The number one enemy of fluffy separate rice is the wooden spoon or more specifically the anxious cook who wields it. It is nervous prodding poking and constant stirring that ruins rice. So there you are thats the basic principle for the most common type of rice youll have to cook longgrain rice but of course there are other kinds of rice that need different kinds of cooking. So for the beginner its crucial to know your rice before you attempt to buy or cook it.
Know your riceThe simplest approach to rice cooking is to think in terms of four types of eating categories: first theres the fluffy separate kind weve talked about; secondly theres the creamy soupy kind used in risottos; then the dingy sticky kind used in the Far East; and lastly what Id call speciality rices which have a distinctive characteristic of their own and are therefore not really in any of the categories already mentioned.
Brown or white?
Grains of rice like wheat grains are sometimes milled which means the germ and the outer bran layer are removed in the process revealing the inner grain which comes in different shades of creamy white to pure white depending on the variety. If the bran and germ are left intact the colour of the grain is a rather appealing greenybrown hence the name brown rice. Here the flavour is more pronounced slightly nutty and the texture is less soft with more bite than white rice.
The advantage is that this rice contains (as youd expect) more fibre vitamins and minerals but it takes longer to cook: 40 minutes as opposed to 15. But its good to ring the changes and there are times when I personally prefer brown to white rice for serving with certain dishes with chilli for instance or in a rice salad. On the other hand if Im serving curry I always prefer white rice but its good to experiment to find out what your own preferences are.
The long and short of itWhat usually determines the eating categories is the shape of the grain (although there is the odd exception as you will see later).
Longgrain rice is precisely that and the longer and thinner the grain is the better the quality. So the grains should be megaslim with needlesharp points at each end: this is the type of rice needed for separate flufy grains and the best quality is called basmati. This is more expensive than others but since cooking is about flavour it is the one to buy as it has a far superior taste. Although you will see dozens of varieties of longgrain rice I believe its well worth paying that little bit extra for basmati. Whether you are using the brown or the white its quite certainly the best.
Medium and shortgrain rice
Here the grains are not long and thin but rounder and plumper. This group comes in the creamy and sticky eating category described earlier. There are however various qualities and national preferences.
Italian risotto rice sometimes called arborio rice is superb or for the finestquality risotto rice of all look for the names carrraroli or vutlone nano. In creamy almost soupy risottos the rice is stirred which releases some of the starch and it is this that creates the lovely smooth creamy mass. The same kind of plump grain is used in Spain and one of the finest varieties comes from the Valencia region and is called calasparra which is used to make paella though here the grains are not stirred so they remain firm and distinct but with a moist creamy edge.
In Japan there are several varieties of shortgrain rice ranging from the mildly sticky to the very sticky rice used to make sushi (it makes absolute sense that in the countries where chopsticks are used rice with a stickier more dinging consistency is far more manageable). This is sometimes called glutinous rice but it does not as its name might suggest contain any gluten and I prefer to describe it as sticky rice which is more accurate.
In Thailand and Southeast Asia the rice grown and preferred is sometimes called jasmine or fragrant rice but again I think the title is a little misleading because is isnt actually any more fragrant than other types of rice. However the quality is very good and though its actually a longgrain rice and when cooked the grains have a firm texture and a good bite they have a faint stickiness and tend to adhere to each other. I would say in this case the rice is both fluffy and sticky and this is how it should be.
Specialist ricesThese are rice varieties with their own individual characteristics. The first is Camargue red rice. Though other red rices are grown in America this one from France is of superior quality. It is an unmilled shortgrain rice with a brownishred colour and I would describe its character as earthy and gutsy with a firm slightly chewy texture and a nutty flavour. It is excellent in salads and combined with other strong flavours. Because it is a shottgrain rice it is very slightly sticky when cooked and not meant to be separate and fluffy.
Black rice well its reddish black is an Asian rice used for sweet dishes and puddings and turns purple when cooked. Its probably about to become as fashionable here as it is in Australia where practically every smart restaurant has a special pudding made with cooked black rice dressed with a mixture of palm sugar coconut milk and lime. If you manage to get some follow the instructions on the packet which vary.
Wild rice is not actually a rice grain at all but the seed of a special type of grass grown in the swamps of North America. However its called rice so Ive put it on my list because it is cooked and served in exactly the same way but needs about 50 minutes. The seeds are very long and most attractive with a shiny ebony colour and have a subtle smoky nutty flavour. Its good in salads and with gutsy foods with strong flavours. When cooked the seeds tend to burst and split slightly but this is quite normal and not some failure in the cooking though as with rice grains its important not to overcook them.
The also ransThere are of course a million and one types of rice and the list Ive given you has what I believe to be the best in quality. The also rans in a way perpetuate the myth that cooking rice is difficult and people usually buy them out of fear. Hopefully How To Cook will dispel the myth and we can all enjoy the best quality of flavour when were cooking rice. Precooked or parboiled rice is actually cooked before milling: this means the grains are tougher so require more water and a much longer cooking time. This is to help it stay more separate but in my opinion there is a loss of flavour and I would never choose it. Quickcook or easycook rice has been partially cooked after milling and then dried so all it has to do is reabsorb water. It is quicker to cook only 8 to 10 minutes
Pudding riceSince I was a small child we have always had in Britain a variety of shortgrain rice called pudding rice; this is the type used the world over in sweet dishes and is best of all in my opinion for rice pudding (qv). It is very sticky when cooked and simmered in milk becomes deliciously soft and creamy.
I have never washed rice since I discovered that it is possible to wash away some of the nutrients in the process and in any case modern rice is thoroughly cleaned in the milling. Whats more the water its cooked in will be boiling and that of course will purify it. I think some of the traditional methods of cooking rice which require long rinsing and washing belong to past times when the rice was not as clean as it is today.
3 The quantity of liquid you will need is roughly double the volume of rice so 150ml) needs 275ml of water or stock. Always add hot water or stock.
4 Dont forget to add salt about 1 level teaspoon to every 150ml of rice.
5 The very best utensil for cooking fluffy separate rice is a frying pan with a lid. Over the years I have found that the shallower the rice is spread out during cooking the better. Buying a 25.5cm pan with a lid would be a good lifetime investment for rice cooking. Failing that try to find a large saucepan lid that will fit your normal frying pan.
6 Once the hot liquid has been added stir once only cover with the lid and turn the heat down to its lowest setting Give white rice 15 minutes and brown rice 40. 7 Leave it alone! Once the lid is on set the timer and go away. If you lift the lid and let the steam out you can slow down the cooking process and rice should always be cooked as briefly as possible. Even worse if you stir it you will break the delicate grains and release the starch and then it will end up sticky.
8 Use a timer overcooking is what spoils rice. The best way to test if it is cooked is simply to bite a grain. Another way is to tilt the pan and if liquid collects at the edge it will need a couple more minutes cooking.