Rice is a difficult subject to write about because every cuisine has its own particular way of doing things. There are many types of rice and countless methods of cooking it. The whole process is further complicated by the fact that you can’t even say, for example, “cook for 15 minutes” as there are so many variables involved. Even the age of the rice will affect the length of cooking time required. The advice in Chef School from Leith’s School of Food and Wine is “…the best guide is to follow the instructions on the pack.” You what? Try asking for the packet when you’re in a developing country’s street market.
Anyone who is a regular here in the food section will realise I’ve been putting off writing about rice for a while. Writing any kind of definitive guide would be too daunting. Therefore, we’ll just do Thai rice here and cover any other rice within its own cuisine later. There are plenty of sources which will give you exact measurements and timings. Apart from the fact that I very rarely time or measure, I don’t find that such pedantry works anyway. The methods below are therefore not necessarily orthodox.
The importance of rice
Rice is so important in Thai culture that the summons to the table – “kin khao” – literally means “eat rice”. Rice is eaten at every Thai meal. Sticky rice is popular in the north and fragrant or basmati rice is the staple elsewhere. Most dishes are accompanied by plain rice although occasionally plain rice is subsequently fried with other ingredients to make an additional side dish.
Thai fragrant rice
The best rice to use for plain Thai rice is fragrant or jasmine rice; basmati is fine too. Every source you consult will have different instructions on how to cook it. The choice is yours. Here’s my suggestions.
The easy way, allegedly
Buy a rice cooker and use that. (My Thai relatives use rice cookers but I haven’t got one. Yet.)
The low-tech way
First, rinse the rice well in cold water to get rid of excess starch. This will be a huge help in avoiding a puddingy, gloopy finished product. Put the rice in a saucepan, ideally one which has a tight-fitting lid. Cover with cold water – about two parts water to one part rice. Bring to the boil and boil until rice is soft on the outside but still hard in the centre. Drain off excess water (it takes practice to judge this exactly right) leaving just enough for the almost cooked rice to absorb as it finishes cooking. Put the lid on the pan and turn the heat right down. Let the rice cook until all the remaining water has been absorbed. Take care not to let the rice burn at the bottom of the pan. This method is possible with a bit of practice but I got frustrated perfecting it and devised an easier hybrid method.
The middle way
Some cook books give instructions for cooking rice in the microwave. I find the precise measurements for this just as complicated as the low-tech method above. So here’s what I do. Follow the low-tech method up to the point where the rice is almost cooked. Drain off the excess water, transfer the rice to a bowl, cover with clingfilm, and microwave for a minute. Test it, and repeat until it’s just right. Easy peasy.
The best way – update
Since I originally wrote this piece, I discovered Ken Hom’s method for making perfect steamed rice in his book Foolproof Chinese Cookery. You can read my review of the book on our sister site, Not Delia.
Urghh! You’ve overcooked it and got a horrid gloopy mess. If you don’t want to start again, here’s what to do. Spread the grains on a baking tray and dry it out a bit in a low to moderate oven. Good luck!
Thai sticky rice
This isn’t a polite description of an overcooked mess! It’s a specific type of rice which is very popular in north and north-eastern Thailand. To eat, you roll it into a little ball and dip it into the food. Delicious!
Soak the rice for at least three hours, or overnight. Next, wrap the rice in muslin and place in a steamer. If you don’t have a steamer you can put the package in a sieve or colander over a pan of water. Improvisation is often more satisfying anyway. Bring the water to the boil. When the steam starts to come through the package of rice, it’s time to put the lid on and leave for about five minutes. Test if it’s cooked, ie not hard in the middle. If it is still hard replace the lid and cook for a little while more.
That’s it then – Thai rice. It wasn’t so difficult after all. And now we’ve got that and all the other preliminaries out of the way, we can get on to Thai recipes next. Now that really will be fun!
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