Can you reheat leftover rice? Absolutely – from how to reheat rice in microwave oven to using a rice cooker, we’ve got you covered. Regardless of grain type – the secret to light and fluffy rice is to know just the right way to reheat it.
So what’s the secret to reheating leftover rice?
Regardless of grain type, the secret to perfectly fluffy reheated rice is to steam it. There are different cooking methods to reheat rice and each way has its own advantages. Microwaving for example, is the best way to steam a small amount of rice while using an oven, is better for heating rice for a crowd. Although rice cookers take the longest to heat even small amounts of rice, advantages include the convenience of automatic temperature adjustment and the “keep warm” option which ensures that once the rice is reheated, it can be served piping hot, when you are ready.
The reheating process works with different types of rice from everyday takeout white rice and brown rice to complex rice based dishes like pilafs and biriyanis.
One of the problems with leftover rice is that the kernels dry out quickly in the refrigerator. As a result, the cooled rice dries into a crumbly brick and looks like uncooked rice. However, fear not, even the hardest kernels can be rehydrated – there is no need to throw out rice that looks dry. Also by following some easy storage tips, you will be able to get that signature light and fluffy texture even from day old rice.
Rice can be reheated within four days of cooking. However for best results, proper storage is key, because cooked rice will lose moisture and dry out if not stored correctly. To avoid food poisoning, do not reheat rice more than once.
How should you store rice?
Whether you cook a gigantic batch of rice in the beginning of the week or just have a container of leftover rice from your last night’s takeout, storing the rice correctly will ensure that the re-heated rice is at its optimal texture. Here are some tips:
- Cool the rice – prior to storing, the rice should be cooled to room temperature. Hot rice stored in the fridge will collect extra moisture due to condensation. The extra moisture can change the texture of the rice by making the wet bits soft and soggy. In addition, it can also cause the rice to spoil faster.
- Put the rice in an airtight container – putting the rice in an airtight container will ensure that it does not lose its natural moisture and become hard and grainy. It also helps stop the top of the rice from drying out.
- Store the rice in the refrigerator– storing the rice at a safe temperature (40°F or below) reduces the chance of bacterial growth which can cause food poisoning. Rice lasts for about 4 days in the refrigerator.
- How to freeze rice – I am always amazed at how frozen rice reheats perfectly into light and fluffy rice. To freeze rice, cool the rice completely and then scoop it into freezer-safe plastic bags. Press out all the air and stack flat. Try to separate the portions according to how much you expect to use. Labeling the bag with the date and rice type (if not obvious) is a best practice as it helps keep track of when the rice was frozen. Frozen rice lasts for about two months. After this time, the rice tends to get a little dry and just does not taste right. There is no need to thaw frozen rice – you can easily re-heat frozen rice in a microwave, stove top or oven. Breaking the rice into smaller clumps and adding about 2 tablespoons of water for every cup of rice is generally enough to ensure that enough steam is created to heat the rice through.
1. Microwave leftover rice – best for small portions
The microwave method is the fastest way to reheat a single serving of rice. Basically a splash of water is added to steam the rice – transforming the clumpy grains into perfectly fluffy rice in minutes.
- Place the cold rice in a microwave-safe container. If the rice is fused together like a cold brick, break it up into a few 1 square inch cup size clumps to ensure quick and even heat distribution.
- For each cup of rice add about one tablespoon of water. For very dry rice (2+ days old) use two tablespoons of water per cup of rice. Another popular method is to simply cover the rice with a damp paper towel.
- Cover the rice with a lid or plastic wrap and heat for about 1-2 minutes until piping hot. If using more than two cups of rice, break up the rice stirring the rice a second time and reheat for at least a minute to ensure that the rice cooks evenly. The purpose of the cover is to make sure that the steam created by the evaporating water is trapped in the container and helps hydrate, heat and puff up the rice. Fluff the microwaved rice with a fork for optimal texture.
2. Using the stove to steam rice – perfect for a few servings
- Place the rice in a saucepan. The saucepan should have a tight fitting lid which will be used to trap the steam.
- For each cup of rice add about one tablespoon of water. For very dry rice (2+ days old) use two tablespoons of water per cup of rice.
- On medium heat, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and allow to heat up for about 3-5 minutes.
- Once the rice begins to steam, stir the rice and put the lid on again. Gently break up any clumps while stirring the rice. Repeat this step if needed. Once the rice begins to steam switch to low heat for optimal results.
- Remove from heat when the rice is heated through.
3. Stir fry the rice – leave plain or turn it into a meal
One of the best uses of cold, next day, leftover rice is to make Fried Rice.
- Heat up a wok or pan on high heat.
- Add a tablespoon of oil and wait till it is really hot.
- Break up the rice and stir fry vigorously on high heat. While the oil should help to moisten the rice, add a tablespoon or two of water if the rice is very dry. To turn it into a Restaurant Style Fried Rice use additional ingredients like chopped meat and vegetables – fried rice is a great way to use leftovers! Keep the heat at a very high temperature. At the very end, add a little soy sauce and sugar, mixing vigorously making sure every grain of rice is evenly coated. To take it to the next level – follow the instructions for the sauce from my Fried Rice Recipe to add some extra flavor! Rice is done when it is heated through.
4. Heating rice in the oven – great for a large portion
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- For each cup of rice add about one tablespoon of water. For very dry rice (2+ days old) use two tablespoons of water per cup of rice. Gently break up any clumps of rice.
- Spread the rice over a baking tray and cover tightly with aluminum foil.
- Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the rice is steaming and heated through. Fluff the baked rice as needed with a fork when done.
5. Heating rice in a rice cooker – slower but stress-free
Rice cookers typically have a reheat button – so all you need to do is add a little water and then press reheat or keep warm for about an hour. The water releases steam which in turn heats and fluffs the rice. While using a rice cooker is certainly not the fastest method to reheat rice, it is far less stressful. The process is so easy – you just dump in the rice, add a little water and press reheat/warm and you are good to go. Once the rice is heated, the temperature automatically adjusts so that the rice remains fluffy and hot in the rice cooker until you are ready to serve. For optimal texture, fluff the rice with a fork prior to serving.