This post is 778 words, a 3 min and 6 second reading time. It is the third lesson of Simmering, Steaming, & Poaching (How to Boil Water II). It is also a part of the MaxF Meal Prep Collection.
Knowing how to cook grains is an invaluable skillset worth having in your back pocket. When you memorize the main principles of cooking grains, you can:
Buy in bulk & store grains in containers without instructions.
Save money. Pre-cooked/frozen grains are marked up significantly.
Get into a flow. Savor the experience of cooking without referring to directions frequently.
There are three primary approaches to cooking grains - simmering, steaming & boiling. Each method hydrates & cooks the grains. They vary in the way they approach temperature, water & time.
☝️ The 3 Primary Cooking Methods:
Simmer: Creates porridge consistency. Recommended method for oatmeal, polenta/grits & quinoa. Requires regular attention & stirring.
Steam: Creates tender & fluffy consistency. Best for brown & white rice. Requires a snug lid & careful measuring of water.
Boil: Best for hearty grains (e.g., barley, farro). Requires some monitoring. Mesh sieve/fine strainer required.
Water or stock
Stockpot & lid
Fine mesh sieve (optional)
Bring water to a boil.
Slowly pour in grain and reduce heat to a gentle simmer (e.g., steady & gentle "champagne bubbles")
Occasionally taste and add water if necessary (e.g., to thin porridge & avoid scorching).
Stir occasionally until water is absorbed by the grain and desired consistency is achieved.
Bring water and grain to a boil over high heat.
Reduce to medium-low for a gentle simmer.
Cover, and simmer until liquid absorbed.
Turn off heat and let rest covered for 10 minutes; fluff with a fork.
Boil a pot of water and add salt so that you can taste it (e.g., light seawater flavor).
Bring to a low boil and taste every ~5-10 min until done (~10-30 min).
When desired tenderness is reached (e.g., al denté), drain in a fine-mesh sieve/strainer.
Return to pot, cover & rest for 10 minutes.
Fluff with fork & serve.
📓 Grain Cooking Reference Guide
📝 Notes Tips & Tricks
Most grains (and especially rice & unwashed quinoa) benefit from being rinsed before cooking. This removes debris & dust, making for fluffier, cleaner-tasting grains.
To rinse, put grain in a bowl, cover with water, swish around with your hands, then pour the water off. Repeat until the water runs clear, then pour through a strainer.
Grains typically expand ~2-3x when cooking. A typical serving size for a side is ½ cup cooked, and thus ~¼ cup dry. For a grain bowl, assume 1 cup cooked, so ~½ cup dry.
For added flavor, cook with broth (e.g., chicken, vegetable). Alternatively, for a quick hack, use part of a bouillon cube (like these).
Salt & seasoning is personal, but a rough guide is ½ teaspoon salt per 1 cup uncooked.
Stirring spoons: if using a nonstick pot, do not use a metal spoon as it can scratch the surface. If using plastic, ensure it is sufficiently heat-proof, or it may melt. Wooden & silicone are recommended.
If the grain is too al denté: return to a covered pot to "carry-over" for a few min. To soften further, add some water, cover, and place on a low flame for 5-10 min.
If the grain is overcooked (e.g., mushy): spread it out in a single layer on a plate or sheet tray to accelerate cooling and evaporation.
A mushy outside & tough interior means that the grain is not fully cooked and needs more time. It may be the result of cooking too hot/fast. Better to cook more slowly at a lower temp.
For fail-proof results, consider investing in a rice cooker. They work for all grains, including oatmeal. Reduce water slightly (e.g., 1:1 for rice) because little water is lost.
Serving & Storage:
To meal-prep a grain for multiple purposes/flavor profiles, keep flavorings to a minimum during cooking & dress the grains before serving.
Popular dressings/additions include: chopped herbs (e.g., parsley, cilantro, dill) or nuts, olive oil, salt, lemon, cheese.
Storage: grains last ~4 days refrigerated in airtight containers. Use the sniff test to know when they have gone bad. To prevent sticking, add a drizzle of olive oil.
To freeze, let grains cool and then pack in airtight containers. They keep for ~4-6 months.
For meal prep, consider the size of the storage container. Double portions work well for small households.
🛍 Purchasing Recommendations
🎓 Further Study
10 Quinoa Recipes [Cookie & Kate]
39 Polenta Recipes [Epicurious]
29 Polenta Recipes [Cooking Light]
🎳 Lesson Team: Michelle Tandler (Research) & April Word (Expert Chef)
🍳 Want to learn more? Check out the Table of Contents.