Everyone eats rice. Not everyone eats potatoes,
or corn, or wheat - but every person on earth eats rice in some
form. Yes, even you, Mr.Tater-Tot, there in front of the TV. There's
rice in your beer.
On the culinary stage, rice is like an unassuming
supporting actor who steals the whole show right from under the
stars - sort of the Harvey Keitel of the starch world, able to assume
roles, carry whole performances, change characters and, in the wink
of an eye, transcend cultural boundaries. Innocently bland, but
capable of great versatility, rice is so primal that in many languages
the word for rice is the same as the word for food itself. It is
at once the most prosaic and profound of foods, the primary sustenance
of billions of people, from the humblest beggar to the hautest of
Rice is a moon-white goddess: pale, soft, delightfully
pagan, an ancient symbol of fertility, prosperity and wealth. In
prehistory, the watery life cycle of rice was revered as a mirror
of the fountain of life itself: a rhythm of birth, death and renewal,
a glimpse into the mysterious working of the gods. In some cultures,
rice is still considered a living divinity, given to humankind to
sustain, nourish and serve.
Archaeologists believe that rice was first intentionally
cultivated in China, possibly as long as ten thousand years ago.
Through trade and parallel development of agriculture, rice spread
throughout Asia, to India, Africa and finally into Spain, Italy
and the Americas.
To truly grasp the importance of a tiny grain
of rice, it is necessary to think in huge numbers. Half the world's
population, over three billion people, is dependent upon rice as
a primary food source. Eighty thousand different varieties of rice
exist, of which seven thousand have been or are being cultivated.
Rice has been grown for ten thousand years. There are thousands
of recipes for rice cookery, but rice and its byproducts have hundreds
of material uses beyond food. One and a half pounds of rice per
day, with no other food supplement, can keep a hard-working human
being alive and healthy, indefinitely.
Nutritionally, rice is a powerhouse of readily
accessible energy in the form of complex carbohydrates. It is also
relatively rich in important proteins. Rice is more easily digestible
than wheat and since it is gluten-free, does not cause allergic
reactions. It is used as a medicine in many countries because it
is the simplest of foods, perfect for the very young, the very old
and the infirm. Being a primal food, rice is its own seed
Acre for acre, rice produces more available food energy than either
wheat or corn. There are so many varieties of rice that some species
can be found to grow in almost any temperate zone, even in marginal
areas where other food crops will fail. It can grow in dry areas
with irrigation, or in fifteen feet of water, depending on the species.
Rice farming was established in the Carolina lowlands
three hundred years ago with African seed and intensive slave labor,
but today, rice farming is conducted on a huge scale in Arkansas,
California, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas; the US is the fifth-largest
exporter of rice to the world. Pre-germinated seed is broadcast
by airplane, flooded by computer-controlled irrigation systems,
and harvested by fleets of combines.
While we grow vast fields of rice, Americans consume
only about 25 pounds per capita, compared to 500 pounds per person
in Southeast Asia. A large percentage of the rice that is grown
in the United States is not eaten directly as rice, but goes into
other products, like beer, makeup and animal feed. (If there is
some relation between these three things, I don't think I want to
know.) Rice byproduct has industrial uses as a polishing agent,
and material for paper and rope. Rice pops up as infant formula
and cereal, snack foods, and oil; as rice crackers, rice cakes,
crispy rice cereal, rice wine, rice paper, rice vinegar, rice noodles,
rice cereal and even rice tea. As every Scot knows, gluten -free
rice flour is essential for making delicate, melt-in-your-mouth
shortbread; as every soccer parent knows, without crispy rice, there
are no rice crispy squares.
Types of Rice
If your mental image of 'rice' has a trolley car, or a smiling man
on the package, think again. Rice, a grass like barley and oats,
is among the most genetically complex of all plant families. In
global seed banks, the genus Oryza spans more than 80,000 different
varieties with another 1500 'wild' varieties.
Rice is classified as long, medium or short-grained.
