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Dec 28, 2011 12:19 AM

advice on cooking rice in high altitude

Happy Holidays Chowhounds!

I am vacationing at high altitude (8100 ft) and staying with some friends in their lovely home. They have requested that I cook them an authentic chinese dinner. No problem! Amazingly, I found most of the ingredients I need.

The only problem is that I knew cooking rice at high altitudes is problematic so I bought some short grain rice today and did a couple test batches.

I read all the suggestions online (water boils at lower temperature in higher elevation, use a little more water, etc).

I did two test batches:

1: I cooked the recipe as is (1 1/2 cup rice to 2 cups of water)
2: I followed the suggestions I found online. (same as above but added 2 tsp extra water)

Results: both batches were almost equally mushy!

Obviously, I will attempt this again tomorrow with less water but I will gladly take any suggestions you might have to offer.

one Final question:

The rice instructions said to bring the rice to boil and then cover for 20 minutes.
is this what made it so mushy?

Should I be letting the rice cook uncovered and then just cover/steam the last 10-15 minutes?

Thanks for your thoughts!

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  1. If you're hoping to cook the rice until it absorbs all of the cooking water you're going to be disappointed many times until you get the exact ratio figured out. Although many suggestions for cooking at "high altitude" mean well, many of them don't address the variables from one "high altitude" environment to another.
    At 8000 feet, water boils at about 197 degrees, so you're cooking your rice at a lower temperature than you would at sea level. I'd suggest using a pressure cooker ( but, if you don't have one, try using the procedure you've already studied and test a few kernels of rice after ten minutes, testing every two minutes until you've got the texture you're looking for.
    If you bought short grain rice it's going to be at least sticky and it will get mushy pretty fast when overcooked. Most of my Chinese cooking is done using medium or long grain rice, unless I'm making something like Nuoh Mi Fan.

    1. Have you cooked this rice before?

      1 Reply
      1. re: paulj

        Hi PaulJ, Yes I cook this rice back home in LA all the time (no modifications to recipe) and it comes out perfectly. I like it just a tad sticky...but last night's experiment was downright mushy. I will just have to try less water. Wish I had a pressure cooker here! Thanks everyone!

      2. I live at 8500ft. I use Nishiki or similar rice all the time. I use a very inexpensive rice cooker (the cheapest I could find twenty+ years ago) and follow the instructions without modification. I have no problems at all. I do not think my rice is mushy -- it clumps enough to use chopsticks.

        Before I had a rice cooker I used a method similar to this ( and found that worked with two or more cups of rice, not one.

        1. "water boils at lower temperature in higher elevation, use a little more water, etc"

          Sure water boils at lower temperature, so cooking may be a tad longer, but I don't know why a little more water. Won't that make the rice watery? The whole "add more water" only makes sense if you are boiling your water much longer, but that is completely beside the point.

          What is the instruction which worked for you? Just add a few more minutes to your original cooking method.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Longer time and a bit more water seems to a common recommendation

            With lower air pressure, water evaporates faster. That, combined with the longer cooking time, would require more water to start with to account for evaporation. But that evaporation also depends on pan shape and the amount you are cooking. You get a lot more evaporation in a wide pan (e.g. paella), comparatively less if the pan is narrower, and the water deeper.

            Which raises a question for the OP - are you cooking the same amount, and similar shaped pan as at home?

            1. re: paulj

              "With lower air pressure, water evaporates faster."

              A good point. That really depends how one actually cooks.

              If you are set for the same heat power (same watts), the it is true. However, most people do not cook like that. They don't constraint themselves to set heat power (watts), but rather to observable things. They bring the water to a boil and then simmer, which means the rate of water evaporation would be the same.

              So the way I see it is that one would bring the water to a lower temperature for boil and cook for longer. Because the boiling point is lower, the water penetration to the rice is actually SLOWER too. The longer cook time is to accommodate this. Add more water would make it too watery.

              Anyway, the fact that original poster made mushy rice shows too much water was used.

              I would use the same amount of water.

          2. I live at 8,450 feet. I use 2 cups water to one cup rice and two tablespoons of butter. Since my water boils at approximately 196 degrees, I cook the rice for 26 minutes.

            1 Reply
            1. re: FromMyCabinDoor

              When you say cook, do you mean covered or uncovered. And does cooking mean boiling? Or do you boil and then simmer etc? Thank you!