Recipes below Potatoes in one form or another may be the top accompaniment to many an American meal, but it is rice the world over that is far more popular. Rice, the third largest crop after wheat and corn, is the staple food for nearly half of the earth’s population. Rice is a grass indigenous to Asia and Africa. There are over 7,000 varieties. Archaeological evidence from China indicates that man has been cultivating rice since 8500 BC.
Starch Content and Stickiness
The most important thing to know about rice is the principal varieties and their starch content. Rice contains two starches, amylose and amylopectin. Amylose does not gelatinize during cooking so high-amylose rices are fluffier. High amylopectin rices are stickier. Long grain rices are the highest in amylose and are best for rice pilafs. Short grain rices are highest in amylopectin. Traditional Asian rice, sushi rice, and risotto are all made from short grain rice. Medium grain rices are midway between the two. They have a variety of uses but are best for salads and puddings.
Basmati and Jasmine rices are both long grain rices that are fragrant with nutty aromas. They are both ideal for rice pilafs. Basmati is from India and is more expensive. Jasmine, from Thailand, is less expensive and has more amylopectin so it will produce a creamier pilaf than Basmati. Texmati rice is a hybrid of American long grain rice and Basmati. It has more flavor and fragrance than standard American long grain rice but not as much as Basmati.
Brown rice has not had its bran removed like white rice, only its hull. It is higher in nutrients, takes longer to cook, and is more susceptible to rancidity. Wild rice is not rice but a different type of grass. Converted rice is for non-cooks. It is partially pre-cooked so it cooks quicker but at the cost of quality and flavor.
Paella, Pilaf and Risotto
Paella, originating from Spain, and its cousin jambalaya, of Creole descent, are dishes whereby cooked rice is combined with any of a wide array of meats, seafood, vegetables and seasonings. Paella traditionally utilizes saffron. Jambalaya, a New Orleans favorite, is more likely to have spicy variations.
Although there are countless types of rice pilaf, the basic formula is pretty much the same. Sauté the aromatics, (onion, carrot, celery, garlic, etc.), in butter and/or vegetable oil, add the rice and sauté briefly, then add the liquid, bring to a boil, cover, and either simmer on top of the stove or place in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Finish with fresh herbs.
Risotto follows the same procedure as pilaf with one vitally important exception. Rather than adding all the liquid at once and allowing it to cook undisturbed, the liquid is added in increments while the rice is stirred nearly constantly. The stirring facilitates the release of the rice’s starch and produces the characteristic creaminess that risottos are known for. Risotto is made from short grain rices. Arborio is the most common but Carnaroli and especially Vialone Nano are also good choices.
Cooking basic white rice, be it short or long grain is a straightforward procedure. When I wish to make standard Asian white rice I simply mix the rice and water in a heavy stainless steel pan. (You can mix in some seasoned rice wine vinegar and/or salt if you like). Cover, bring to a boil and pop it in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. The only issue is the rice to water ratio. The amount of water proportionately decreases as the amount of rice increases. For one cup of rice I use 1 ½ cups water, for two cups of rice, 2 ¾ cups of water and for 3 cups of rice 3 ½ cups water.
There are plenty of ricers on the market and such devices are a shining example of the adage “you get what you pay for.” Do not skimp on a ricer. Cheaper ones do not cook the rice adequately and sometimes burn it. However, I have a top of the line model and I still think rice made the old fashioned way, in a regular pot, tastes better and never burns.
RECIPES MUSHROOM RISOTTO
• 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms • 1 pint of the reserved porcini water • 1 quart mushroom stock (see recipe below) • 1 onion, chopped • Salt and pepper to taste • 2 tablespoons butter • 2 tablespoons olive oil • 8 oz. finely chopped mushrooms • 4 cloves garlic, chopped • 2 cups Arborio rice • 1 cup dry white wine • One third cup Parmesan cheese • Fresh parsley and thyme to taste
Rinse the porcini mushrooms. Bring one pint of water to a boil. As soon as it hits a boil, turn off the heat, add the porcinis, cover, and soak for 20 minutes. Remove the porcinis and rinse them again. Chop the porcinis and set them aside. Strain the water they soaked in through cheesecloth. Add the porcini water to the quart of mushroom stock.
Sauté the onion with salt and pepper in the butter and oil until it just starts to soften. Add the mushrooms and porcinis and cook until they start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the rice and cook for 1-2 minutes. Deglaze with the white wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium/medium-low.
Add about a cup of the mushroom stock and begin stirring. Over the next 25-30 minutes you will continue to stir and add stock in half cup increments as the rice absorbs each addition of stock. You will need about 5 cups, give or take of stock. Taste along the way to determine when it has reached the level of doneness that you prefer, adding additional salt and pepper as necessary. At the very end blend in the cheese, parsley and thyme and serve.
Use this stock as a base for mushroom soup or a mushroom sauce. For the latter, deglaze the pan with some of the stock after sautéing the protein. Then add sautéed mushrooms and either reduce the fluid or add flour to make a gravy.
• 1½ lb sliced mushrooms. • Butter and/or olive oil as needed • 2 quarts water • 1 large onion, roughly chopped • 3 garlic cloves • 3-4 cloves • 2 bay leaves • 1 batch of thyme
Using a large pot, sauté the mushrooms in butter and/or olive oil until fully browned. Add the water, onion, garlic, cloves, bay leaves, and thyme to the pot. Bring the stock to a very gentle simmer and cook for 2 hours uncovered. Strain the stock. There should be at least a quart of liquid remaining.