Cook wild rice like a pro with these easy steps

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Wild rice is an underused grain with a whole lot to offer. Its nutty flavor and chewy texture pair perfectly with a myriad of meals, yet we often default to using only white or brown varieties in our daily cooking. Here’s how to cook wild rice perfectly and enjoy all it has to offer.

A bowl of mixed wild rice on a wooden surface.
Photo credit: Pexels.

What is wild rice?

Contrary to its misleading name, wild rice isn’t actually rice. It’s a unique breed altogether. This cook’s treasure is the seed of an aquatic grass that thrives in the freshwaters of North America’s Great Lakes region. 

Its history is rooted in being a dietary staple of the Native Americans living in this region. These days, most of the wild rice available in the supermarket is specially cultivated in Minnesota and California.

Beyond its cultural history, wild rice boasts impressive nutritional stats: it’s a gluten-free powerhouse packed with lysine, fiber and protein — coming in higher than quinoa, another pseudo-grain often boasted for its protein content. Its robust, nutty flavor and chewy texture lend themselves beautifully to various dishes, from hearty pilafs and vibrant salads to comforting soups and casseroles. Sage Scott from Alpha Gal Sage says, “We love making wild rice as a side for chicken dishes. It has just the right chewy nuttiness and does a great job of sopping up sauces.”

Preparing wild rice for cooking

While it’s unnecessary, soaking the wild rice grains before cooking can be helpful. This process removes some of the naturally occurring phytic acid, which can prevent mineral absorption. Soaking also makes the rice more easily digestible. If you have the time, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. It also speeds up the cooking process by almost 50%.

If you can’t afford a couple of hours of soaking time, you should always rinse rice, no matter the variety, before cooking. Rinsing removes dirt, debris and starch, making the grains fluffier when cooked.

Mixed wild rice with a wooden spoon on a wooden table.
Photo credit: YayImages.

How to cook wild rice on the stovetop 

One of the neat things about cooking wild rice is you don’t have to deal with precise ratios like other rice varieties. When cooked on the stovetop, using the pasta method, where you drain excess liquid at the end, makes the most sense. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Add water or broth to a medium pot and bring it to a boil.
  2. Once boiling, add the rinsed rice.
  3. Stir and lower the heat to a point where it maintains a low simmer.
  4. Cover the pot with a lid and let the wild rice cook until tender, about 40 to 55 minutes. 
  5. Drain the excess liquid from the pot, and then fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

Start checking the rice for tenderness around the 35-minute mark. Certain varieties will cook more quickly than others. This is especially true if you’re cooking a blend with multiple types of rice grains. The tell-tale sign of properly cooked wild rice is split open grains. The texture should still maintain some chewiness, similar to farro, but not be overly hard.

Cooking wild rice in a rice cooker

Rice cookers make cooking any type of rice quick and easy. One of the great benefits of this approach is that it eliminates boilovers and greatly reduces the chance of burning the rice. Here’s the best way to cook wild rice in a rice cooker:

  1. Grease the bottom of the rice cooker with cooking spray, such as olive oil or avocado oil. Alternatively, rub it lightly with butter.
  2. Using a ratio of one cup of rice to two cups of liquid, add both the water and rice to the cooker and cover it with the lid.
  3. For basic rice cookers with just one cook button, the appliance will do all the work.
  4. For fancier machines with multiple options, choose the brown rice setting.
  5. When it’s finished cooking, remove the lid, check the tenderness and fluff with a fork if it’s satisfactory.
Fried rice grains in a pan, appearing burnt or possibly a variety of black rice.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Making wild rice in an Instant Pot

The Instant Pot is known for taking tough cuts of meat like a venison roast or brisket and rendering it tender and juicy in a fraction of the time it would take in the oven. However, Scott points out, “It’s also a great hands-off way to cook rice so that I can set it and forget it while making the main dish.” 

The ratio for this method is slightly different in that you’ll use one part rice to one and a quarter parts liquid. Like the other two methods, water or broth can be used to cook the rice.

  1. Place the rice and liquid into the Instant Pot insert. 
  2. Stir to prevent sticking.
  3. Ensure the vent is set to the sealing position, then select manual pressure to cook on high for 30 minutes.
  4. Allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, then release any remaining pressure by switching the vent to the venting position.
  5. Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork.

Now you know how to cook wild rice using these three methods, which produce perfectly cooked wild rice with a tender grain and toothsome bite. It can be enjoyed as a simple side dish to many meals with salt, pepper and fresh herbs or turned into a grain salad by adding vegetables, fruit and nuts for something more hearty.

Gina Matsoukas is the writer, photographer and recipe creator of Running to the Kitchen. Focusing on healthy, seasonal, whole-food recipes, her work has been featured in various online and print publications including Food Network, Prevention Magazine and Women’s Health. Gina lives in central New York, where she enjoys an active outdoor life.

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