The experts all say the same thing. Even bags and boxes of rice say the same thing: The correct ratio for making rice, they say, is two parts water to one part rice.
Cooking a cup of rice? Use two cups of water. Making two cups of rice? Use four cups of water.
I say, balderdash.
Twice as much water as rice is too much water. It makes the rice mushy, gooey, gummy and gross.
Restaurants give you light, fluffy rice, where each individual grain could, if it wanted, keep socially distant from all the other grains. But I had never achieved anything remotely close to that kind of consistency until recently, because I had always followed the same two-to-one ratio.
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me 17,000 times, and maybe I should start using less water.
These days, my rice is a joy to eat. It requires a longer and more involved process to make than merely boiling two cups of salted water, tossing in the rice and simmering until it is a gloppy mess. But the effort is entirely worthwhile because the rice I create is utterly delicious and neither looks nor tastes like paste.
You begin by placing the uncooked rice in a large bowl and covering it with water by several inches. Agitate the rice — you can use a spoon, but a clean hand is more traditional — for several seconds until the water becomes cloudy. Pour out the water through a strainer to catch any rice that may fall and repeat two or three times until the water is nearly clear when you agitate it.
Place the rice in a pot, along with the proper amount of water. A good generalization is to use three parts of water for every two parts of rice; that is, a cup and a half of water for one cup of rice.
Ken Hom, in whose seminal “Complete Chinese Cookbook” I found most of this recipe, prefers a ratio of five parts rice to seven parts water. That is, 1 2/3 cups of rice should be cooked in 2 1/3 cups of water. But that ratio can be hard to figure out on the fly and is only negligibly different from the 3:2 ratio (Hom’s formula works out to 41.67% rice by volume as opposed to 40%).
An alternate way to determine how much water to use is the hand method: Place your hand on top of the rice and add water until it reaches the top of your hand or a little below it. But some people’s hands are meatier than others, so aim to fill the water to a level three-quarters of an inch to 1 inch above the top of the rice.
If you have the time, allow the rice to sit in the water for 30 minutes. This step results in fluffier rice, but is not absolutely essential. Bring the rice-and-water mixture to a boil and boil uncovered until the level of water is even with the rice, about 15 minutes total. Cover the pot and cook as low as you possibly can for 15 minutes. Let the pot rest, covered, off the heat for five more minutes, and then fluff the rice with a fork.
Once you have mastered the technique, which is easy, what can you do with it? I made four different recipes — five, if you count the plain rice — that celebrate the essential essence of rice. And let me tell you, each one was superb.
I began with a rice that can go with basically any Indian dish, Yellow Rice With Potatoes and Cumin, also called Peelay Chaaval. This dish uses basmati rice, and is there anything that tastes better than basmati rice? The beauty of the basmati, even beyond its seductive aroma and flavor, is that when it is cooked properly each grain is separate and perfect.
The rice gets its appealingly mild taste and color from turmeric, with toasted cumin providing little pops of sharp flavor as a balance. Browned onion and potato add their usual depth, as well. I, for one, could not stop eating it, and I kept looking for things to serve it with.
I next made a lovely Shrimp Fried Rice, a delicate celebration of the way some Chinese dishes build layers of flavor from just a few simple ingredients.
Traditionally, fried rice is a way to use leftover rice — and it is served more as a snack than a meal. But I don’t care, I made it a meal. Then again, I also specifically made the rice the night before so it would be left over. I like fried rice.
And I especially like this fried rice. Not only is the shrimp velveted before cooking, but eggs are cooked in probably too much oil, making them almost supernaturally fluffy. All the dish needs then are finely chopped scallions to bring it all together with a mild onion bite.
I ended my carb loading with a rice-based dessert. OK, two desserts.
As far as I’m concerned, rice pudding has never received the acclaim it deserves as one of the world’s great desserts. It’s rich, smooth and creamy, with an incredible texture (though some don’t care for it), and plenty of cinnamon, raisins and vanilla.
