I may as well just face it, and admit that I'll never come up with a 100% satisfactory and fool-proof method of cooking rice. Such a method may not exist: the 153 comments below Felicity Cloake's Guardian article on How to cook perfect long grain rice, many of them claiming also to be perfect but giving widely differing instructions, suggest its elusiveness. What of Cloake's "perfect" advice?
She suggests 450g basmati rice for four people. Wash it in a sieve under running water; soak it for 30 minutes; put it in a pan with 585ml water, and salt, on a medium heat; bring to a simmer, cover, and cook on a very low heat for 25 minutes. Place the pan on a wet tea towel, leave for a further five minutes, fluff up the rice, and serve.
I had three reservations about this recipe. The first is that the measurements are unhelpful, unless you want to cook precisely 450g of rice. What you need are proportions, or general guidelines, that work for various quantities. It turns out that 585ml of water is about 1.2 times the volume of the rice; perhaps the more important point is that it covers the rice in the pan with just a mm or two to spare. If you had not pre-soaked and softened the rice, you would need more water than this to cook it.
My second doubt concerns the cooking time. Twenty-five minutes? As many of the comments on the Guardian piece point out, the rice will be cooked in 10 at most. Are the extra 15 minutes required to separate the grains by steaming?
I followed the recipe to the letter. The rice was a little clumpy, but not nearly as clumpy as I had feared; and the grains separated nicely with the addition of sauce. But I think the result would have been better had I switched off the heat after 10 minutes.
Do you need - this is my third doubt - to soak the rice at all? The practice originates in places where rice is not as clean or as carefully sifted as the stuff we buy. Yes, soaking softens the grains; it also leeches nutrients. The only occasions on which I think it is necessary is when you cook the rice with other ingredients, in a pilau, for example. Then, you want to ensure that the rice will cook with just enough water to cover it. Otherwise, the bulk of the ingredients forces you to use too much water in order to ensure that the grains are submerged.
The closest I came to perfection recently was when I reheated rice. Every grain was separate. It explains why Indian restaurants' rice - reheated, for sure - is usually good. So maybe the ideal recipe involves cooking rice in your normal way, tipping it into a foil-lined colander above steaming water, wrapping up the foil, putting a lid on top, and allowing it to steam until you need it. But who can be bothered to do that?