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To Each Rice, Its Own Cooking Method

How to bring out the best in basmati, brown, and medium-grain white rice

Fine Cooking Issue 71
Photos: Scott Phillips
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I’ve been told that my first mouthful of solid food as an infant was a small bowl of white basmati rice, drizzled with clarified butter and sprinkled with salt. So, it’s hardly surprising that I consider rice my favorite starch. But I don’t love rice simply because it’s a comfort food from my childhood; I love rice because its delicious yet unobtrusive flavor and appealing texture makes it an ideal starting point for a  seemingly endless range of side dishes. 

Of all the rice varieties I’ve sampled, the three most appealing to my way of cooking are the Indian or Pakistani white basmati, long-grain brown, and medium-grain white. (Conveniently, these varieties are also widely available across the United States.) When cooked just right, as you may well know, each has its own unique appeal, much of which has to do with texture. What you might not realize, though, is that that there are several ways to cook rice and, for every variety, some methods yield better results than  others. In the following three recipes, I’ve paired a different technique with each variety to get great results.

Basmati rice—the pilaf method

With its low starch content and long, slender grains, basmati rice takes beautifully to the pilaf method, which allows for maximum expansion of the grains as they cook up light and separate. Washing and soaking the grains before cooking makes the rice even less starchy, helping you achieve perfect single-grained and fluffy results. 

Pilaf method basics: With the pilaf method, the rice is first sautéed in oil along with aromatics and spices. Then a measured amount of liquid is added, the mixture is brought to a simmer, covered, and left to cook until the rice absorbs the liquid.

For detailed instructions, see my recipe for Basmati Rice Pilaf with Whole Spices, Saffron & Mint

Brown rice—the pasta method

Cooking brown rice by the pasta method is quick and results in tender, separate grains with a nice chewy bite, instead of mushy, split-open kernels that often result when this variety is cooked in a covered pot. Unlike white rice, brown rice kernels still have their bran layer and germ intact, so they have a nutty, grainy character and are rich in complete proteins, minerals, and vitamins. The germ contains some oil, so to avoid rancidity, buy in small quantities and store it in the fridge.

Pasta method basics: Like pasta, the raw rice goes into a large pot of boiling water and cooks uncovered. When the grains reach the desired tenderness, the water gets poured off.

For detailed instructions, see my recipe for Brown Rice Salad with Basil & Pistachios.

Medium-grain rice—the absorption method

When cooked using the absorption method, medium-grain rice yields a tender, starchy, slightly creamy kernel that’s ideal for saucy rice dishes like the Mexican Tomato Rice & Beans at right. This method also ensures that the valuable fortified nutrients remain in the pot with the rice.

Absorption method basics: The rice cooks in a measured amount of water in a tightly covered pot so that by the time the rice is tender, all the waterhas been absorbed. As the water level drops, trapped steam finishes the cooking. Instead of a pot, you can use a rice cooker; just follow the manufacturer’s directions.

For detailed instructions, see my recipe for Mexican Tomato Rice & Beans.


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