Grain Basics

Common Grains and Their Cooking Times

The grains below only scratch the surface. For more on how to cook specific grains, see the recipes that follow.

How to Cook Any Grain

Many once unusual grains are now available in supermarkets, and fortunately, they’re super-easy to cook. Start by ignoring the package directions: Trust your eyes and your teeth and treat all grains virtually the same way. This recipe makes about 4 cups,or 4 to 6 servings.

RINSE THE GRAINS Put 1½ cups of any whole, rolled, or cut grain with a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan, cover with water, and swirl them around. Let them settle to the bottom a bit, then pour off as much of the water as you can. Repeat the rinsing process until the water is no longer cloudy. (You can use a strainer and run water over them too.)

ADD WATER The water should cover the grains by about 1 inch if you want them a little soupy; about ½ inch if you want them to be drier. (Use a small saucepan if you’re cooking a small quantity to make the eyeballing easier.) Bring to a boil over high heat, then adjust the heat so the water bubbles steadily but gently.

CHECK ONCE IN A WHILE Cook until the grains are tender, stirring with a fork once or twice to make sure the grains aren’t sticking to the pot. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours or more, depending on the grain. Use the times listed in Common Grains and Their Cooking Times as guidelines and start tasting at the early end of the range.

TEST FOR DONENESS When craters appear on the surface and all the liquid is gone, taste a grain; it should have some bite without being chewy or crunchy. If not, add ¼ cup water and cook for 5 more minutes. (If they’re done but still swimming, drain them in a strainer and put them back in the pot.) When they’re tender, cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and let sit for 5 to 15 minutes. Just before serving, add 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil, fluff the grains with a fork, and serve within 10 minutes.

Preparing Couscous

We treat couscous like a grain, but it’s actually a kind of pasta that you steep in boiling water like tea. Here’s what you do to get 4 servings:
     For white couscous, put 2¼ cups water in a medium saucepan with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Stir in 1½ cups couscous, cover, and remove from the heat. Let it sit for at least 5 and up to 30 minutes. For whole wheat couscous, use 2½ cups water and let sit for at least 10 minutes. (Cook pearl or Israeli couscous as directed on this page; begin checking after 5 minutes.)

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