Rice is Nice, so the Lemon Pipers’ hit song of the 60s said, and back then you either had pudding rice (short grain) in a baked custard, or boiled patna rice (long grain) accompanying a beef mince curry, seasoned with an incongruous corner-store-blended curry powder and sweetened with canned pineapple and dried sultanas!
Given it was so simple for home cooks back then, why is it that today, if we do not live with an electric rice cooker (really − how often do you use it?) we go into a complete panic about rice, fearful of the need to meet Master Chef perfection, yet we don’t do this with pasta? There are two main ways to cook rice − boil it or cook by the absorption method. The vast majority of recipes use one of these methods, with some dishes, such as risotto and paella, having variations.
All rice, long, short and in-between, can be boiled. Like pasta, the rice must swim freely in rapidly boiling water for 11-12 minutes until tender and then drained. Brown rice will take upward of 25 minutes.
The absorption method uses long grain rice. A set amount of rice and water is brought to the boil, covered usually, and lowered to a simmer until the water is absorbed. The heat is turned off and the rice left for 10 or so minutes to steam – it’s how a rice cooker operates. Pilaf rice, my preference, is cooked like this, only the rice is first toasted in butter or oil until the opaque grains turn white before adding the liquid.
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Having said those pearls of cookery wisdom, I do get that fluffy, tender rice grains do not always follow, and yes, I can cook rice to glug with the best rice-fearing cooks.
The reasons for rice disaster can be varied, and often it is only by trial that you get to find your perfect brand and preferred cooking style. Choice of rice varieties has in recent years flooded our shelves and each brand will have their own nuances. Country of origin and the milling process can leave an imprint on how the rice will cook. Old rice becomes dry and needs more water and longer cooking. Basmati is drier than jasmine and needs more water. Always check the packet instructions and follow a recipe that has good instructions.