Fluffed One issue, a whole lotta rice
From washing it clean to letting it rest – and everything in between: Dale Berning Sawa serves up rice advice
With rice at the core of what at least half the world’s population cooks, it will come as no surprise that there are as many varieties of the grain as there are ways to prep it. Plain white rice is the beating heart of most Asian cuisines – the cooking of which involves nothing more than water – whereas in Latin American countries plain rice will invariably involve both fat and salt, and sometimes garlic too. Broadly speaking, though, how you cook your rice lies somewhere between letting it absorb all the liquid it needs and steaming it until tender. Exactly where you lie on that spectrum – and whether you start by washing and soaking the grains – is determined by the variety and the cuisine within which you’re working.
To rinse or not to rinse
White rice generally needs a good rinse before cooking, to remove its starchy coating – not washing it leads to smellier rice that spoils faster. You put the rice in a bowl, cover with cold water and swirl around with your hand, repeating this several times until the water runs clear. Of course, ridding the rice of its starch is not what you want for dishes where the grain’s creaminess is used to full effect – risottos, paellas and sweet or savoury rice puddings. (It’s still a good idea, though, to pick over the dry grains to get rid of any foreign matter …)
To soak or not to soak
While wild, wholegrain or glutinous rice always need to be soaked before cooking, usually overnight, many plain white rices also do. Japanese short-grain rice, for example, once rinsed and completely drained for 10-15 minutes, is best soaked for 30 minutes in its actual cooking water before the heat is turned on. Margaret Shaida soaks basmati for Persian-style white rice for 3-6 hours in lots of fresh cold water with rock salt, then drains it completely. And Madhur Jaffrey soaks her Indian basmati for 30 minutes before thoroughly draining. Basically, whether you’ve only rinsed the rice, or soaked it in lots of water, you’ll always want to drain it thoroughly before adding in its cooking water.
To steam ...
Either you parboil the rice in lots of water, then steam it until tender – see the involved method for Persian-style
chelow, or Fuchsia Dunlop’s trad recipe for Chinese long grain where, after a 7-8 minute simmer, it is tipped into a steamer basket over a high heat and left for 10.
... or to boil
Or else you boil it in just enough water so that it is fully absorbed. Japanese short-grain requires about a 1:1.1 rice to water ratio – or in other words, the same volume as your rice, and a tiny bit extra. Most importantly, though – and this applies to methods everywhere, from Vietnam to Ecuador – never lift the lid on a pot of cooking rice. And for 20 minutes after you turn off the heat too, just leave it be. You want a heavy-based pan and a lid that fits well – wrap the latter in aluminium foil or a muslin, or weigh it down with something heavy to ensure no steam escapes. Most methods will see you bringing the water to the boil and cooking over a high heat for a short while, then over the lowest possible for longer. The browned crust that high heat often produces isn’t the sign of an inexperienced cook, but rather the bit eaters at tables across the globe fight over.