White Rice is without a doubt the best tasting staple grain in the world, since most of it ends up being eaten in its plain form instead of being ground up and transformed into a bread or noodle. It is consumed in Southeast Asia, Indochina, Japan, Korea and the Southern half of China at almost every meal, day after day after day, as plain boiled rice. I attribute the popularity of rice to its firm yet fluffy texture, and its amazing ability to soak up the flavour of whatever it is eaten with.
While Risotto and Pilaf feature sometimes in Western menus, it is a pity that rice as a viable side dish of carbs has not really caught on, not even in fusion cuisine. My own observation is that white rice goes well with poultry and seafood, as well as dishes with cheese and/or creamy sauces.
Let me start by saying that instant rice has no place in any self-respecting kitchen. It is rice that is precooked and then dehydrated, which you then rehydrate yourself. Some things like stock can be dehydrated, but rice is not one of those things. The process destroys the texture and aroma of rice.
Premium rice will come in vacuum sealed heavy duty plastic. Do not open the package until you actually plan to use the rice. Once the packaging is opened, raw rice can be stored for a few months at room temperature as long as it is kept dry in an air tight container. If it is not consumed after a few months you run the risk of weevils, which is a minute infesting insect normally associated with rice. You can keep rice much longer, for over a year, by storing it in your fridge in a zip-loc bag.
Cooking White Rice
To get the perfect pot of rice, you simply rinse the rice, place it in the rice cooker with some water, press a button and wait. If you really want to cook rice, I strongly urge you get a rice cooker. It is notoriously difficult to boil rice over an open flame. A bit too much water and you get mush, a bit too little water and end up with rice pebbles. If even a bit of rice gets burnt, and trust me this happens very easily, the burnt smell gets infused into every grain into the pot. Rice cookers are inexpensive appliances and they have become pretty versatile; you can use them to steam stuff or even stew like a crock pot. Nowadays they even come with microchips which makes them more forgiving if you have too much or too little water.
Before rice is boiled it should be rinsed a few times, usually in the container it is about to be cooked in. Swirl the rice in water that half fills the pot and then pour out the the water quickly, discarding the bits that float along with the water. These are the grains which have been damaged by weevils. Rinsing also removes any corn starch which may have been used to improve the appearance of the grains. Some people like to use the discarded water for watering plants. After rinsing twice or thrice, leave about 1.5 cm of water over the rice (the rule of thumb is to have just enough water to cover your index finger placed atop the rice).
Types of Rice
Here is a brief description of some common premium varieties of rice.
This is also commonly known as Thai Fragrant Rice, because it is originates from Thailand, the world’s largest exporter of rice. A similar variety is grown in Australia and exported. Jasmine Rice is a long grained variety with a slightly translucent appearance. Its key attribute, which is why it is so popular, is that it does not become as sticky as other types of rice upon cooking, even though it becomes just as tender. For this reason, it has displaced the shorter grain varieties from China as the defacto standard for quality Chinese rice. You will usually find Jasmine Rice being served in the affluent homes of East Asia and in reputable Chinese restaurants worldwide. Jasmine Rice is perfect for making fried rice, although I’d leave it out to dry for an hour or so after cooking to dry it up first.
Basmati is another long grain variety like Jasmine, which comes from the Indian sub-continent. It is rarer and more expensive than Jasmine and is sometimes referred to as the King of Rice in India and Pakistan. Although it shares many of the same qualities as Jasmine, it is even thinner, giving it a very elongated appearance when cooked. Indian rice dishes such as Nasi Briyani would typically use Basmati. If you are preparing Curry, Chicken a la King or perhaps Beef Stroganoff, this is the rice variety I’d recommend.
Japanese rice, also known more formally as Japonica, is the only type of rice eaten in Japan and considered a high quality variety. This is also the rice that must be used to make sushi. Rice that is cultivated is Japan is never exported, and any Japonica the rest of the world eats is an ‘inferior’ crop grown in the California. You can recognize raw Japanese rice as it is unusually roundish, short and always well polished. It is also more opaque than Jasmine and Basmati. As it is a short grain type, cooked Japanese rice is sticky which allows you to pick up balls of rice using a pair of chopsticks with no difficulty. What sets it apart from other short rice is it doesn’t become mushy, even though its surface is sticky. Many consider Japanese rice a prized variety because of this unique quality. If you are making a baked dish with rice, like this Lobster Thermidor Style dish, I’d use this variety.
This is sometimes called sticky rice, or mochigome if you are in Japan. Its a medium length grain which takes a very long time to cook. Consequently, it is not normally used as a every day staple grain. You can recognize it easily as it is totally opaque and is has a pearly white appearance. On the occasions that it is eaten as ‘rice’, glutinous rice is not boiled after rinsing, but is soaked for several hours and then steamed (or pan fried till it is cooked, a very labourious process ). Because glutinous rice is very sticky and chewy, it is very often used to make steamed leaf wrapped rice and meat dumplings. It is also a commom component of desserts in many parts of Asia. As for me, I usually use glutinous rice as a soup ingredient when I make Korean Chicken Ginseng Soup.
Strictly speaking, Arborio Rice doesn’t belong on this page as its also not boiled like white rice but slow cooked into a creamy risotto. But it is a white variety and its found in my kitchen. Arborio grains look a bit like Japonica but are even shorter and chubbier. I won’t go into the details about making Risotto here, you can look that up on my Risotto Page.
- Rice is easily flavoured. If its a powdered flavour like turmeric or a liquid flavour like chicken stock or butter, add it before the rice starts cooking. If its something solid like bacon or mushrooms, place it on the rice when it is half cooked and continue cooking.
- While white rice tastes the best, it is the worst in terms of nutrition since all the vitamins and nutrients are contained in the shell which has been polished away. This is a reason why wild rice is preferred in the West. In the old days, when Asians were poor and used to eat rice without any meat or fresh vegetables, they’d develop vitamin dificiencies like Beri-Beri. However, as everyone eats meat and vegetables regularly now, this has become a problem of the past, so eat as much rice as you please.