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Yvonne’s Cooking School: Common Varieties of Rice

Yvonne Maffei teaches us about the most common varieties of rice, what cuisine they are suited to and how to cook them.

Rice, just like bread, is a staple carbohydrate in much of the world. Whether in Asia or the Mediterranean, rice dishes are plentiful, nutritious and now a symbol of a particular country and its cuisine. Here’s a quick and handy guide to walk you through some of the most commonly available varieties of rice found in supermarkets today and the best ways to cook them.

 

Common Varieties of Rice
Arborio is an Italian short grain rice with rounded edges. It absorbs more liquid than other types of rice, thus requiring additional liquid to be added throughout the cooking period. Typically it is not steamed with a closed lid but rather cooked with a close eye and lots of stirring. It is often served as a side dish to meats and fish and its texture is somewhat chewy.

 

Basmati is a type of long grain rice grown in South Asia, most notably in the Himalayas, and comes in white or brown varieties. Incredibly aromatic when cooking, Basmati is a staple of traditional cuisine throughout India, Pakistan and many Gulf countries. The rice should be rinsed several times before using, which will help it to absorb moisture and prevent it from cracking during the cooking process.

 

Bamboo is a slightly translucent short grain rice, bright green in color due to an infusion of pure fresh bamboo juice. This type of rice is becoming more readily available in health food stores and markets and can be used to make sushi rice or Asian-style risotto, though the bright color will fade with cooking. Cook it as you would most other short grain rice varieties, but let it sit for about 15-20 minutes after cooking and before it is served.

 

Jasmine is a long grain, bright white and highly fragrant rice primarily grown in Thailand. It loses its flavour and aroma when it is stored for too long, so it is best to use within six months of purchase.

 

Wild black rice is interesting because, although you’ll find it in the rice section of the grocery store, it isn’t actually rice but a grass; in fact the seed of a long grain marsh grass. Wild rice does actually look like long grain rice and so is typically added with other rice varieties instead of cooked alone in a single dish.

 

Cooking Rice
Because white rice is highly refined and sometimes polished to remove its bran and germ, it typically doesn’t need to be washed before cooking and to prevent it from sticking to the pan. Other rice varieties (i.e. brown or Basmati) need to be rinsed with cool water to remove extra starch.

 

To cook large amounts of rice, most of the time you will need a deep bottom saucepan or Dutch oven, although if you have a rice cooker most of the work of determining cooking time is done for you as the newest cookers will alert you when the grains are done.

 

To make your favourite dishes, use the following rice varieties:
Arroz con gandules (rice and beans) – medium grain
Biryani – long grain, Basmati
Fried Rice – typically any type of white rice is used, particularly that which has been left out for a day to dry out; fresh rice will result in a soggy texture
Kabsa – long grain, Basmati
Koshari – Basmati, short grain
Paella – medium grain
Pilaf – long grain, add wild rice to white or brown long grain
Pilau – long grain, Basmati
Rice pudding – short grain, medium grain
Stuffed grape leaves – long grain, Basmati
Sushi – short or medium grain, bamboo
Thai dishes – Jasmine

 

A note about brown vs. white rice and the size of rice grains

Brown rice has not been removed of its bran and germ like its processed and polished counterpart, white rice. In general, rice is typically classified by its size, hence the names associated with each.

 
Short grain is the most sticky and soft of rice varieties. It is typically chewy when cooked and good for making sushi.

 

Medium grain is more likely to stick together when cooked, thus also making it suitable for sushi.

 

Long grain is long and slender, tending to separate when cooked (i.e. won’t stick together).

 

 

 

Resources:
http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/food-guides/rice
http://www.foodsubs.com/Rice.html (The Cook’s Thesaurus)

 

 

Yvonne Maffei is a food writer, recipe developer and culinary consultant at MyHalalKitchen.com