Whether it’s rice, couscous, quinoa, barley, hominy, or farro, this process will allow you to cook almost any grain perfectly every time. You really don’t even have to measure anything. I’m providing a recipe for the method, but you don’t need it: Put the grains in a pot with water and cook them until they’re done the way you like them. Period. And scroll down for add-ins to make them more delicious.
2 cups white or brown rice, pearl couscous, quinoa, barley (any type), oat groats, buckwheat groats, cracked wheat, hominy, whole rye, farro, or kamut or 3 cups wheat berries
Extra virgin olive oil, other oil, or butter
Combine the grain with a large pinch of salt and water to cover by about an inch in a small to medium saucepan. (Use 6 cups water for pearled barley, which predictably absorbs a more precise amount of water.) Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the grain is tender. This will take as little as 7 or 8 minutes with pearl couscous and as long as 1 hour or more for some brown rice, unpearled or hulled barley, wheat berries, and other unhulled grains. Hominy can take 2 hours or longer. Add boiling water as necessary to keep the grains covered, but — especially as the grain swells and begins to get tender — keep just enough water in the pot to keep the grain from drying out.
The grain is done when it tastes done; whole grains will always have some bite to them, but milled or cut grains will become mushy if overcooked, so be careful. Ideally, you’ll have cooked out all of the water at about the same time the grain is tender, but if any water remains, strain the grain.
Toss the grain with olive or other oil or butter to taste if you’re serving right away or see “7 Ways to Enhance Cooked Grains” (below). If you’re storing it, toss it with a couple of tablespoons of olive or other oil to keep the grains from sticking together too much, then cover and refrigerate or freeze.
7 Ways to Enhance Cooked Grains
In Step 4, use a large fork to toss any of the following ingredients in with the grains and butter or oil:
1. Just-tender cooked vegetables, like peas, chopped greens, broccoli or cauliflower florets, or chopped root vegetables
2. A couple spoonfuls of a simple sauce, like any flavored olive oil, compound butter, vinaigrette, pesto, or chile paste.
3. Finely grated or crumbled cheese, like Parmesan, feta, any blue cheese, or goat cheese
4. Minced fresh herbs, like chives, parsley, rosemary, or mint
5. Any cooked beans
6. Dried fruit, like raisins, cranberries, cherries, or chopped dates or apricots, with or without chopped nuts or seeds
7. Cooked chopped sausage, bacon, ham, or any cooked meat or fish
Mark Bittman is the author of more than 20 acclaimed books, including the “How to Cook Everything” series. He wrote for The New York Times for more than two decades, and became the country’s first food-focused op-ed columnist for a major news publication. He has hosted two television series and been featured in two others, including the Emmy-winning “Years of Living Dangerously.” Bittman is currently the special adviser on food policy at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and the editor-in-chief of Heated.