Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cooking Great Rice: Easy

Yesterday I posted a recipe for a Thai yellow curry. It NEEDS well-cooked rice to accompany it. In Thai, as in Malay-Indonesian, Chinese, and (I'm told) other Southeast Asian languages, you don't "eat". You "eat rice". Even if you're having noodles or bread! Rice is so fundamental to most Asian cuisines that it is considered the base, or more simply, rice is 'food'. In Thai, curries, fish, stir-fry dishes, and the other things we in the West think of as principal dishes are collectively called "with rice". And rice in East and Southeast Asia is cooked without salt.

With rice so key to Asian dining, cooking it well is critical. It can be easy, as I'll illustrate with both Thai jasmine rice and Indian-Pakistani basmati rice. A rice cooker makes the process simple -- as long as you handle the rice correctly and get the quantity of water right. But rice is almost as easy to cook well on top of the stove. How to cook rice is usually the first thing I teach in my Evening-at-Emory international cooking classes.

The two methods here are for Thai 'jasmine' rice and for basmati rice. The first recipe is the actual way it is done for Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese cooking. By contrast, the basmati method is simplified, since the original methods in Indian, Pakistani and, especially, in Persian cooking can be elaborate, with soaking, par-cooking, draining, and final steaming.

One of the keys is buying good rice, and the more aged the better. 'New Crop' is advertized as if it were a positive. That's like Tom Sawyer convincing his friends fence painting is fun. In Malaysia, where we lived for a long time, this year's rice was considered distinctly to be avoided. Recently harvested rice is moister, is harder to cook well, and is a little rubbery and tough. Another key is rinsing and draining the rice before cooking it. This washes off the starch and dust left from the milling, along with any little beasts that got into the rice. The rinsing distinctly improves the rice texture. American rice, which is a less insteresting substitute for Thai or Indian rice, is 'enriched' by powdering it with lab-created vitamins and minerals. Rinsing will wash them off. But unless you are dependent on rice for your micronutrients, I'd advise choosing good eating over marginal nutrition, but that's me. The third key is tightly covering the rice while it is cooking, NOT STIRRING, and NOT UNCOVERING the rice throughout its cooking and 10-minute post-cooking rest period.

‘Steamed’ White Rice (Thai and Chinese style)

This recipe will serve six Westerners, or four Thai.

2 cups long grain rice (preferably Thai ‘Jasmine’; not Uncle Ben’s or Basmati)
2-1/2 cups water
NO salt

Place rice in heavy pot and rinse twice with water, draining the water from the pot while holding the rice in with your hand cupped along the edge of the pot. Add 2-1/2 cups water (not hot) and bring to a boil, uncovered. When a full boil is reached, let rice boil 30 seconds, then cover tightly with lid or a plate, reduce heat to the lowest possible and let simmer 20 minutes without lifting the lid to peek. Without uncovering the pot, turn off heat and let sit for at least 5 minutes (10 minutes is better). Then uncover and fluff the rice gently with a fork and cover until needed.

Alternatively an electric rice cooker can be used with the same proportions of rinsed rice and water. Allow rice to sit at least 5-10 minutes after the light turns off before fluffing with the fork. Cover the rice again. The rice cooker will keep it hot until needed.

Note: Previously cooked and refrigerated rice can be very successfully reheated in the microwave in a microwave-safe container covered with a lid or waxed paper, sprinkling the rice with a bit of water before heating and fluffing gently with a fork several times during heating until thoroughly and evenly hot.

Basmati Rice

This is a simplified version of South Asian rice cooking. It produces a light, fluffy, and individual rice. The key determinant is good quality basmati rice, which is grown in several areas of northern India and nearby areas of Pakistan. Generally the rice is cooked without salt, but there are a number of dishes where salt, and even spices, are cooked with the rice. If salt is desired, use 1/2 teaspoon for each cup of rice.

Use the same method as for Thai-style jasmine rice cooking, except use 3 cups water for the 2 cups of rice, after rinsing. The proportion, thus is 1-1/2 parts water for each part of rice. If desired, add 1 teaspoon salt to the 2 cups of rice along with the cooking water.


Blogger Hamster said...

There's a video showing how to cook Thai Jasmine rice here at this website.
It's got about 30 recipes each one with a cooking video to go along
Good if you like to try cooking Thai food at home

3:39 PM  

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