Exploring Rice: Take It Beyond White, Bland, and Boring
What You Will Find in This Article
- What Makes it So Special?
- But the Grocery Store Has So Many Choices!
- White vs. Brown Rice
- Brown Rice
- How to Cook
- White Rice
- Long Grain
- Medium Grain
- Long Grain
Yes, an individual grain of rice seems rather insignificant, but as a source of nourishment, this food has had a major effect on the population of our planet. Little things can make a big impact.
I like rice. Rice is great if you’re hungry and want 2,000 of something.— -- Mich Ehrenborg
What Makes it So Special?
Well, did you know that...
- One-half of the world’s population of 7 billion eats rice on a daily basis.
- 90 percent of those people live in Asia.
- 20 percent of the world’s total calorie intake comes from rice.
- Rice is grown on every continent except Antarctica.
- The oldest evidence of rice used as food is grains found in a rock shelter in the Hunan Province of China—they are at least 10,000 years old according to radio-carbon dating.
But the Grocery Store Has So Many Choices!
Long-, medium-, or short-grain; jasmine, brown, basmati, arborio.
Goodness! It’s enough to make you want to just grab a box of Minute Rice and run for the check-out line.
Wait. Please stop. I can help you through this.
Although Wikipedia tells us that there are 40,000 varieties of rice on the planet, most of them are not fit for human consumption (and although the rice section in your store might seem daunting, honestly there are not 40,000 choices to make.)
Rice can be broken down into two simple categories—brown rice and white rice. Brown rice is a whole grain; the husk is still intact. White rice has been processed to remove the husk. I’ll explain both of these in more detail.
Now, within the white category, there are several types—long grain, which cooks up as separate grains—no stickiness. Medium is a bit shorter and a little more starchy. Short-grain will be sticky and creamy.
Let me explain how each type cooks and I'll give you some recipes along the way.
1 Cup of Rice—White vs. Brown
What a complex little grain. The brief list of pros and cons is:
- Pros – Higher in nutrition. Aromatic. Colorful.
- Cons – Takes longer to cook. Can go rancid if stored at room temperature.
OK, so brown rice can be a bit temperamental and is somewhat demanding. But it tastes so good, and it's good for you.
How to Cook Brown Rice
Ignore the instructions on the bag or box. The following method will ensure separate grains that are not overcooked and turned to mush. You will need:
- 1 cup brown rice
- 12 cups of water
- salt to taste
- strainer or mesh colander
- large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid
Place rice in the strainer and rinse for 30 seconds under cold running water. Meanwhile, bring 12 cups of water to boil in the large saucepan. Add the rice, stir once, and allow to boil uncovered for 30 minutes.
Pour into a strainer set in the sink; allow to drain thoroughly, and then return to the hot saucepan. Cover the pot and allow to stand off heat for 10 minutes. (This will steam the rice.) Fluff with a fork, season to taste with salt, and serve.
And, here is a Carb Diva recipe that uses brown rice.
Healthy Brown Rice Salad with Turkey and Mango
- 1 12-oz pkg. frozen brown rice, thawed (or about 2 1/4 cups cooked brown rice)
- 1 cup of cooked turkey breast, diced (you could use chicken)
- 2 tablespoons green onion (scallion), minced
- 1 medium mango, peeled, pitted and diced (about 1 cup prepared)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar, (or other mild vinegar such as apple cider or rice wine)
- 1/4 cup cashews, chopped
- 1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese, (optional)
- Cook rice according to instructions on package. Pour into large bowl and allow to cool while you prepare the other ingredients
- Dice the turkey, mince the scallions, prepare and finely dice the mango. Place each of these in the large bowl with the brown rice.
- Whisk together the olive oil and balsamic. Add salt and pepper to taste and drizzle over the brown rice/turkey mixture. Toss gently.
- If making ahead, cover and store in the refrigerator up to one day.
- Just before serving stir in the cashews. Top with cheese if desired. I like Gorgonzola, but another salty-crumbly cheese (such as feta) could be used.
- With the change of just a few ingredients, this salad could take on a totally different taste and appearance. Instead of mango, cashews, and gorgonzola you might try sun-dried tomatoes, briny black olives, and shaved pecorino Romano cheese. Or some cucumber, garbanzo beans, and feta cheese.
White Rice—The Long, Medium, and the Short Fun-Loving Type
White rice is defined by the length of the grain.
...has a long, slender kernel 4 to 5 times as long as it is wide. This type cooks fluffy, with separate grains—no stickiness.
Basmati is a type of long-grain white rice that grows in northern India and Pakistan. It is more expensive than regular white long-grain, but well worth the cost if used in a dish in which it can shine as the star of the show, as a simple side dish, or accompaniment to a Middle Eastern, Indian, or Persian meal. Basmati has a lower moisture content that regular long-grain white rice; it needs to be soaked for at least one-half hour. Soaking allows the grains to absorb water and thus cook evenly. Cook by boiling in water.
I created this recipe for Better Homes and Gardens magazine. For paella, you want a rice that will produce separate grains. I would not, however, use basmati for this—the strong flavors of bacon, garlic, and salmon would overpower the delicate floral flavor. Any other long-grain white will do just fine.
Pacific NW Paella
- 4 slices applewood smoked bacon
- 8 oz. fresh crimini or button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 14-oz can chicken broth
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 lb. salmon filet, cut 1-inch thick
- 1 lb. asparagus spears
- 4 oz. smoked salmon skinned and flaked
- 1 Roma tomato, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
- In a large deep skillet or paella pan, cook the bacon over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Drain bacon on paper towels. Crumble bacon and set aside. Reserve drippings in skillet.
