Eat Your… Rice

Rice

Dozens of rice varieties are grown worldwide, each with its own adaptation to local climate and cuisine. Here in the United States several of the most popular types can be found just about anywhere. From my casual observation these are the plain American “white rice” (sometimes parboiled and sold as “minute rice”), the mixed and often variable “wild rice”, short- or medium-grain brown rice, Thai jasmine rice, Indian basmati rice, Japanese sushi rice, and Italian arborio rice.

Today we’re going to focus on the latter four types, as they are probably the least well-known and most specific to certain cuisines.

Note: The pictures are of the rice grains before cooking.

Thai Jasmine Rice

Jasmine rice originated in Thailand in 1954. It has pleasing aromatic qualities and tends to stick together in loose clumps (though not as sticky as other Asian rice types). Some chefs use jasmine rice interchangeably with Indian basmati rice since they have similar properties. Jasmine rice also works well with Chinese food if no glutinous rice is available. However, when cooking Thai food it really is best to stick with Thai jasmine rice as the subtle flavor interactions are important. Remember to use it, or store it vacuum sealed, within a year for the best quality.

Cooking jasmine rice perfectly is easy once you know how (as I learned while working in an Asian restaurant). First, rinse and drain the rice grains three times to remove the excess starch. Next, spread the rice evenly over the bottom of the pot (just add a bit of water). Place the tip of your index finger on the surface of the rice, and fill with water until the water line almost reaches your first finger joint (this is about 3/4″ or 2 cm of water above the rice). Place on a stove top, bring to a boil for 1 minute, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 more minutes.

(If you really need measurements, use 1-3/4 cup water per 1 cup rice.)

Thai Jasmine Rice

Indian Basmati Rice

Basmati rice, like jasmine, contains complex aromas (‘basmati’ = ‘fragrant queen’ in Hindi) as well as a rich, nutty, buttery flavor that contrasts well with extremely spicy food. It has been cultivated for thousands of years and is grown primarily in present-day India and Pakistan. Unlike many other Asian rice varieties, basmati is more free-flowing and does not stick or clump together as readily. It also ages well and can be stored for long periods.

In the marketplace, one can find white and brown varieties of basmati (white is pictured below) as well as newer U.S.-based varieties with names like “Texmati” and “Kasmati”. For the indecisive, there is also the “Jasmati” hybrid rice — I guess sometimes you just gotta have that half-Thai half-Indian curry, right?

To cook basmati rice, rinse 2 or 3 times to remove excess starch and soak rice for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Drain, then fill with a ratio of 1-1/2 cups water per 1 cup rice. Add 1 tsp butter or oil to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover with lid, reduce heat, and simmer on low for 14 minutes. Remove from heat (still covered) and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Do NOT remove the lid and peek at any time during the cooking process.

Indian Basmati Rice

Japanese (Sushi) Rice

Japanese rice is a short grain variety that is very sticky when cooked. It is used primarily in the preparation of sushi, sashimi, maki, and temaki, the differences being in how the rice is prepared and/or presented.

Making sushi rice is very similar to Thai jasmine. Rinse the rice until the water is clear, then mix in a ratio of 1 cup rice to 1 cup water, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer on low for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and rest for 5-10 minutes.

To prepare the rice for making typical sushi, combine 3 Tbsp rice vinegar, 2 Tbsp sugar, and 1 Tbsp kosher salt in a small sauce pan and heat on low until sugar and salt are dissolved. Transfer the rice to a large wooden or glass mixing bowl (not metal) and add the vinegar mixture a little at a time evenly over the rice. Continue to turn the rice gently until the vinegar is incorporated throughout. Spread the rice on a flat surface to maximize cooling. It must be room temperature for use.

Sushi Rice

Italian Arborio Rice

This short grain, almost milky Italian rice comes from the town of Arborio. It is also commonly known as Italian rice or risotto rice, though now it is also grown in California and Texas. Arborio rice forms the basis of the dish risotto, which obtains its trademark creaminess through the slow release and mixture of the rice starch with hot stock of some sort.

Since I’m no risotto expert, I’ll defer to the many excellent articles previously published here on Accidental Hedonist. Though not vegetarian, they should provide a good starting point.

Food That Scares Me

Risotto alla Milanese

Crawfish Risotto

Risotto alla Finocchiona

Sausage Mushroom Risotto

Arborio Rice

See you next week!

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Ben is a graduate student at NCSU studying Crop Science with an emphasis on Sustainable Agriculture. Official foodie credentials are non-existent, other than the fact that he has been cooking for himself since he was 12 years old. You can find his personal blog at bengarland.com, photos and videos at bengarland’s Flickr photostream, and his plans for a self-constructed cob house and organic farm over at Our Farm Adventure (still a very new work in progress).