Your Guide to Rice

A primer on the many varieties of rice and the best ways to use them.

  • Melissa Clark

Instant

Essentially long-grain white rice that has been cooked and then dehydrated. The most common way to prepare it is to pour boiling water over it, then toss. Instant rice lacks the texture and flavor of other rices, not to mention a bit of the nutritional value.
Best for: Convenience. It's a fast last-minute addition to soups, stews, or grain salads. Reach for it when speed is key. Otherwise, choose something else.
Cooking time: 5 minutes.

Long-Grain White

An all-purpose rice with a gentle flavor and a semi-firm texture. The grains remain distinct and fluffy whether served hot or dressed and chilled in a salad.
Best for: Soaking up the sauce of a stew or a stir-fry, or alongside any main dish, from fish to poultry to meat. Use leftovers for fried rice, soup, and rice pudding.
Cooking time: 15 to 20 minutes.

Short-Grain White

Slightly less common than long-grain white rice but just as easy to serve. The rice of choice in Asia (and often served in Chinese restaurants), it’s preferred for its pleasantly dense, sticky texture.
Best for: Sushi, paella, rice pudding, rice molds.
Cooking time: 15 to 20 minutes.
 

Basmati

Long, delicately fragrant grains that stay separate and distinct when cooked. (Texmati is essentially the same thing, only it's grown in the United States.)  
Best for: A pilaf laced with spices, or a biryani (a baked Indian casserole made with saffron, nuts, dried fruit, vegetables, and meat). Its sweet flavor also makes basmati delicious on its own.
Cooking time: 20 minutes.

Long-Grain Brown

Brown rice is what white rice starts out as before the bran and the germ (and lots of the nutrients) are removed. Brown rice has a full, nutty flavor, is rich in fiber, and has little fat (less than 2 grams of unsaturated fat per 1 cup cooked rice).
Best for: A side dish, a bed for stews or curried vegetables, or a stuffing for vegetables, fish, or poultry.
Cooking time: 45 minutes.

Short-Grain Brown

Similar in flavor and nutrition to long-grain brown, but different in texture: Short-grain is chewy; long-grain is firm. Both types of brown rice have a much shorter shelf life than white rice. They should be stored in the refrigerator.
Best for: Salads, or as a fiber-rich substitute for white rice in sushi, risotto, or even pudding.
Cooking time: 45 minutes.

Arborio

Famously used in risotto, this round, pearly-grained rice has a high starch content. Perfect for thickening the sauce―made from butter, broth, wine, and, usually, Parmesan cheese―that gives risotto its special character.
Best for: Risotto, of course, but you could also use it for cold salads.
Cooking time: 20 to 25 minutes, with frequent stirring.