- Stir the mushrooms, onion, and garlic into the bacon drippings. Cook and stir about 5 minutes or until the onion is tender. Stir in rice and olive oil, stirring to coat rice. Add chicken broth and water. Bring mixture to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut salmon into 1-inch pieces; set aside. Snap off and discard woody bases from fresh asparagus. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces; set aside.
- Place salmon pieces around the edge of the pan. Sprinkle the asparagus over all. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes more.
- Add smoked salmon, arranging in a circle inside of salmon chunks. Sprinkle the tomato in the center. Cover and simmer 5 minutes or until asparagus is tender.
- Sprinkle crumbled bacon over all.
- 1 1/2 cups white rice (long- or medium-grain)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place rice in a colander and rinse under cold running water to wash away exterior starch and any surface dust. Drain well.
Heat the butter in a Dutch oven; add the rice and stir to coat. Cook for about 2 minutes or until rice is translucent. Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover and bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest covered, about 10 minutes. Fluff with fork.
Here's another long-grain rice recipe—this rice salad is a perfect side dish with grilled chicken or fish.
Rice Salad with Chimichurri Dressing
- 4 cups cooked rice, (long-grain white or brown)
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced tomato with seeds removed
- 6 slices bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
- about 1 cup chimichurri sauce (see below)
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley, optional
- Combine rice, celery, tomato and cooked bacon in a large mixing bowl.
- Add chimichurri sauce and toss gently.
- Sprinkle walnuts and fresh parsley on top just before serving.
- (Note: Can be served immediately, at room temperature, or cover and chill for up to one day to allow flavors to blend).
- 3 cups chopped flat-leaf parsley, firmly packed (leaves only, no stems)
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
- 1 tsp. salt
- juice of 1/2 large lemon
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of your food processor. Process until smooth.
- Cover and chill until ready to use. Can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 days.
Medium-Grain White Rice
...has a shorter, wider kernel (two to three times longer than its width) than long grain. Cooked grains are more moist and tender, and have a greater tendency to cling together more than long grain. Japanese-style sushi rice is a good example of a medium-grain. (This is not the same as Japanese sticky rice, which is used in desserts and sweet treats).
Jasmine is a type of medium-grain white rice that originated in Thailand. This rice has a floral aroma and is slightly sticky when cooked. Jasmine rice is cooked by the absorption method—this means that a specific quantity is cooked in a measured amount of water which is completely absorbed.
This recipe is adapted from an article that was published in Cooking Light magazine. The second one I created a few years ago for my family--it is a nourishing soup that can be put together quickly for a weeknight meal.
Rice and Cheese Casserole with Caramelized Onions
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 4 cups chopped sweet onion, about 1 3/4 pounds
- 1/2 cup uncooked medium-grain rice
- 2/3 cup 2 percent or low-fat milk
- 1/2 cup Gruyere (or Swiss) cheese, grated
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- non-stick cooking spray
- 1/3 cup (1 1/3 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, optional
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion and turn the heat to low; sauté 20 minutes or until the onion is tender and caramelized. Place onion in a large bowl.
- Cook rice in a large pot of boiling water 5 minutes. Drain.
- Stir rice, milk, cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg into onions.
- Spoon onion mixture into an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese. Cover and bake at 325° for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 5 minutes. Top with parsley, if desired.
Short-Grain White Rice
...is short, round, plump, and a little bit sassy (just like me). This is the one that is used in Italian risotto. Arborio is the most common short-grain rice used in cooking; Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, Padano, Roma, and Vialone Nano can also be used.
Short-grain rices are not cooked like their long- or medium-grain cousins. First, it is gently sautéd in butter or olive oil so that each of the grains is coated. Next, a splash of wine is added to the pan; at this point the rice is stirred constantly until the wine has all but evaporated. Then the fun begins. Hot broth is added to the pan, one ladle-full at a time, and allowed to simmer into and be absorbed. This process is repeated until the rice is rich and creamy, but still holds its shape (test a grain with your teeth to see if it is done. You want al dente like "Goldilocks rice"—not too hard, not to soft, but just right.
This quick video will show you exactly what I'm talking about.
Arborio Rice vs. All the Rest
There is one key to the creaminess of cooked arborio—arborio (and the other short-grain rices mentioned) have a high percentage of the starch amylopectin.
If you have ever cooked homemade jam or jellly, you will recognize the word "pectin." Pectin is the natural thickener in apple juice, and the "amylopectin" in short-grain rices serves as a thickener as well. It makes the cooked grain starchy and creamy, while still holding its shape.
If you are faced with your first attempt at cooking risotto, this recipe is a good one for you to begin with. The mushrooms provide lots of umami flavor and the mascarpone cheese adds a tart and creamy finish.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
- 3-4 cups chicken, vegetable, or mushroom broth, heated to a simmer
- 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
- 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
- In a large frying pan melt 1 tablespoon butter with olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft about 2 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook until lightly browned (3 to 4 minutes). Stir in thyme.
- Add 1/4 cup of the wine and cook until wine is absorbed. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
- Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add rice, pepper, and remaining 1/2 cup white wine. Stir to ensure that rice does not clump together and cook until wine is absorbed. Add 1 cup broth, reduce heat to low, and stir until broth is almost absorbed. Continue to add broth, 1/2 cup at a time and stirring until rice is creamy and tender but still firm in center. This should take about 15 to 18 minutes.
- Stir in mushrooms. Remove from heat and stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano and mascarpone cheese.
Questions & Answers
© 2016 Linda Lum