Your Kitchen Already Has Everything You Need!
Forget all those enticing, expensive and space-wasting specialized electric cookers, bamboo steamers, or other exotic and pricey specialty equipment you have seen on the television shows, especially the cooking shows—you simply don't need them! Rice is an easy dish to cook perfectly, each time and every time, simply by following a specific technique each time you cook your recipes. I should know; my mother taught me this method of cooking it almost fifty years ago! All you need for your recipe to turn out perfectly is a heavy saucepan or pot with a tight-fitting cover, some liquid (usually water, but you can try other liquids as well), some variety of rice, some herbs or spices, something to measure with, and a little oil if desired, and you will be ready to impress your family and friends! Other than that, there's really no trick to cooking it whatsoever, so there's no reason not to learn to cook it perfectly! (And this general technique works for perfectly cooked brown and wild rice, too—in fact, for any variety of grains at all, and there are some pretty exotic kinds out there.)
Yes, there are package directions, but if you've transferred the rice into another container and thrown out the package, what are you going to do?
For almost all kinds of rice, it is recommended that you toast the grains first. This is a simple process: simply put the measured amount of rice in a dry skillet, and heat until you hear the grains popping (it will be a little like the sound popcorn makes, but much fainter).
If you wish, you can add spices for the rice to the dry skillet and toast them along with the rice (herbs should be added after the liquid has been added), or you can bloom the spices first in a small bit of olive oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, or another cooking oil (avoid nut oils, except peanut oil, as the smoke point of nut oils is very low).
What is a Part?
In most all the methods that follow, the proportions will be two parts of liquid to one part rice. But how much is a "part"? Simply put, that is any measurement you want it to be. A part can be a teaspoon, a cup, a gallon, a glass full, or any measurement you like. Normally when people cook grains, they tend to think in terms of cups, but don't let that stop you. Cook as much or as little as you like (usually no less than a quarter-cup), up to the capacity of your cooking pots!
The Different Kinds of Rice
We are all familiar with the plain white rice that we've seen all our lives, but did you know that rice comes in many different varieties, each with its own particular set of nutrients, and each with its own flavor and texture? Here are just a few of the varieties you can find in the supermarket, and how to cook each one. In each case, exact measurements of grains and water are important to make sure your rice turns out well. Keep the grains dry until you are ready to begin cooking; otherwise they will turn too starchy and unpleasant.
Basmati? Jasmine? Texmati? These are simply different subspecies of rice. Don't worry about it; if it's not arborio or glutinous, cook according to the color of the grains.
Should you add salt? This depends on your recipe. If you are cooking a sweet dish, such as rice pudding, of course you don't add salt, except in very limited quantities to adjust the flavor of the dish. If you are cooking a savory dish, you may salt the water or not. Salting the water first will raise the temperature at which the water boils, and at which the grains of rice begin to absorb water. If you want stickier rice, add less salt or no salt; if you want separate grains, add salt in the beginning; if you want somewhat sticky rice, add salt towards the middle or the end of your cooking time.
Black, Forbidden, or Purple
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Black is sometimes called Forbidden or Purple rice. This variety is high in nutritional value and contains high levels of anthocyanin antioxidants. Because the bran is left on, it will take longer to cook than varieties without the bran. Measure out two parts of water to one part of rice, then add a bit more water. Toast the grains, either in oil or dry. When the grains start popping like popcorn, add your water, set the timer for thirty-five minutes, cover, and when steam starts escaping from the lid, turn down the heat until the steam just barely escapes. Now walk away and don't peek! When the timer goes off, check for doneness (explained later).
Cooked Black Rice in Spanish Paella
Make a change from your ordinary recipes by switching to a different kind of rice. Here black rice is used to make a variation of the traditional Spanish paella and the result is pretty spectacular! Note how this variety has colored the other ingredients when they are cooked together.
Red varieties are grown in many different places, including the United States and many Asian countries.
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Red rice is another variety of this cereal high in anthocyanins, so the bran is left on (that's what gives it its red color). Because the bran is left on, it takes longer for the water to penetrate to the grain, so it is cooked in the same way as black rice: two slightly generous parts of water to one part rice, toasting the grains first, and then add the water, cover, and reduce the heat until almost no steam escapes from the cover. Set your timer for thirty-five minutes, walk away, and check for doneness when the timer beeps.
Notice the short, opaque grains that are typical of arborio, the variety used to make risotto.
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This variety of rice is high in amylopectins, and so produces a starchier grain suitable for risotto and rice pudding, as well as many recipes in which a starchier texture is desirable.
The traditional way to cook risotto is in a skillet, adding little bits of liquid at a time, stirring, and waiting until all the liquid is absorbed. However, that's not the no-fuss method we're looking for, so here's the easy way.
Measure out two parts water to one part rice. Toast the rice just a little in a dry skillet; add the water. Stir briskly for seven minutes, then set your timer for ten more minutes and walk away. Check for doneness when the timer goes off.