It’s basically everything you could want in a dessert that doesn’t include chocolate.
The other dessert I made comes from Thailand, Sticky Rice with Mango. This dish requires a kind of rice known variously as glutinous rice or sweet rice, though it isn’t sweet. Nothing else will work.
As with the other dishes, the rice is rinsed several times. But instead of soaking for 30 minutes, it soaks overnight, or at least a minimum of three hours. Then it is steamed, not boiled, until it all sticks together in an irresistible way.
The rice is flavored with coconut milk and sugar, making the dessert surprisingly high in calories. It’s best not to think about that. Which is where the mango comes in. Mango is a fruit. Fruit is good for you, right?
The mango also elevates this dessert to something transcendent. It’s so good, you’ll forget it’s rice.
PERFECT STEAMED RICE
Yield: 3 servings
1 cup white rice, see note
1 1/2 cups water, see note
Note: A more perfect ratio uses 1 2/3 cups uncooked rice and 2 1/3 cups water, which makes enough for 4 servings. But this recipe’s ratio of 2 parts rice to 3 parts water yields excellent results and is easier to remember.
1. Put the rice into a large bowl and cover with water by several inches. Stir the rice with a spoon or your clean hand until the water becomes cloudy. Drain the water through a strainer to catch any falling rice, and repeat 2 or 3 more times until the water is largely clear. Drain the rice and put it into a heavy saucepan with the 11/2 cups of water. If you have time, let it rest 30 minutes to let the rice absorb some of the water.
2. Bring to a boil. Continue boiling until the level of the water is just at the top of the rice, about 15 minutes in all. The surface of the rice should have small indentations, like a pitted crater. Cover the saucepan with a lid, turn the heat as low as possible and cook 15 minutes; do not remove the lid at any point while it is cooking. Turn off the heat and let it rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
Per serving: 239 calories; 1 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 4 g protein; 53 g carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 1 mg sodium; 2 mg calcium
Recipe adapted from “Complete Chinese Cookbook” by Ken Hom
YELLOW RICE WITH POTATO AND CUMIN (PEELAY CHAAVAL)
Yield: 4 servings
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 small boiling potato, boiled, cooled, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon salt
1. Put the rice into a large bowl and cover with water by several inches. Stir the rice with a spoon or your clean hand until the water becomes cloudy. Drain the water through a strainer to catch any falling rice, and repeat 2 or 3 more times until the water is largely clear. Drain. Soak the rice in water to cover generously and leave for 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
2. Heat the oil in a small, heavy pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for 10 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to brown. Add the potato and cook, stirring occasionally, until it too is lightly browned. Add the rice, turmeric and salt.
3. Turn heat to medium and stir the rice around gently for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, turn heat to very low and cook for 25 minutes.
Per serving: 210 calories; 11 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2 g protein; 27 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 438 mg sodium; 9 mg calcium
Recipe adapted from “Madhur Jaffrey’s Spice Kitchen” by Madhur Jaffrey
SHRIMP FRIED RICE
Yield: 3 or 4 servings
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon water
1/2 pound shrimp
5 tablespoons oil, divided
3 large eggs, beaten
3 1/2 cups cold cooked long-grain rice (1 cup uncooked)
2 large scallions, finely chopped
1. Add 1/4 teaspoon of the salt to the cornstarch-and-water mixture. Shell the shrimp and devein if large. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Mix with the cornstarch coating.
2. Heat a wok or a large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot; add 2 tablespoons of the oil, swirl and heat for 10 seconds. Turn heat to medium, scatter in the shrimp and stir them briskly for about 11/2 minutes or until they are pink and firm. Pour into a dish and set aside.
3. Stir 1/4 teaspoon of the salt into the beaten eggs. Clean the pan and set it again over high heat; heat until very hot, then add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, swirl and heat until very hot. Pour in the eggs, and as they puff around the edges, push the mass with a spatula to the far edge of the pan as you tilt the pan toward you, letting the runny eggs slide onto the hot surface. Push and tilt the eggs until they are no longer runny, but soft and fluffy. Give them one big whirl and scrape into a dish.
