Rice Basics



The Short and Long of It

Since there are literally thousands of different kinds of rice—more than enough to overwhelm even experienced cooks—let’s group them all into two simple categories: long-grain rices and short- and medium-grain rices.

Long-Grain Rice These include the southern varieties (the most common rice in America), as well as aromatic rices like the nutty basmati and the floral jasmine. American aromatic rices (like Texmati) are also delicious and getting easier to find. All cook up into the fluffy familiar rice of side dishes and pilafs.

Short- and Medium-Grain Rice Plumper, starchier, and slightly sticky, these are the grains we know from dishes like risotto, paella, and sushi. Packages in supermarkets are often labeled simply short-grain or medium-grain. Risotto—the creamy Italian dish—is made with short-grain rices (the most common variety is Arborio), as is the classic Spanish dish known as paella (Valencia is the most common). The short-grain sticky rices used throughout Asia are increasingly available here in specialty markets. And a whole group of American short- and medium-grain rices are gaining popularity.

Brown Rice The name reflects the way the rice is processed, not its length or variety. All brown rice is minimally milled, so that its nutritious bran and germ remain attach-ed; it’s considered a whole grain. (White rice is not, since all of the outer layers are removed during milling.)

        Brown rice takes about twice as long to cook as white rice. But if you parboil brown rice, you can use it interchangeably with white rice in any recipe, even risotto. Here’s how: Boil the quantity in the recipe like pasta for 12 to 15 minutes. Then drain it and pretend that you’re starting with raw white rice. (You can even store it in the fridge for up to a few days.) Amazing, but it works.


Boiled Rice, Any Length, Any Color

Forget what you’ve heard about how tricky rice is to get right. The truth is you can cook almost all types of rice exactly the same way. The simmering time and the amount of liquid vary slightly depending on the kind of rice you’re cooking, where it was grown, and how old it is. So it’s best to learn what to look for as the rice cooks. This foolproof method will give you perfectly cooked rice most of the time and nearly perfect rice every other time. The yield is around 4 cups, so figure 4 to 6 servings.


RINSE THE RICE Put 1½ cups short-, medi-um-, or long-grain white or brown rice in a medium saucepan. Cover with water, swirl it around, and carefully pour off as much water as possible, leaving the rice in the pot. Repeat until the water looks almost clear. If you’re making white rice, start with 2¼ cups water; for brown rice, add 2½ cups. Add a large pinch of salt. (To eyeball it, add enough water to the pot to cover the rice by about ½ inch.)


ADJUST THE HEAT Set the pot over high heat. Once the water boils, turn the heat to medium or medium-low so that it bubbles steadily but not violently. Leave the pot uncovered. You can now walk away for up to 15 minutes if you’re cooking white rice, 30 minutes for brown.


CHECK FOR DONENESS Now check the rice every few minutes. When holes appear on the surface, taste the rice to make sure it’s just tender and not crunchy. Tip the pot to see if liquid remains; the rice should be dry, but not sticking or burning. White rice takes 15 to 25 minutes; brown rice takes 40 to 50. If there’s water and the rice is done, drain it and return it to the pot. If the pot is dry and the rice is firm, add ¼ cup water and return the pot to the heat; repeat until it’s tender.


FLUFF THE RICE Once the rice is ready, cover the pot and remove it from the heat. Let the rice sit for at least 5 and up to 15 minutes. Just before serving, add a pat of butter or a drizzle of olive oil if you’d like about 2 tablespoons for this quantity will do the trick. Then fluff and stir the rice with a fork. Taste, add more salt if needed, and fluff again.

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