All about rice



Rice is an extremely tasty, comforting and versatile grain that used to be much underappreciated in the West. To think of rice as some bland grain (e.g. parboiled or instant long grain rice comes to mind) is no less misleading than to think of all bread as plain white sandwich bread. In cultures where rice has been a staple for thousands of years, it is the constant presence at the table that brings all the other parts of the meal together, and different varieties are celebrated for their distinct character. These days so many wonderful rice varieties are available to us that it’s well worth the effort to take a few minutes to get to know your rice.

Buying raw rice in large canvas bags, not small cartons or pouches is more economical (look at per-pound prices on store labels and you’ll see a huge price differential). Plus you’re likely to get better quality rice this way as the bulk bags are usually intended for restaurants and other consumers who know their rice. The parboiled, “easy cook” or instant varieties just don’t taste as good as raw rice freshly cooked.  I also prefer the taste of short grain, Jasmine or Basmati rice over the generic medium or long grain rice varieties. One of my favorite rice varieties, if you can find this type of rice in a Japanese store, is "quick cooking" brown rice which cooks in less than half the time because it had its bran very lightly scratched up by the milling process while retaining all of the nutritional and taste benefits of whole brown rice. This kind of quick-cooking short or medium grain brown rice is raw and has and should not be confused with the less tasty pre-cooked “easy cook” stuff.

What about organic vs. conventional? Although excess fertilizer on rice paddies can contribute to water pollution and greenhouse gases, rice is by far not the worst offender in terms of pesticide content (in general grains and beans, except GM soy which gets sprayed liberally, are low on the pesticide residue list).  While about 30% of US-grown rice tested contained some pesticide residues (all below acceptable levels); only a tiny fraction of imported rice showed traces (3rd world farmers have less money and fewer subsidies to afford pesticides or fertilizer, and often have smaller plots of land; of course these findings do not guarantee the condition of any particular batch of rice).[1]

Japanese and American rice sold today is usually impressively clean and uniform right out of the bag, without any coating of polishing talcum powder like in the old days. Rinsing in several changes of water prior to cooking, unless the package recommends doing so, is a debatable point because rice is already quite clean, plus US white rice is required to come fortified with vitamins and micronutrients – and rinsing will remove these. Imported rice and brown rice is usually not fortified/enriched, so no harm in rinsing it. If you do rinse your rice, use about a tablespoon less cooking water per cup of wet rice than you would for dry. Short grain varieties release more starch when cooked than longer grained varieties, and as a result cook up quite shiny and sticky, whether rinsed or not – but this is actually a plus for Asian dishes, especially if you use chopsticks!

White rice can be stored for years at room temperature; in fact Basmati aged 2-5 years sells at a premium because it cooks more evenly. Brown rice, however, is best used within a year of harvesting (or placed in the freezer/refrigerator to slow down decomposition of oils in the bran).

Cooking rice on the stovetop is very easy, but one needs to be aware of a few things:
·   Rice comes out tastier and with less supervision if you use the exact quantity of water needed, so that all the water and flavor stays in the rice, instead of draining excess water at the end of cooking (leaving a sticky colander and gooey rice). Refer to the chart below for proportions and cooking times for this absorption method.
·   In many Asian cultures rice is first soaked for about half an hour; this reduces cooking time (saving energy) and helps the rice cook more evenly. For example, for white basmati rice, which absorbs a lot of water, soaking for 20 minutes brings cooking time down to just 8 minutes. I soak all rice and cook right in the soaking water to retain more nutrients and reduce hassle. Brown rice cooks best if soaked for 3-10 hours; this is especially true of short grain varieties that have tougher bran. Specially milled quick-cooking Japanese rice can be soaked for as little as 20 minutes. If you are in a hurry and need to cook unsoaked rice, add about 30% to the cooking time and 1-2 Tbsp more water per cup.
·   It’s also possible to sprout brown rice by soaking it in warm water (and leaving at room temperature) for 20-24 hours; the germination process creates a wealth of nutrients, imparts a sweeter taste and further reduces cooking time to roughly that of white rice of the same variety. Try it and you won’t be disappointed!
·   Rice will expand 2-3 times its original size plus there’ll be lots of foamy bubbles during the initial boiling stage, so you need a heavy-bottomed (to prevent burning) pot at least 5X larger than the quantity of rice you put in. 
·   The importance of putting a lid on it: from the moment you put rice on the stove, close with a tight fitting lid that no steam escapes and do not open the lid until 10-15 minutes after the heat has been turned off (unless you smell something burning)!  Since we are adding an exact quantity of water, we need all of the liquid and steam to get absorbed into the rice instead of escaping from the pot; the final 10-15 min of steaming completes the cooking process, without any extra energy use.
·   It’s important to cook all rice through; some white long grain rice does have a tendency to become mushy if even slightly overcooked, but this is not the case with short grain & brown rice. Brown rice is all too often undercooked, making it difficult for some people to enjoy and digest, so please cook it till it’s soft!
·   Salt & oil. If you don’t plan to eat the rice with salty pickles or miso soup, etc. you may want to lightly salt it (½ tsp per cup of uncooked rice). Adding oil during cooking can harden the surface of brown rice, hindering the cooking process, so best to add at the end. Butter in plain rice is a western thing - have you ever had rice with butter in a good Asian restaurant? (Indian pilafs do use oil or ghee.) Short or medium grain sticky white rice has such a delicate fresh and “sweet” flavor on its own, that most Asian cooks add no salt or oil during cooking; but medium and short grain brown rice has a pleasant nutty flavor that is enhanced by adding a bit of soy sauce into the cooking water.

Rice cooking summary:  measure rice & water à  soak à add salt if using and bring to a boil à reduce heat to low and cook for specified time à turn off heat, leave lid closed, and let rest 15 min à fluff with wet spatula or fork


Rice Variety
Proportion of water to rice, by volume (if rinsed, use a few Tbsp less water)
Cups water per
2 cups of rice
(stovetop)
Minutes of simmering soaked rice after it comes to a boil
Minutes in Pressure Cooker at 15 psi*
Short grain brown (genmai)
1.25 
2.5
50 (30 if soaked overnight)
10
short or sushi white rice (e.g. California rose variety in the US), or semi-polished short grain (with nutritious embryo intact)
1.13 - 1.25
2 ¼ - 2.5
15
n/a
Sweet/waxy (opaque) short grain brown
2
4
50 (35 if soaked overnight)
10
Jasmine brown
1.5
3
25
5
Jasmine
1.5
3
15
n/a
Medium/long grain brown (Shirakiku medium grain is a tasty, inexpensive California variety of brown rice)
2
4
50
10
Basmati brown or quick-cooking medium/short grain brown rice
1.75
3.5
25 (after soaking for 20 minutes)
5
Basmati, aged white
2
4
8
n/a

*Pressure cooking time will vary depending on the model you use, so please check the manual for your model (if pre-soaking rice, use about a quarter less water than the manual suggests). In general I’ve found that for brown rice pressure cooking will take about 1/5th of stovetop time (1/4th if rice is not soaked), and you’ll need about 25-50% less water compared to stovetop. The great thing with brown rice from a pressure cooker is that it comes out incredibly soft and as easy to chew as white rice – so if you’ve been reluctant to use brown rice because it takes a long time to cook and still comes out very chewy, a pressure cooker completely takes care of that. White rice is easier to just make on the stovetop.


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