Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rice again

Since blogging compulsively (see this post, and previous ones) about ways of cooking rice, I have continued to experiment. I have discovered that a lot of what I have written before, particularly in my book, is wrong. Well, not wrong exactly - it won't lead anyone to make disastrous mistakes; but not based on entirely correct premises.

The key point about rice - obvious, really - is not to overcook it. So when I wrote that soaking rice always caused it to go sticky on me, I should have realised that it was not the soaking that was at fault: the problem was that soaking softened the rice, reducing its absorbent qualities and its cooking time. If I then cooked it by the absorption method, I ended up with a sticky mass of overcooked grains that had been sitting together in a covered pan.

Nevertheless, it remains preferable to cook rice in the smallest volume of water possible, to reduce the dispersion of nutrients. So you need to know, with each variety you use, the optimum cooking time, as well as the amount of water it will absorb.

Ten minutes is about right for most commercially available types of Basmati; and I find that three times its volume of water works well. I bring the water to boil in a saucepan, and give the rice a rinse, either by putting it in a sieve and running water through it, or by putting it in a bowl and giving it a quick bath. When the water is boiling, I tip in the rice, bring the pan back to a simmer, and simmer it for 10 minutes (counting from the moment when the rice hits the water - even when there is a large quantity that takes longer to come back to the boil). When or if the water reduces to the level of the top of the rice, I cover the pan and turn down the heat. At the 10-minute mark, I drain away whatever water is left.

You can hold the rice, once drained, in the pan, with a paper towel on top and the lid clamped on top of that. It might clump together a little, though. The steam will continue to cook it for a while - another reason why you need to be careful not to simmer it for too long.

A friend recently brought me some organic rice from Indonesia. It takes about 12 to 13 minutes to cook, and turns the surrounding water very starchy. I find that the only way to prevent this rice from becoming sticky is to cook it in at least five times its volume of water. But, with most other brands I have tried, this ratio is not necessary.

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