Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tried and True - Rice

I could write a lot about rice, but I'm going to try to keep this short and sweet.  I just finished making 210 shortcakes for the strawberry social tomorrow and I am pooped.  Have to pick up the whipping cream at 6:45 a.m. tomorrow morning too.  The berries are all washed, cut up, sugared and stored in freezer bags.  (Thanks again Fred and Naomi)

 Now where were we:  Oh yes - rice.

If you are thinking "I just can't cook rice.  It is too complicated.  It never turns out just like it does at the take out place",  then I suggest you consider an attitude adjustment.  Over half the people on the planet rely on rice as their primary grain and often even their primary source of protein and they seem to have figured this out.  We citizens of this great nation ought to be able to cook plain rice at home, and I don't mean Minute Rice or even Rice a Roni.  This is worth a little effort because rice is a great tasting, nutritious and inexpensive food.  Brown rice is especially tasty and nutritious, although not near as popular as white rice. 

If you want to go the extra mile, ricewise, I highly recommend Seductions of Rice by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.  This beautiful and interesting book has great recipes and photos and is a history, geography and anthropology book as much as it is a cookbook.

But for today,  I am going to talk just about how to cook basic white or brown rice.  Not pilaf.  Not risotto,  Not paella.  Just plain rice - a basic building block or accompaniment for many wonderful dishes.  In our house sometimes we eat plain cooked rice for breakfast - with some milk and cinnamon sugar and a few raisins if we are feeling wild and crazy.

I hope you will decide to keep a few kinds of rice around the house and that you get comfortable preparing them.  It really does not take long - even brown rice.  While it is cooking you can make your stir fry or curry or beans or steamed vegetables and set the table and when the rice is done you will be ready to eat.

Kinds of Rice - Indica and Japonica
Indica rice is long grain.  When it is cooked the grains stay separate and fluffy.  This kind of rice is grown in tropical regions such as India, SE Asia, Pakistan and the southern United States.  Basmati and jasmine rice are in this category.  Basmati rice has a nutty aroma and complex flavor and is the best known rice of SE Asia.  Jasmine rice has a milder and more neutral flavor and slightly stickier testure than Basmati.  It is often used in Thai cooking.

Japonica is short or medium grain.  When it is cooked it is sticky and moist.  It is grown in northern China, Japan, Korea, Europe (almost all in Italy) and California.  Arborio, Carnaroli and Calrose rice are examples of this type of rice.  Short grain rice is used for risotto or sushi among other dishes.

What kind of rice should I buy?
There are thousands of varieties of rice in the world.  But if you have these four kinds of rice in your cupboard, you will be in good shape:
1.  White basmati
2.  Brown basmati
3.  Arborio (or other short grain white rice for risotto)
4.  Short grain brown

Brown rice is growing in popularity - it is more nutritious.  It is the only rice with Vitamin E, plus it has more fiber and protein.   Plus it has more flavor - a little nutty - and is chewier than white rice. 

Where should I buy rice?
Many large grocery stores or co-ops have pretty good selections of rice these days.  But if you live anywhere close to some kind of ethnic food store (Asian, Hispanic, Indian, etc.) you may want to buy rice there.  Usually there are more choices and the prices are good, especially if you buy a large bag.
I know Rochester has a store called Rice n Spice - on Broadway south of downtown.  We have found the proprietor helpful.  Maybe you can find a personal rice advisor in a small - or large -  ethnic store to help guide you on your rice journey.

How do I store rice?
I keep rice in covered glass jars on an open shelf in my kitchen - but only in amounts which I will use up in 4-6 weeks.  I keep my reserve supply of rice in a cool and dark place away from sunlight.  Basmati rice is considered better by some people if it is aged at least a year.  (Note - because brown rice still has the bran and germ, it can become rancid more easily than white rice.  If you are going to store brown rice for any length of time it might be a good idea to refrigerate or freeze it.  You also want to make sure it is fresh at the time you buy it.)

How do I cook rice?
The big trick with rice is figuring the ratio of water to rice.  In general, for white long grain rice the ratio is 2 cups water to one cup rice.  For brown rice,  you should probably add 2 1/4 cups water to one cup rice.  Depends on the rice you are using.  I made long grain brown rice (not basmati) tonight and followed the ratio on the package, which advised 1 cup rice to 2 1/2 cups water.  Bad advice.  It was way too soupy.  I say when in doubt use a little less water - you can always add some more during cooking if it is too dry.

Absorption method
I think this is the simplest way to cook rice.  Combine 2 cups rice and 4 cups cold water in a heavy cooking pot.  (add a pinch of salt to taste).  (This is a large batch.  It is good to get into the habit of making more rice than you need.  Make fried rice for an easy meal another day.  Or reheat rice - just add a little water to rice in a pot, cover and heat gently until heated through.)

Bring rice and water (and salt if you are using it)  to a boil.  Then turn down to medium low, cover the pot and cook about 15-20 minutes for white rice and 30-40 minutes for brown.  It is ok to peek once or twice near the end of the cooking time.  Stick a spoon down into the bottom of the pot to see what is going on.  If rice seems too dry, add a spoon or two of water.  If too wet, leave the cover off for a while to allow water to evaporate.  Once the water is absorbed, turn off heat and cover pot.  Let rice rest about 5-10 minutes.  Fluff or stir with a fork or spoon before serving.

What is converted rice?
This is white rice which has gone through a process which improves it nutritionally.  However, I think the texture suffers plus it is more expensive.  If you want better nutrition, consider using brown rice.

I grew up on Minute Rice - I like it because it is quick and easy.  So what is wrong with that?
It might be quick and easy, but I really really think it does not taste very good.  And it is the most expensive and least nutritious kind of rice.  So maybe you can reconsider.  Start with plain white basmati rice.  Try it.  You'll like it.  And if you don't - well -  Minute Rice is not against the law.  You can stick with it.
(Editorial comment: I think it is interesting that many Americans, with a supposedly high standard of living, are eating poor quality and expensive rice that tastes ten times worse than rice typically eaten by humble Asian peasants.)

Hope I see some of you at the strawberry social.  Otherwise - until Tuesday. . . . . 


  1. Wow, you're editorial comment really nailed it. That goes for ALL the processed food we eat. Nutritionally void and expensive. Take breakfast cereal for example. VERY expensive. I eat oats I buy in bulk for a mere fraction of the cost and add a few nuts or seeds and dried fruit or berries. Far more nutritious and less expensive.

  2. Thanks for all the good info Peggy! I will just tell you, I am not a rice person. I grew up with potatoes and still love any kind of potato dish to this day! However, my favorite type of white rice is Jasmine rice. I prepare it with cilantro and the delicious aroma fills my house and I love it with vegetable stir fry!

  3. I am more a potato person than a rice person - but I am working on that. I enjoy Asian dishes more and more and so rice is getting to be a bigger part of our diet. I really like rice noodles - but then that is getting into a whole different category - pasta!