Plain "steamed" rice invites a world of accompaniments. It is the sidekick for pan-fried chicken in much of the South; it's covered with the gravy made with pan drippings. Many of the famous sautéed and stir-fried dishes of the world would be incomplete without rice, yet it's amazing how many good cooks and restaurant chefs serve tasteless instant and converted rice.
Nothing could be simpler to prepare than a pot of perfectly steamed rice, cooked so that each grain stands separately. The secret is to never stir the pot with a spoon. A pot of rice can be flavored any number of ways by using stock instead of water or by adding chopped herbs, tomatoes, sautéed aromatic vegetables, nuts, or lemon zest. A basic recipe to serve 6 follows.
1 quart water
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups long-grain white rice
1. At least 30 minutes before you plan to serve, bring the water to a boil in a 2-quart pot that has a tight-fitting lid. Add the salt and the rice. Stir once with a fork to distribute the rice evenly, but do not stir it again. Lower the heat to medium and cover the pot.
2. Adjust the heat so that the rice simmers (bubbles just barely break the surface), but no more than simmers. Cook covered for exactly 13 minutes, never lifting the lid.
3. Turn off the heat and let the rice stand, still covered, for another 12 minutes to steam. Leave the pot alone until you're ready to serve the rice.
4. To serve, lift the lid and fluff the rice with a large fork, never a spoon: you should be further separating the grains, which should be all but dry.