For us Asians, cooking rice is one of the simplest things we can do in the kitchen. Just pour cups of rice and water into the cooker, wait for a few good minutes, and voila–our staple side dish is ready! But believe it or not, rice and the way it is cooked can be a lot more technical than that, especially if you don’t have your trusty rice cooker within reach.
Get to know more about the very grain that pulls our culinary tapestry together and makes our meals feel complete.
A variety that is native to Thailand, jasmine rice– just like what its name suggests– is characterized by a distinct and delicate floral scent.
How to cook it: Since it is quite starchy, it has to be washed (swirl the grains with cold water, then drain) twice before cooking.
Typically, a cup of dry jasmine rice is cooked in 1 ½ cups of water in a medium saucepan. Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and let it simmer for 18 minutes with the lid on. Once removed from heat, leave it covered for 5 more minutes before serving. Filipinos have become accustomed to cooking jasmine rice with pandan leaves for added aroma.
Basmati rice is noticeably longer than other long-grain rice types. Commonly used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, its dry and fluffy quality makes it a great bed for curries and sauces.
How to cook it: Just like jasmine rice, basmati rice has to be washed to rid it from starch before cooking. Rinse it 3 to 4 times, before soaking in water for 30 minutes. After half an hour, drain and pour in a saucepan with 1 ¾ cups of boiling water. Stir until the water comes back to a full boil, then turn heat to low, and cover. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and let it sit for 5 more minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving. The grains must look longer than they appeared before cooking.
Unlike white rice, brown rice is not milled as much, so its bran and germ (plus other nutrients) remain intact. This makes brown rice a lot trickier to cook.
How to cook it: Following a 1 cup rice to 1.5 cups water ratio, combine the two ingredients in a pot with a lid and bring to a boil while uncovered. Reduce the heat to low, put on the lid, and let the rice simmer. After 20 minutes, turn off the heat and let the rice rest covered for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how you wish to enjoy it (mushy, chewy, a bit dry). When cooked, brown has a nutty aroma and a chewy texture.
A big hit among health-conscious fans of rice, red rice is considered a superfood packed with fiber, B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium, and antioxidants.
How to cook it: To prepare, rinse a cup of red rice in water. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pot, add the rice, stir for 2 minutes, and pour in 2 cups of water. Once it comes to a boil, lower the heat and cover the pot. Since red rice is unhulled and the bran slows down the absorption of water, cooking may take longer. It is usually left to cook for 45 minutes or until the water is fully absorbed. Remove from heat and leave for 10 minutes.
Locally known as “malagkit”, the stout and opaque glutinous rice–unlike the varieties mentioned above – isn’t normally eaten or prepared as a side dish, but is usually a main ingredient in Asian desserts and delicacies. It graces Filipino tables in various forms of kakanin such as biko and suman or special rice dishes like champorado and arroz caldo. Hulled malagkit is also milled into a flour-like substance called “galapong”, which serves as the base for more native treats like sapin-sapin, bibingka, and palitaw.
How to cook it: A popular malagkit dish is the Filipino rice cake biko, which is also one of the simplest to make. Wash and drain 2 cups of malagkit and cook it in 2 cups of coconut milk (second extraction) over medium heat for 15-20 minutes until it gets dry and sticky. Once taken out of the heat, stir in 1 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Heat the rice again and allow to cook for 5 more minutes. Transfer the cooked rice in a pan lined with banana leaves, and allow to set. Top it with latik.
The colors of rice don’t just come in white, brown, and red. In China, an heirloom variety of rice is grown and is characterized by a dark, almost black, outer covering (bran), which is left intact for its health benefits like vitamin E and antioxidants. Back in the day, it is consumed only by Chinese royalty, hence the nickname “forbidden rice”. Like its brown and red counterparts, it absorbs water slower, meaning its cooking time could take longer.
How to cook it: To make a simple serving, rinse a cup of black rice under running water until the water clears up. In a pot, combine rice and 1 ¾ cups of water to a boil. You may add a dash of salt to taste. With the lid on, turn the heat to low and allow the rice to cook for about 35 minutes, until the rice is tender and the water’s absorbed. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes before fluffing with a fork. When cooked, you’ll see that the black grains have turned deep purple or indigo.
This Italian-grown grain has a sticky-creamy texture when cooked, which makes it perfect for Italy’s most popular rice dish, the risotto. Arborio rice is often mistaken as a short grain variety, since it appears shorter and rounder after cooking.
How to cook it:Arborio rice is used in risotto and this deceivingly simple dish can actually be pretty tricky to make. While you can cook a good risotto, following different recipes, here are three tips you should remember that will help you get the right consistency and texture of rice:
1. Don’t over-stir or under-stir the rice. Stirring the rice occasionally will allow the starch of the rice to give your risotto that creamy consistency.
2. Cook the rice until it has a good bite to it. You don’t want a mushy or runny risotto.
3. Although cooking risotto can take a bit long, cooking it in low heat won’t help you. Let the rice simmer in medium heat throughout the cooking process.
Ordinary Japanese rice or “uruchimai” are round, translucent grains that clump together when cooked, making them easier to pick up with chopsticks. It is also known as “sushi rice. Making steamed Japanese rice or gohan (which translates to meal) comes with a number of steps. The Japanese are very meticulous when it comes to food preparation, and even their most basic dish isn’t exempted from that.
How to cook it: To prepare, rinse a cup of rice by swirling it in water, and drain quickly, so the rice won’t absorb the dirt and starch. In Japan, the rice is “sharpened” in between rinses. You can do this by briskly rubbing the grains against each other with your hand balled into a loose fist, swirling, pressing, and twisting down on the damp rice every now and then. After rinsing, soak the rice in 2 cups of lukewarm water for 40 minutes.
Cook in a pot over high heat and reduce to medium heat once the rice starts to boil. When the water’s been absorbed, remove the pot from heat and let the rice sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Turn over the rice with a shamoji or a flat rice paddle, then place the lid back and leave it to steam for five to ten more minutes before serving.
Photo by Patrick Martires