A while back I was cooking dinner from one of those meal delivery services and it seemed like the instructions for how to cook the rice were all wrong. The instructions had me adding a lot less water than I usually use and cooking the rice a lot longer as well. I ended up splitting the difference between my usual method and what was printed on the recipe card and the rice turned out fine, but it made me wonder: is my mental recipe for cooking white rice weird or unusual? Like many common tasks, I don’t remember anyone specifically teaching me how to cook rice, and I’ve done it so many times with little adjustments here and there that I’ve probably deviated a fair bit from the original instruction anyway. Maybe I’ve missed a way of making my rice more consistent or tasty?

So that’s how I ended up googling “How to cook rice”, and it was a surprisingly enlightening exercise. I was intending to check a few popular recipes to establish some consensus and figure out whether it was me or the meal delivery service that had the weird recipe. Here’s the thing, though. If you take the first page or so of Google results as a representative sample, the consensus answer for “How to cook rice?” is nobody fucking knows, apparently. The recipes you find - all for white, medium or long grain rice, cooked on a stovetop - are all over the map. For a cup of rice, some suggest two cups of water, some 1 12 cups, some just 1 14. Pre-rinsing the rice is presented as either as mandatory preparation, an optional step, or never mentioned. Cook time ranges from 10 to 25 minutes, even though the cook temp is always described as “a low simmer”. Whether to add any fats or salt also varies widely.

Because I am an insufferable nerd, I made a little table comparing the top results the Internet will give you when you ask it how to cook rice:

Source Rice:Water Ratio Rinse? Add Fat? Add Salt? Cook Time Rest Time
Tasty 1:1.75 Opt N Y 18 5-10
Delish 1:2 Y Opt Y 18 5
The Mom 100 1:2 N Opt Y 17-25 2
The Kitchn 1:1.5 Y Opt Y 18-20 10
Simply Recipes 1:1.75 Y N Opt 10 10
AllRecipes 1:2 Opt N Opt 20 5
Love and Lemons 1:1.5 Y Y N 15 10
Bon Appetit 1:1.25 Y N Y 18 15
Real Simple 1:1.75 Y N Y 18 5

See? Really wild stuff. And this is for one of the most basic of foodstuffs consumed by a billion people every day.

Here are a few disorganized thoughts I have about this experience:

  • Learning things is hard. Even learning easy things in a world where advice is always at your fingertips is hard because the advice all conflicts and it goes on forever and it’s impossible to tell good advice from bad unless you already know how to do the thing.
  • Teaching things is hard. Did you ever do that assignment in school where you have to write instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the teacher follows them as literally as possible and hilarity ensues when they spread peanut butter all over the enclosed bag of sliced bread? That is the curse of all writing.
  • There is an infinite demand for solid technical writing on all subjects, even for the most basic of tasks. Human civilization is a project that is hilariously under-documented.
  • Google does a bad job leading you to good cooking advice, and you’re better off turning to trusted authors/publications when in search of a recipe (one of the most common patterns in my search history is “Kenji Lopez Alt [food_thing]” for this reason)
  • Often the most valuable part of a set of instructions are the course corrections: how do you know when you’re about to overcook something? How can you adjust it if something looks wrong?

And if in some hilarious mistake of SEO you find yourself on this page actually needing advice on how to cook rice, here’s the best I got for you:

  • Might just be that gas stoves are relatively uncommon in US households but even on the lowest simmer my rice is ready in about 12-14 minutes
  • If you hold the lid on and tilt the pot a bit, you’ll see how much excess water still needs to be absorbed
  • If you end up scorching some rice on the bottom of the pot, you can stir in a few tablespoons of water to get it to release
  • Tossing in a peeled garlic clove and/or a cardamom pod while the rice cooks is a good way to mix it up flavor-wise

So sometimes when I’m trying to learn something and I find lots of contradictory info and can’t seem to make any progress, I like to remind myself that it’s not that I’m just not looking hard enough. I mean, the Internet can’t even help you cook rice.