The Way to Cook: Rice (white)
Rice is one of those dishes that you either love it or you don’t care too much for it! I think perhaps I actually hated rice growing up because of a bad experience I had at the school cafeteria at an early age – the rice was pasty, sticky, and clumpy – very much unlike my mother’s rice at home! I have since learned that there are actually cultures that like their rice with a browned bottom of a crust of sorts; others like their rice rather sticky; and others even like their rice sort of creamy! Pretty much I like rice with every grain separate and void of excess starch!
I think there is a difference of a sticky rice of some cultures that have a few grains lumped, such as some of the fried-rice dishes in Chinese cuisine. I love rice prepared in that manner, especially with all the added ingredients. That is not the same as rice that is sticky because the excess starch was not discarded during the cooking process! I think there’s a difference as I will talk about shortly.
Many years of cooking rice like my mother taught me has resulted in perfect rice with separate grains. This discussion will talk about how I cook long-grain white rice, and one of the ways that I season it with a savory blend of spices! Cooking brown rice and wild rice requires a different technique and will be another blog discussion at a later date.
One of the gadgets that have taken off in popularity over the years is a rice cooker. I do not use one! Call me old-school! I cook rice the way I saw my mother cook rice – a sauce pot and lid! I do vary just a bit and use a second pot for the finish, but it really is not necessary—everything can be done using one pot.
Almost every bag or box of rice I’ve seen has a recipe on back with measured ingredients! I do measure spices and other additives, but I never measure the amount of water I am going to use to cook the rice! (Bear with me, it will become clear momentarily!) What happens if you buy your rice in bulk and there is no recipe of measured ingredients on the bag?! Emma T and Bunch taught me to cook rice with a fundamental technique, not necessarily by exact measurement! That’s because neither of them wanted rice with excess starch in it creating a pasty, sticky result!
Before I cook white rice that is going to be simple savory rice for a side dish to sliced steak or some other savory meat, I go to the pantry and scoop up a cup of long-grain white rice for every three people that I’m serving (i.e., 2 cups should serve 6 dinner guests.) From the pot drawer, I grab one medium-size sauce pot with a lid if I’m using one pot; and a sauce pan (usually a 9-inch, and I pull the glass cover from my stock pot). Now, on my counter I set out a large sifter or colander, (though I actually prefer a sifter); a box of iodized salt; containers of ground black or white pepper; turmeric; dried parsley leaves; dried thyme leaves; whole celery seeds; dehydrated onion; a couple cloves of fresh garlic to be finely minced or a jar of refrigerated minced garlic! Now, we’re in the kitchen and ready to cook some rice!
Sit your sauce pot on your stove burner and turn it up to high. Let the dry pot set and heat up for 2 – 3 minutes. Add enough hot water to fill the sauce pot about two-thirds full and bring this hot water to a very rapid brisk boil! Immediately, add your rice and cover the pot; then turn your burner down to medium. (What you now want is a slow simmer for your rice to cook slowly.)
Now, after you have allowed the rice to simmer for a few minutes (i.e., I begin to check after about 8 minutes), with a serving spoon lift up a bit of the rice and examine it closely to determine the done level of the rice! Here’s how to assess it:
a) If the rice has increased in size by about 75%, that means the rice is al dente . You would allow it to simmer just about 5 minutes longer.
b) You will now take up another spoon full. Look at the rice closely. If you see a faint line on the grain of rice, it is essentially done and only requires final steaming. This is the point at which you rinse your rice. (Notice that there are no seasonings in the rice to wash down your drain!!!)
c) Go over to your kitchen sink, with your cold water running, pour all of your rice and the cooking liquid in a sifter and completely drain it.
d) Put the rice back in the sauce pot, let the cold water run over it very slowly until the water is clear and you see no more cloudy starch. At this point, pour off all the liquid and drain the rice once more. (You are using the same methodology that you use when you are draining pasta!)
We are now ready to finish our rice and season it!
e) Set your sauce pan on the burner and turn the burner up to high. When the pan gets hot, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil or unsalted butter and enough water just barely cover the bottom of the 9-inch sauce pan and let it come to a boil. This is usually about 1/3 – 1/4 cup of water! You can also use stock if you like. Add a tablespoon each of the dehydrated onion and finely-minced garlic.
f) Immediately, pour in your rice and cover. When the boil returns, take the sauce pan OFF the burner; set on a cool burner, cover and allow the rice to steam for about 5 minutes. (If there is any liquid still at the bottom, heat up the pan long enough to cause that bit of liquid to steam up–then cover, move to cool burner and allow the steam evaporation.)
g) In a small bowl, add about a ½ teaspoon of each of the ground spices, and a tablespoon of the thyme leaves and three tablespoons of the dried parsley leaves. Stir to combine, then put on top the rice and cover again and let sit for about 2 minutes.
h) Your rice is finished. Remove the cover and with two dinner-size forks, toss the rice a bit in the sauce pan to mix the spices.
You should now have a lovely pan of long-grain rice with every grain separate; lovely aroma from the spices with a faint yellow hue to it!
All best wishes for good eating; enjoy!