If you are using arborio for rice pudding, you can cook it by boiling two parts of water first, and then adding one part of rice. Cover the pot and lower the heat until almost no steam escapes, then set your timer for fifteen minutes and walk away. When the timer goes off, check for doneness.
Risotto is a featured dish in many elegant restaurants. Now you can make it, too!
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Wild rice isn't really in the same botanical category as the other varieties, but a kind of grass. However, it is cooked in much the same way as rice, and it's sold as such, and even blended with them, so it's included here.
Measure two generous parts water to one part rice. Toast the grains. Add water, cover, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat until barely any steam comes out from under the lid of the pot. Set your timer for thirty-five minutes and whatever you do, don't peek! When the time is up, check for doneness.
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Brown rice is just the regular kind where the germ and the bran of the grain has been left on, and only the outer husk removed. It is much more nutritious than polished, but you should limit your consumption, because scientists have recently discovered that this contains arsenic. The quantity of arsenic in a single serving of brown rice is not significant, but if you eat a lot of it, you could build up an amount that can affect your health. Although experts advise rinsing the grains until the water runs clear to remove some of the arsenic, that will make the finished dish much stickier.
Toast the grains, add twice the amount of water (less if you rinse it), and cover, reducing the heat until steam barely escapes from the lid. Set your timer for thirty-five minutes and don't peek!
This dish contains long grain brown rice, which provides better nutrition than the polished (white) kind most of us are familiar with. Rinse it well, as it contains surface arsenic, regardless of the brand or how it is grown (even organically). The plants absorb it from their surroundings.
White rice, very inexpensive and familiar to most of us, is the same grain where the germ and the bran (the colored part) has been polished off, leaving only the inner part. As a result, this kind takes much less time to cook than varieties where the germ is left intact. As usual, we start by toasting the rice on high heat, then adding two parts of water to one part of rice. Cover, then reduce the heat until no steam escapes from the lid, and then set your timer for fifteen minutes and walk away. When the time is up, check for doneness.
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Sticky (sometimes called glutinous, or sweet) rice is used primarily in Asian cuisines for a number of both sweet and savory dishes. For these dishes it is cooked much differently than the others, but the only additional equipment you will need is a strainer. First, you want to measure out the desired amount of sticky rice, and soak it in water for no less than one hour and no more than two hours. Drain the rice, and put it in the strainer on top of a pot of boiling water, and cover for about ten minutes. Remove the lid, and turn the rice over. Cook for about another three minutes. Examine the rice for any uncooked grains, and turn the rice over again. Cook for another two to three minutes, check for doneness, and then serve.
You can flavor the grains by adding herbs or spices to the boiling water below the strainer; you can even continue to use that water for other purposes (tea, soup, sauce, etc.).
How to Cook Sticky (AKA Sweet or Glutinous) Rice
Checking for Doneness
After your timer goes off, carefully lift the cover off the saucepan, away from you to avoid a steam burn. You should see that the individual grains are fluffed up, with little holes in the dish where evaporating steam has worked its way through the layers of rice grains. Test a few grains by biting through them, to check for texture. Fluff the grains with a fork and your dish is ready to serve! (If for some reason there is a little liquid at the bottom of the saucepan, stir it into the cooked grains, cover, and allow the dish to rest for five minutes. If the rice is a little dry, add a little liquid, put a clean kitchen towel between the pot and the lid, and allow to steam off heat for about five minutes.)
Did you know you can cook your recipes with any liquid, not just water? Stock made from chicken, beef, fish or vegetables can be added in place of water to provide a savory dish; milk or wine can be made either savory or sweet; and more exotic liquids such as juice for a rice dessert, or coconut milk or coconut water for Asian or Latin flavors are worth trying! These liquids will absorb into the rice somewhat differently than water, so be prepared to make some fine adjustments on the amounts (usually you will have to add a little more liquid, and you may have to lengthen the cooking time, especially if your liquid contains salt, as the liquid will penetrate the coating of the grains differently). If you are making a dessert recipe, consider serving your rice with a citrus-flavored oil that you can make yourself. You can also serve rice for breakfast, made into a sweet pudding that your family will love, by simply mixing the rice, cooked with milk, with a little sugar and some fresh fruit (for an exotic touch, add a little cinnamon and some freshly ground black pepper).
If you are going to cook your rice with dried herbs, add them after you add the water to the rice; if you are going to use fresh herbs, add them in the last five minutes of cooking. That way the herbs will deliver maximum flavor to your dish.
Ever seen that crunchy rice in some ethnic dishes and wonder how it is done? Here's the secret: after your rice is done, heat oil in a skillet on high. Once the oil is very hot, pour through the top of the pot. The oil will fry the rice on the bottom of the pot to a crispy crust. Break it up and mix it into the rest of the dish.
And there you have the secret of cooking perfect rice, time after time. Try this easy, no-fuss method for yourself and see just how simple it can be. As the late, celebrated, Julia Child used to say, "Bon Appétit!"