using the ratio of 1 part rice to ⅔ parts water by volume. Depending on your rice, you may need a little less water than ⅔, so if it comes out a little too soft, add less water for your next batch. See video at the indicated time for details.
- No Soak - Steam-the-Bowl [Video 10:56]
- No Soak - Rice Cooker [Video 12:32]
- No Soak - Microwave [Video 14:52]