It grows in a natural array of colors: black, red, mahogany, tan,
golden, brown and purest white. Some rice is elongated and naturally
perfumed, while another type might look like dusty pearls. When
cooked, rice may be fluffy, creamy, sticky or glutinous, depending
on the type and amount of starch naturally present. In general,
long-grain rice cooks up dry and fluffy with distinct, separate
grains. Short grain rice can be creamy, sticky or even gooey. The
texture of medium grain rice falls somewhere in between.
Buy rice in small quantities. Avoid the bulk bins
or 20 pound bags, unless you plan to feed a small army. Good rice
is of uniform size and will look very clean. It should not be powdery,
have broken grains, or be discolored.
Short-grained Italian rice, which cooks up to a creamy exterior
and a slightly firm interior. Essential for risotto. Always buy
superfino grade or better.
Long-grained Indian rice with a distinct perfume.
Rice with the hull removed but the outer coating left on. More nutritious,
but harder to digest. It is very high in fiber.
Long-grain rice that has been par-cooked under pressure and dried
in order to enhance its texture and lengthen shelf life. Because
of the cooking method, converted rice is actually slightly more
nutritious than regular white rice. It becomes extremely hard during
processing, and so requires more liquid when cooked. Converted rice
gives very reliable results, but has less flavor than some of the
more interesting varieties.
Indescribably bad. If you're going to get a pot dirty anyway, you
might as well take 15 minutes and make real rice. Boil in a bag:
Short, round grain, very starchy and sticky, needs to be well washed
before cooking. This is eaten at every meal in China and Japan;
to turn it into 'sushi' rice, a mixture of vinegar and sugar is
added, and the rice is stirred and fanned as it cools.
Long-grained, sticky, soft rice, very white. Used in Thai cooking.
It is usually used in sweets, or as a side dish. Not a substitute
for any other short-grain rice.
Mahogany or Black Rice:
Naturally occurring dark-colored japonica rice, short-grained, with
a delicious nutty flavor and chewy texture. Grown by Lundberg Farms
in Northern California.
The most expensive, long-grained Indian rice, aged for two years
to enhance its fragrance and texture. Worth the extra money.
Also called glutinous rice, this rice cooks to a quivering pudding-like
texture. Wild Rice: Another member of the grass family and a distant
cousin of the regular cultivars, so-called 'wild' rice is now grown
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Tips For Perfect Rice
- Do not wash long or medium grain rice before
- Do wash short grain rice, especially Japanese
rice. Wash under cold running water until no milky starch is visible.
- Asian style rice is never salted. Liquid for
cooking long and medium grain rice should be lightly seasoned
- Cooking long and medium grain rice with a small
amount of fat helps keeps grains separate.
- Try not to peek. The rice needs to absorb all
those wonderful-smelling vapors. You can tell the rice is cooked
by shaking the pot; if you can feel it sloshing around, it's not
- Before taking the lid off, let the rice rest
and cool for ten minutes, covered, off the heat
- Use a large carving fork, a skewer or chopsticks
to gently fluff the rice before serving. A spoon will crush the
In order to be digestible, rice must absorb one to three times its
dry volume in liquid -virtually any liquid. The key is rice's innate
ability to absorb flavors, scents and colors. Rice will take on
the characteristics of whatever you cook with it, whether it is
saffron-hued chicken stock, beets, orange zest, squid ink or lobster
meat (or chlorine -always use filtered water!) The possibilities
are truly endless.
Asian rice is generally served plain and unsalted,
as a background to other foods and condiments. Long grain pilafs
take well to cooking with any flavored liquid, though naturally
perfumed rice like basmati and jasmine can be enjoyed plain.
Risottos by definition are strongly flavorful,
cooked with highly seasoned liquids, wine, herbs, saffron, and other
potent tastes. Risottos are intended to be eaten as a separate course,
and so must stand on their own.
Rice can be steamed, boiled like pasta, baked with liquid, or cooked
in a rice cooker. Cooking time and amount of liquid used depend
on the type of rice.