4. Set the pan over medium heat — you don’t need any more oil. Add the rice, and toss with a spatula for 1 minute to heat it through. Sprinkle in the remaining 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt to taste; add the scallions and stir rapidly to mingle. Add the shrimp and eggs and stir rapidly in turning and folding motions for about 1 minute, until the eggs are in small pieces and well-mingled with the rice and shrimp.
Per serving (based on 4): 437 calories; 22 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 230 mg cholesterol; 20 g protein; 41 g carbohydrate; no sugar; 1 g fiber; 1,231 mg sodium; 73 mg calcium
Adapted from “The Key to Chinese Cooking” by Irene Kuo
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 cup medium-grain rice
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup raisins
11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Put the rice into a large bowl and cover with water by several inches. Stir the rice with a spoon or your clean hand until the water becomes cloudy. Drain the water through a strainer to catch any falling rice, and repeat 2 or 3 more times until the water is largely clear. Drain the rice and put it into a heavy saucepan with the 1 1/2 cups of water and the salt. If you have time, let it rest 30 minutes to let the rice absorb some of the water.
2. Bring to a boil. Continue boiling until the level of the water is just at the top of the rice, about 15 minutes in all. The surface of the rice should have small indentations, like a pitted crater. Cover the saucepan with a lid, turn the heat as low as possible and cook 15 minutes; do not remove the lid at any point while it is cooking.
3. Stir in the milk, half-and-half and sugar. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, uncovered and stirring frequently, until the mixture starts to thicken, about 30 minutes.
4. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring every couple of minutes to prevent sticking and scorching, until a spoon is just able to stand up in the pudding, about 15 minutes longer.
5. Remove from the heat and stir in the raisins, vanilla and cinnamon. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled. (To store, press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding and refrigerate for up to 2 days. If serving at room temperature or chilled, stir in up to 1 cup of warm milk, 2 tablespoons at a time, as needed to loosen before serving).
Per serving (based on 8): 324 calories; 11 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 34 mg cholesterol; 6g protein; 52 g carbohydrate; 30 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 30 mg sodium; 177 mg calcium
Adapted from “The Best International Recipe” by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated
STICKY RICE WITH MANGO
Yield: 6 servings
1 1/2 cups glutinous rice, also called sweet rice
1 1/3 cups well-stirred canned unsweetened coconut milk, divided
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted lightly
1 large mango, peeled, pitted and cut into slices
1. Put the rice into a large bowl and cover with water by several inches. Stir the rice with a spoon or your clean hand until the water becomes cloudy. Drain the water through a strainer to catch any falling rice, and repeat 2 or 3 more times until the water is largely clear. Soak rice in cold water to cover overnight.
2. Drain rice well in a sieve. Set sieve over a large, deep saucepan of simmering water (sieve should not touch water) and steam rice, covered with a kitchen towel and a lid, 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender (check water level in pan occasionally, adding more water if necessary).
3. While rice is cooking, in a small saucepan bring 1 cup of the coconut milk to a boil with 1/3 cup of the sugar and salt, stirring until sugar is dissolved, and remove from heat. Keep mixture warm.
4. Transfer hot cooked rice to a bowl and stir in coconut-milk mixture. Let rice stand, covered, 30 minutes, or until coconut-milk mixture is absorbed. Rice may be prepared up to this point 2 hours ahead and kept covered at room temperature.
5. While rice is standing, in cleaned small pan slowly boil the remaining 1/3 cup of the coconut milk with the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, stirring occasionally, 1 minute. Transfer sauce to a small bowl and chill until cool and thickened slightly.
6. To serve, mold servings of sticky rice onto dessert plates. Drizzle desserts with sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Divide mango slices among plates.
Per serving: 355 calories; 12 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 5 g protein; 59 g carbohydrate; 19 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 108 mg sodium; 35 mg calcium
Recipe from Gourmet magazine, via Epicurious
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