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Rice is a staple food and nourishment source for over half of the world’s population. I enjoy using rice in at least two to three meal preps weekly. It is easy to prepare and exceptionally versatile. Plus, you can purchase a 20lbs bag of Basmati rice at Walmart for a little over $20 – a real bargain if you ask me!
You might have fallen victim to the common misconception that rice becomes rock hard when refrigerated and that you should not meal prep rice. However, after four years of meal prepping, I can safely say that you can meal prep rice without it getting hard by following a few simple steps.
- How to Meal Prep Rice Without It Getting Hard
- How to Reheat Rice Without It Getting Hard
- What Is Starch Retrogradation in Rice?
- Related Questions
How to Meal Prep Rice Without It Getting Hard
To keep cooked rice from getting hard out, ensure you store it in an airtight container (preferably glass). You can also store rice in a Ziplock back if you don’t have a suitable container. However, ensure you squeeze the air out of the bag before sealing it. Discard the rice after 3 to 4 days.
Cooked rice often hardens when stored in the fridge because of starch retrogradation (you can find a short explanation below).
However, with effective meal planning, proper storage, and, most importantly, food safety precautions, you can enjoy moist, fluffy rice at the ready for up to four days. Here are the top tips to prepare, store, and reheat cooked rice without it getting dry or hard.
Cook Rice Thoroughly
Food safety and soft, fluffy rice start at the cooking process. The first step in avoiding hard rice is ensuring that you cook it all the way through.
Cooking your rice at 165 degrees Fahrenheit will ensure that the actively growing B. cereus cells are destroyed, per USDA food safety regulations.
You can cook the rice in an instant pot or in a rice cooker. Ensure you start with the correct rice-to-water ratios, which may vary depending on the rice variety.
- White Rice: Follow a 1 cup rice to 2 cups water ratio and boil for 18 minutes.
- Brown Rice: Follow a 1 cup brown rice to 2 ½ water ratio and boil for 30 minutes.
You can tweak the ratios slightly by adding a bit more water and cooking the rice for longer if it’s still hard.
I have a confession: I only mastered cooking rice on the stovetop about a year ago. I’ve always relied on my rice cooker to cook my rice to perfection. We had an electricity outage for three days which forced me to use our gas stove. The first two batches were a mushy mess – but hey, the third time’s a charm, right?
Cool the Rice Quickly
Cooked rice is a moist and ideal breeding ground for harmful bacterial growth if you leave it at room temperature for too long.
According to the USDA, harmful foodborne pathogens like Bacillus cereus spores thrive and rapidly multiply between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit – the “Danger Zone.” However, rapidly cooling and storing rice will help minimize B. cereus-related foodborne illnesses.
So, play it safe and follow the USDA’s food safety guidelines, ensuring you cool and refrigerate the rice within 2 hours. However, if your kitchen’s temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, ensure to get in the fridge within 1 hour.
Ways to Speed Up Cooling Rice
Two effective methods to speed up cooling rice include:
- Smaller Containers: Divide the cooked rice into smaller meal prep containers. I like dividing them into serving-size portions to save me time while meal prepping.
- Baking Sheet: Transfer the rice onto a baking sheet and fluff it with a fork to release some steam. Where I live, the temperature can skyrocket to 100 degrees in the middle of summer. I skip both cooling methods on these blazing days and rely on an ice bath to cool my rice in time. I simply place the rice bowl over a larger container of ice water to ensure it cools down within an hour.
- Store the Rice in an Airtight Container: Once cooled, store the cooked rice in an airtight container to prevent it from drying out and getting hard. Avoid using open containers or cardboard and Styrofoam boxes. The air can penetrate through the containers, causing the rice to dry and harden. If you don’t have airtight containers at hand, use a Ziplock or freezer bag to freeze your prepped meals. Ensure you remove as much air as possible by pressing the bag before sealing it. Once sealed, you can safely store rice in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days and up to 6 months in the freezer.
Pro Tip: Store the freezer bags flat in the freezer. It will take save space and speed up defrosting.
How to Reheat Rice Without It Getting Hard
There are multiple ways to reheat leftover rice without it getting hard. Here are three effective methods for reheating and producing moist, fluffy rice.
- In the microwave: Put the rice in a microwave-safe container and pour over two tablespoons of water per cup of rice. Cover the bowl with a damp paper towel, and microwave it until thoroughly heated, stirring every 20 seconds.
- On the stovetop: Add the rice and two tablespoons of water per cup of rice to a shallow pot and cover it with a lid. Heat on low heat until the rice has warmed through, stirring regularly.
- In the oven: The oven method is most effective for larger portions of rice. Place the rice in a shallow, oven-safe dish. Pour two tablespoons of water (or broth) per cup of rice and cover it with aluminum foil. Bake the rice for around 20 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can I Reheat Rice More Than Once?
Avoid reheating prepped meals more than once to prevent the risk of b. cereus-related food poisoning.
To reduce waste, store the rice in single portions and only reheat the amount you plan to eat.
What Is Starch Retrogradation in Rice?
Starch retrogradation is the reaction of gelatinized starch molecules realigning as the cooked starch cools.
When starchy foods – rice, bread, pasta – are cooked in water, the starch granules, formerly clinging together, absorb water and swell up. This causes the food to become softer and more digestible.
After several hours, the gelatinized molecules in the cold rice start to realign and come together, squeezing some of the water that held them apart. As a result, the grains harden and feel dry the following morning – the starch has retrograded.
Why Is My Rice Hard?
Your rice can be hard from undercooking it. The most common cause for undercooking is preparing the rice at too high heat, causing the liquid to evaporate before the rice is fully cooked. However, moist cooked rice can turn hard from improper storage. Therefore, ensure you store the rice in a tightly sealed container.
Should I Throw Away Hard Rice?
Dry and hard leftover rice is one of the visual cues that the rice needs discarding. You can maximize cooked rice’s shelf life by storing it in an airtight container or Ziplock bag in the fridge or freezer. Rice is best when eaten a few days from when it’s cooked. Any more than that and it’s safest just to toss it.
How Long Can Meal-Prepped Rice Last?
Meal-prepped recipes can last depending on the ingredients and storage, meal-prepped rice is safe for 3 to 4 days after proper storage and refrigeration. However, you can safely store your meal prep and consume frozen rice for up to 6 months.
Ensure you cook and store rice properly to prevent the disheartening feeling of pulling a container of cold, hard rice out of the fridge. Always store the rice in an airtight container and reheat it with several drops of water to prevent it from getting hard.
Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.