Short grain (Japanese style): Wash a measured
amount of short grain Japanese rice under cold running water until
the rice no longer throws off milky ribbons of starch. Place the
rice in a pot; add an equal quantity of water (1:1 ratio) and let
the rice soak for twenty minutes. Bring to the boil, cover, turn
heat to low and cook for ten minutes. Let rest off the heat, covered,
for ten minutes, fluff and serve.
Pilaf Style (long grain): Sauté
a little finely minced onion until soft in a small amount of oil.
Add measured amount of long-grain rice and sauté until it
becomes fragrant and very lightly golden. Add measured amount of
water (2:1 ratio) cover tightly and cook on the stovetop or in a
preheated 400 degree oven until the rice no longer moves in the
pan. Let stand, covered, at least ten minutes. Uncover, gently fluff
Pasta Style (long or medium grain): Bring
plenty of water to a rolling boil. Add the rice and cook uncovered
until soft. Drain well, return to pan, cover and let steam, off
the heat, for several minutes. Fluff with fork, drizzle with melted
butter and serve very hot.
Risotto Style (Arborio rice): Risotto is
stirred while the cook adds small amounts of hot liquid. It will
take about twenty minutes of your full attention to make a risotto
correctly. Different grades and ages of rice will cook slower, or
faster, and absorb more or less liquid, so you need to be alert
to what is happening with the rice as it cooks. The risotto is done
when the center 'heart' is the texture of perfectly cooked pasta,
and there is still a small amount of creamy liquid around the rice.
Sauté Italian Arborio or carnaroli rice (no substitutions!)
in a bit of oil or clarified butter with finely diced onion or shallot.
Have a well-flavored liquid ready, whatever you are using - traditionally,
chicken, veal or fish stock. When the rice is lightly golden (it
will smell wonderful) add a good shot of white wine and cook, stirring,
until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Continue to add successive
small amounts of liquid while stirring constantly, waiting for the
rice to absorb the liquid before adding more. The risotto is done
when it is creamy but not dry, and the rice still retains a barely
Rice Cooking Table
|1 Cup Uncooked
|Regular long grain
||1 ¾ cups
|Regular medium grain
||1 ½ cups
|Regular short grain
||1 ¼ cups
||2 ¼ cups
|Blends, precooked, seasoned
mixes - follow package directions
Cooking Table: www.ricecafe.com)
Fingertip method (also known as 'winging it'): May give inconsistent results. Put the desired amount of long grain
rice into a pot that has a tight-fitting lid. Rest your finger on
the surface of the rice and add enough water to come up to the first
joint of your finger. Bring to the boil uncovered (take your finger
out, of course;) turn heat to low and cover tightly. Cook for about
15 minutes. If there is any liquid remaining, return to low heat.
Let stand 10 minutes before uncovering and fluffing.
Risotto with Smoked Chicken, Wild Mushrooms and Fried Sage
Risotto requires four things of the
cook: good quality Arborio rice, flavorful ingredients, real Italian
Parmigiana Reggiano cheese, and most important, your unflagging
attention. Risotto must be stirred constantly while cooking in order
to develop its natural creaminess and prevent scorching. This is
a great job for guests who hang around in the kitchen asking to
help. Serves 6.
1 cup hot water
1 ounce package dried woodland mushrooms (porcini, cepes, trumpets,
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup finely minced onions
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 cup superfino Arborio rice
½ cup white wine
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
½ cup filtered water
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces smoked chicken breast, diced ½ inch
1/3 cup grated Italian Parmigiana cheese
6 large, perfect sage leaves, wiped clean
1/4 cup olive oil
Wash the mushrooms well under cold running water.
Transfer to a bowl, pour over the hot water and let soak 30 minutes.
Squeeze the mushrooms and cut into slices. Strain the soaking liquid
through a piece of paper towel or cheesecloth, or the risotto will
Heat the butter and oil together over medium high
heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they begin to stick.
Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft. Reduce heat and add
the rice. Stir and cook until the rice becomes fragrant and starts
to color slightly.
Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed. Add
half a cup of the chicken stock and stir until it is absorbed. Continue
to add the chicken stock, the mushroom soaking liquid, and lastly,
the water in half-cup measures as the rice absorbs the previous
batch. (This process is greatly speeded up if the liquids are warm.)
Above all - keep stirring!
Towards the end of the cooking time, the risotto
will create its own sauce and should be fairly loose. Season with
the salt and black pepper, fold in the diced smoked chicken and
the grated Parmigiana.
When the risotto is ready, heat the oil in a small
frying pan over medium high heat. Carefully set the sage leaves
into the oil. They are cooked when they stop sizzling. Drain on
paper towels and serve one leaf as garnish on each serving. Offer
more grated cheese and fresh ground pepper at the table.
Squash Risotto with Seared Greens
This is a substantial side dish for
grilled chicken or fish, or it can be served as a separate course.
The bacon can be omitted to make a vegetarian entrée. Remember
to keep stirring as the risotto cooks. Serves 6.
¼ cup butter or olive oil
½ slice thick bacon
White part of one leek, washed and diced small
¼ cup minced white onion
2 cups butternut squash, peeled, ¾ inch dice
½ a small parsnip (about 1/3 cup) peeled and diced ¾
1 cup Arborio or carnaroli rice
½ cup white wine
2 cups strong chicken stock, unsalted or low-sodium
1 ½ - 1 ¾ cups water
Fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano (real parmesan) cheese
1 bunch spinach or other greens, well washed and cut up if large
1 tablespoon olive oil
Blanch the bacon: Cut the bacon into small pieces.
Place into a small saucepan with a little water, bring to a boil,
drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a saucepan with a heavy bottom.
Add the bacon, leek and onions, and cook over medium heat until
the onions are soft but not brown. Add the diced squash and parsnips,
increase the heat and cook the mixture until it begins to lightly
brown. Season with salt and pepper. Turn down the heat to medium;
add the rice and cook, stirring, for one minute.
Add the wine and continue to stir until it is
absorbed. Add a half cup of the chicken stock and keep stirring
as the rice absorbs the liquid. Repeat until all the chicken stock
is used. Continue to add water as needed until the rice is cooked
through and the risotto has a creamy consistency with a little "sauce."
Stir in the parmesan cheese and taste for seasoning. Set aside.
Heat the tablespoon of oil in a sauté pan
and sauté the spinach or greens over high heat until wilted.
Season with salt. Serve the risotto topped with a little of the
Shrimp Soup with Rice and Cilantro
I adapted this recipe from a Peruvian
soup, which is served with whole shrimp, heads and shells intact.
I suggest you peel them and use the shells for Shrimp Stock- a great
way to get all the flavor out of expensive shrimp. Makes 6 servings.
3 teaspoons vegetable oil
1-2 Serrano chiles (to taste), sliced into rings
3 small cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
11/2 pound head-on, shell-on raw shrimp
2 roma tomatoes, diced
5 cups Shrimp Stock
1/3 cup tablespoons heavy cream
Kosher salt to taste
2 whole eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups cooked white long grain rice
Half a bunch cilantro, picked and chopped
Remove the heads and shells from the shrimp, and
make the Shrimp Stock. Devein the shrimp and cut into three pieces
Have ready 6 warmed soup plates or bowls. Reheat
the rice and keep warm.
Heat a 12 inch sauté pan over medium heat.
Add the oil, Serrano chile and sliced garlic, and cook for a moment,
stirring constantly. Add the shrimp and cook until pink, then add
the shrimp stock and cream, and bring to the boil. Season to taste.
Off the heat, whisk in the beaten egg. Stir in the diced tomatoes
and rice and divide into the soup plates. Garnish with the cilantro
and serve right away, with the limes on the side.
