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Basmati, jasmine, brown, sticky: what would we do without rice? The most popular food in the world, rice grows on every continent except Antarctica, and it’s featured in recipes across cultures and time.

Clearly, we love our rice, but are we cooking it right?

To guarantee you’re getting the best flavour, we talked to Toronto chef Heiner Mauer. A European-trained chef with over 40 years experience in the catering business, Mauer has spent decades preparing rice for a variety of clients, including the toughest judge of all: his Chinese mother-in-law.

Here are his tips for going with the grain and avoiding common rice-cooking blunders:

Rice blunder #1: You treat all varieties equally

Long-grain varieties like jasmine and basmati taste different than medium-grain Calrose or short grain Arborio, and if you’re cooking them the same way, you’re doing your grains (and your palate) a great disservice. Most types of rice cook well at a rice to water ratio of 1:2, but don’t assume this is always the case. Mauer advises reading labels carefully since grains and processing methods vary widely.

Rice blunder #2: You don’t prep

As a rule of thumb, all non-converted (regular, not parboiled rice) varieties of rice should be washed before cooking. Mauer suggests rinsing until the water runs clear and the rice is rid of excess starch.

Converted rice (parboiled rice), however, should not be rinsed. Instead, add rice and a little oil or butter to the cooking pot, and lightly toast it on the stove before adding water. The key word here is lightly: the goal is to remove some starch, not to change the colour of the grain, so if you notice the rice browning, stop toasting and add water immediately.

Rice blunder #3: You rush it

Although this step isn’t essential, Mauer says you’ll get a better texture with non-converted varieties of rice if you let them rest before cooking. Simply rinse, measure your rice and water and let the pot sit for 30 minutes before bringing it to a boil.

Similarly, no matter what the variety, once your rice has cooked, let it sit another 15 minutes before tucking in. This will improve the final texture, like a steak. “Good things need to rest,” says Mauer.

Rice blunder #4: You stir

Stirring rice releases excess starch, rendering the rice slimy and more liable to burn. If you can, avoid stirring. It also breaks up the grains, which is a complete no-no when cooking more delicate varieties like basmati.

Rice blunder #5: You cheap out

You get what you pay for, and Mauer cautions against buying the cheapest varieties because it’s hard to make them taste anything but bland. When choosing white, non-converted rice, avoid generic labels like “long grain” and opt for fragrant varieties like jasmine or basmati. Rice is generally an inexpensive crop, and if you can afford it, upgrading is a fairly painless way to get a better meal.

In general, Mauer says that most varieties of rice will cook well if you prep them appropriately, measure according to package instructions (or at a ratio of one part rice to two parts water), bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer, cook until water is absorbed and allow to rest before eating.

If all else fails, go ahead, buy a rice cooker.

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