Bang-on Basmati

Joyce Hickey, Features subeditor

Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes are sometimes complicated and always trustworthy. One of my husband’s few possessions when I met him was an unwieldy Jaffrey doorstopper that explains the origins, theory and myriad variations of Indian cookery, and I gave her full credit for his unfailingly fluffy Basmati rice.

But when I hunted through her publications to share the method with our readers, I discovered that all these years we have been messing with Madhur, while keeping true to her core messages: ignore the instructions on the packet; use a heavy-based pot with a tight-fitting lid; and do not lift that lid to stir or peep.

Asian shops sell good Basmati in 10kg bags for about €20. For two adults, with leftovers that will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, we use a mugful.

Madhur says to rinse, pick over and drain the grains, but we never do.


Melt a knob of butter in a medium-sized saucepan, and don’t let it burn or the rice will have a horrible tang. If you like a delicate flavour and fragrance, you can add a bay leaf and a few cloves, green cardamom pods, peppercorns and shards of cinnamon at this point.

Pour in the rice and stir it gently to coat each grain with the butter, taking care not to break the brittle grains. Add a cup and a half of cold water for every cup of rice, give it one more light stir and keep an eye on it as it comes to the boil.

When it boils, stir it again, turn it down very low, put on a tight-fitting lid and leave it for 10 minutes. Don’t take the lid off until you are ready to serve it, as the steam helps to cook it and keeps it fluffy.

The great thing about this method is that it scales perfectly from one cup to about four cups. As long as you maintain the correct proportions, it will still take only 10 minutes to cook and will stay hot.

However, if you’re cooking for a big gang, it stays fluffy and tastes better if you use a few medium pots rather than a very big one. But always heed Madhur, and leave the lid on.