Yield: 4 1/2 cups
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or butter
½ large white onion, in large dice
1/2 rib celery, cut into one inch pieces
Shells and heads from 1 1/2 pounds of shrimp (about 1 quart)
½ cup white wine
4 cups cold water
1 whole head of garlic cut in half around the middle
2 tomatoes cut into chunks
6 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons tablespoons kosher salt
Optional: 1 Serrano chiles, cut in half lengthways
In a deep one gallon pot, heat the oil and sauté
the onions and celery over medium heat until softened. Add the shrimp
shells, heads and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the shells are
pink. Add the remaining ingredients; the water should barely cover
the solids. Bring to a simmer and cook on low heat for one hour.
San Diego Paella
This basic one-pan' paella' will
lend itself to countless variations, as long as you stick to the
basic ratios of rice and liquid. Do use converted rice for this
- it's virtually foolproof. The pan is important: it must be ovenproof,
13 or 14 inches wide and no more than 3 inches deep. Serves 6.
2 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth or
homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine or medium sherry
Pinch saffron, toasted, pounded and soaked in 2 TB water (optional)
3 very ripe tomatoes, diced small, or a 14- ounce can small diced
tomatoes in juice
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 red pepper, diced
2 jalapenos, diced (optional)
½ cup onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups uncooked converted rice
1 tsp. salt
8 ounces linguica sausage, crumbled or sliced
8 ounces boneless chicken meat, cut into one-inch squares
½ pound thawed shrimp, preferably in the shell
½ pound fresh black mussels, or mussels and clams mixed
½ bunch cilantro, picked, chopped
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the chicken
stock, salt, wine and saffron with soaking liquid (if you are using
canned tomatoes add them here.) In a large (12 to 14 inch) shallow-sided
paella pan or frying pan with heat) resistant handle, sauté
the vegetables in the olive oil until just softened. Add the linguica,
and then the chicken. Season with salt. Cook for one minute. If
you are using fresh tomatoes, add now and cook another minute until
Pour in the rice and toss to coat evenly with
oil. Pour the chicken-saffron mixture over the rice. Stir well and
bring to a simmer, then place into the oven uncovered, and bake
After 20 minutes, remove from the oven, arrange
the seafood on the paella, return to the oven uncovered and bake
a further 10-15 minutes or until paella is dry (poke around with
a fork to see if there is any liquid in the bottom of the pan).
Remove from oven, cover loosely with a clean napkin or foil wrap
and let stand, off the heat, for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.
Sprinkle the cilantro and optional olives over the paella just before
serving. Pass the lemon wedges at the table.
This is my absolute favorite rice
pudding, both simple and rich, the perfect finale for a light meal.
Cook it on the back burner as you make the rest of dinner. Long
stirring develops the natural creaminess of the rice, but you can
also cook it in a double boiler. Can be eaten warm or cold. Serves
1 cup medium grain white rice (not converted)
2 cups filtered water
1 cup heavy cream
2 1/4 cups milk
½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest and juice of one lemon (reserve juice)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar (or to taste)
¾ cup shredded sweetened coconut
½ cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Fresh raspberries, blueberries or other seasonal fruit (optional)
Place the rice and water into a two-quart saucepan,
bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes.
Add the cream, milk, vanilla bean or extract,
lemon zest and sugar. Bring to the simmer and cook over medium heat,
stirring gently and continuously (a double boiler can be used for
this step) until the rice is thoroughly cooked and very soft- about
20 minutes The rice should be loose and very 'saucy.' It will thicken
as it cools. Adjust to taste with more drops of lemon juice, if
desired. Set aside.
Preheat broiler and spread the coconut in a shallow
pan. Keep a close eye on the coconut as it toasts, stirring frequently.
Whip the remaining ½ cup of heavy cream
with two tablespoons of powdered sugar, until it is thickened, but
still runny. Chill.
To serve, spoon the pudding into oriental-style
bowls, champagne tulip glasses or martini glasses. Dollop a spoonful
of whipped cream on top. Garnish with the toasted coconut and berries.
- For vegans, this dessert can be made with vanilla-flavored
soy milk or coconut milk instead of heavy cream.
- Omit lemon and coconut. Soak golden raisins with hot water
and a little rum. Drain and stir into the pudding. Sprinkle top
with a little cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg.