Basmati rice with Butter and Lemon

Rice is often written off as a mere afterthought, a side dish intended to bulk out the main element of a meal. It doesn’t have to be that way though, with just a little thought your rice can be used to add extra layers of flavour that enhance the overall dish.

This extremely simple twist on plain boiled rice lends a bright, luscious tang to anything you serve it with. I mostly use boiled rice with curries, but even in those circumstances where strong flavours and aromas abound, the flavours here manage to augment and improve the main dish.

Use unsalted butter here, it allows you complete control over the amount of salt you use.


RECIPE – serves 4 to 6 people as a side dish

a good knob of unsalted butter (around 30g)

1 long strip of lemon rind

400g basmati rice


Using a potato peeler, peel a single long strip of rind from an unwaxed lemon, it may take a little practice but try to ensure you have as little of the white pith as possible.

Put the butter, lemon rind and a pinch of salt in a large pan with around a litre of cold water. Bring to the boil, and allow it to boil for a couple of minutes while you rinse your basmati rice in a couple of changes of cold water. Rinsing rice isn’t strictly necessary these days, but even so you will see the first change of water turn quite cloudy as you rinse off any excess starch and dust.

Add the rice to the boiling water, then bring the water back to the boil. Just before it actually boils, reduce the heat so the water is at a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered for around 6-8 minutes, checking the rice frequently toward the end of the time. When the grains are fully soft yet retain their shape and a little bite, they are ready.

Remove the lemon rind, drain the rice, fluff it up and serve. A little finely chopped coriander leaf adds more visual and taste-bud interest.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

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