Rice-the Feeder of the World June 2010
Rice is the ultimate food. Every day millions of people start and finish the day with a bowl of rice. In my house rice is a permanent fixture at breakfast and dinner and often for lunch as well. My rice box is seldom empty and if for some unknown reason that is does become so it is like a state emergency!
As I have been bought up eating rice basically every day I don’t quite have the same love affair as others do to potatoes and other forms of starch that are generally served alongside meats. My appreciation of rice is that is works in so many ways.
Through out the East there are many expressions that relate to eating that involve rice. To ask someone if they have eaten today is indicated in a manner that asks if you have eaten rice today. The Japanese were introduced to rice from the Chinese via Korea and made it a staple of their diets and a central part of their cuisine. Each dish is a side issue to the rice itself that takes centre stage.
There are some easy to remember rules about rice that will make choosing the right rice easy. I find many people have rice confusion over long grain, short grain, medium grain, jasmine, japonica, basmati; wild….the list is rather long on varietals.
Three species differentiate eating types in Asia. Indica is a long grain variety with a little stickiness, Japonica is short with some stickiness and Javanica is long grained with more stickiness.
Basmati and Jasmine fall into the long grained Indica variety while the rice you will generally see in Japan, China, and Korea are all Japonica. Vietnamese use a mixture of Japonica and long grained rice that they cook in such a way to create either very sticky or very dry and fluffy rice.
I am a Japonica short or medium grain girl myself and always have been. I enjoy the natural clumping, the sweet taste that does not over power the food and creaminess of the grain. It is the perfect rice to serve alongside Chinese food and can be used for sushi, fried rice dishes and to serve alongside Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean food.
I always wash my rice very well first then cook using the standard absorption method.
Naturally there is a great deal of choice when it comes to rice including those that have not be polished, or still have their exterior sheath on them for extra nutrition. It doesn’t have to be all white rice and less nutriants if you don’t want it to be.
Brown rice has not been milled so the colour you see is the exterior layer of bran. Much higher in fibre than white rice, it is a good dietary source of vitamin B but can be rather chewy. I like brown rice but I would never give up white in its favour. I do enjoy it more when mixed with white rice as it provides a lovely nuttiness.
Basmati Rice is the classic rice used when cooking Indian and Persian dishes. The grains are visibly longer and when cooked remain separated. Many suggest soaking basmati for up to 30minutes prior to cooking so the rice uptakes the water better making it fluffier when cooked. In India aged or vintage basmati is highly prized for its flavour but is not commonly seen elsewhere.
Jasmine rice has a subtle flavour and a longer grain. Perfumed, it needs to be matched carefully so its flavours will not over power but it is ideal for Thai dishes rich in intense flavours. Rinse well before use.
Wild rice is not a grain but an aquatic grass, it is well known to those who shop at health food stores. Now more and more available in supermarkets, it is always hellishly expensive for some unknown reason as it is no longer wild but cultivated like all other races. The expensive makes it a hard one to serve on its own and I find too that the chewy quality of the grass grain can really be quite a work out for the teeth. I mix it with other rices to extend it and if nothing else it looks lovely served as a pilaff. Soaking it can help speed up the lengthy cooking time also.
Arborio, Vialone Nano and Carnaroli are all risotto rice’s high in all the right starches that you need to make creamy comfort food.
Risotto should never simply be sloppy though and these grains all need a different treatment to get the most out of them. Arborio is perhaps the most temperamental but generally the most widely available for risotto. Each variety adds different attributes and textures to your risotto as each contain differing degrees of amylopectin and amylose. Amylopectin is the soft starch that dissolves when cooked and amylose is the starch in the centre of the grain that keeps its bite even when cooked. If you hold a grain of risotto rice up to the light you can see the two types of white in each grain. This starch makes the creamy texture you are looking for in a good risotto, hence why you don’t wash your risotto rice like you would all other rice.
Arborio has the most surface starch or amylopectin, making it the ideal choice for a dense risotto. It does in turn need the most attention as that lovely starch and creaminess can become very gluey easily. The irony is arborio is perhaps the most common of all three risotto rises but the most difficult to cook well. Large grain size means a 18-20 minute cooking time.
Vialone nano is the smallest of the three grains and has equal quantities of amylopectin and amylose. Generally used to make a much wetter Venetian style risotto, the results are not too creamy, not too dry with a shorter cooking time of around 14-15 minutes.
Carnaroli is also evenly proportioned in starch inside and out and is seen as the most forgiving of all three producing a even, soft texture but the larger grain means a slightly longer cooking time of 16-17 minutes.
I have come to realise that cooking rice is one of things that people take for granted that everyone knows. I have also come to realise that there is a lot of badly cooked rice out there! I follow this procedure to ensure I get fluffy perfect rice each time and I am sorry to say it does not involve using the microwave or a boil in the bag.
Place the rice in a heavy based pot and wash well under running water. Move the rice through your fingers, gently massaging it and helping any excess starch works its way put of the rice. The water will be cloudy. Pour off the water and continue the rinsing process a few times or until the water begins to run clearer.
Cover the rice with 3 centimetres of water. Some people use the finger measure where they add enough water to reach their knuckle if their fingertip is resting on the rice.
Place the pot on the stove covered on a high heat and bring it to the boil. You may need to very briefly remove the lid to release excess steam but make sure you replace the lid straight away. Steam is the key to fluffy rice.
Reduce the heat to low and allow to cook for 20 minutes.
The simplest of things can sometimes be the hardest to master so keep working at it.