RICE - Varieties,
Forms & Processing
Buying and Storing Rice
Buying: These days you go to a store that sells the kind
of rice you want to cook and buy a bag (I usually buy 10 pound bags of
common varieties of white rice, but 1 or 2 or at most 5 pound bags of
brown rice that must be used more quickly). Well, yes, in some Red States
you may have to order the more exotic ethnic varieties on the Internet.
When you get really experienced you may develop a strong preference for
particular brands of particular varieties of rice.
Storing: You need to store rice in an air-tight container
in a cool dry place. The "air tight" is to keep bugs out - note that
they can bore through thin plastic bags, you need 2-mil minimum to keep
them out. If you notice tiny black dots in the rice, those are beetles.
If there aren't too many you can shake the rice in a wire strainer and
the beetles, being far smaller than rice grains, will fall through.
Also, most bugs are lighter than rice, so you can float them out. It's
not that the bugs aren't nutritious, but some of your guests may be a
little squeamish on this mater. especially the vegans.
White rice can last 1 year to 50 years depending on milling and
variety. Brown rice is highly variable. Some will go rancid in just a
few months (depending also on how long it as stored before you bought it)
and others will last a year, or even two. If you smell rancidity, discard
it. Products of rancidity, besides smelling bad and tasting awful, are
In India, top grade Basmati rice is sometimes aged for as much as 50
years (and becomes very high in price). The longer the age the fluffier
the rice will be when cooked (though beyond 2 years you are looking at a
steeply diminishing return on investment). For this kind of storage you
need a container that will allow limited air circulation but still exclude tiny
bugs. Most "Aged Basmati" sold in North America is aged for one year.
Classes and Varieties
For more than you ever wanted to know about Classes and Varieties of
rice, visit our RICE page - but here
are a few commonly found in North American kitchens (any of these can be
found in brown as well as white):
- Thai Jasmine: An aromatic long grain rice suitable for
cuisines of North America, non-Mediterranean Europe, Southeast Asia (including
the Philippines) and southern China.
- Indian Basmati: An aromatic very long grain rice best for cuisines
of India, Persia, Anatolia, the Near and Middle East and anywhere pilafs are
- California Rice: Japanese style rice. The most common
is Calrose, but I prefer Kokuho Rose. Use this rice for the cuisines of
Japan, Korea and northern China. In a pinch it'll do for Italian, but
more questionable for Spanish.
- Long Grain Rice: Rather undistinguished rice grown
in the US South, primarily Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. It is all
descended from the once famous Carolina rice, which originated around
Patna in India.
Plain steamed white rice is the standard for all Asian cuisines, and most
North American cuisines as well.
As far as I'm concerned. this is the way to cook plain rice,
though some ethnicities and households insist on other methods. This
method can be used with either a sauce pan (for 1 to 4 servings) or an
Asian rice cooker (larger batches). Note that the times and measures
give here are specific to white rice. Brown, red and black rice take
somewhat to a lot longer, and more water. See our
RICE page for details on specific
This method does demand that you know your rice, your pan and your
stove very well - or your rice and your rice cooker for larger batches.
A little practice is needed to get these things down perfect.
- Rinse your rice by measuring it into a fine mesh strainer and shaking
it briskly under hot running water. Let it drain well, and then tilt the
strainer a bit to get it thoroughly drained.
- Pour a dab of olive oil into the saucepan and wipe it around the
bottom and sides with a small bit of paper towel. Sprinkle in some salt
depending on ethnicity of the meal. No or very little salt for Southeast
Asia and Japan, a little more salt for India, China, Europe and North
America. Brown, red and black rice need more salt than white rice to
- Pour in the drained rice.
- Measure in cold water appropriate for the type of rice and the
amount being made (a little more for very small batches). At this point
we have three possibilities:
- Rice Cooker: Cover and push the button. It will shift to
"warm" mode when the rice is done. When done, let it sit for at least 10
minutes. How does it know when the rice is done? When all the free water
is gone the temperature at the bottom of the pot will start to rise. At
a preset temperature it turns to "warm". (or off for my antique Hitachi
rice cooker - I have to push the "warm" button by hand).
- Saucepan: Bring to a boil uncovered (this is so you
can see when it reaches a boil - covered you'll forget). The moment it
boils cut the heat to barely a simmer and cover tightly. In about 15 to
20 minutes turn off the heat entirely and let sit for about 10 minutes.
- Saucepan: This is the method I use, and I often use it
for as little as a single serving (1/3 cup rice). Set the pot, tightly
covered, on a cold burner, preferably a solid iron one or with a heat
spreader. Set flame to the point where a fairly strong simmer would be
maintained (just the center flame on my burner). At exactly 25 minutes
(your time may vary) I turn it off and let it sit for about 10
Note that the 10 minute rest period is important to properly
distribute moisture, and it will also allow the rice to come unstuck
from the pan.
Science has shown that "nuking" food does far more damage to its
nutritional value than conventional cooking. Nonetheless, households with
children (including often husbands) demanding instant gratification
consider a microwave essential. I haven't tried this, having no
microwave, but the instructions given here are widely published. The
microwave is said to work very well - easy, almost foolproof - and the
rice won't stick to the bowl or burn. Naturally, as with every other rice
cooking method you need to adjust the water and cooking time to your
exact rice and the power of your microwave.
- Long Grain, Medium Grain and Uncle Ben's "Converted" Rice:
Use 1 cup of rice and 2 cups of water or broth in a 3-quart microwave
container. Cover with wax paper and microwave on high for 5 minutes, then
on medium for about 13 minutes.
- Brown Rice Use 1 cup of rice and 3 cups of water or broth
in a 3-quart microwave container. Cover with wax paper and microwave on high
for 8 minutes, then on medium for about 20 minutes.
Steamed Sticky / Glutinous / Sweet Rice
Laotians (including the Laotian people in Issan, Thailand) and the
Tai Khuen of eastern Shan State, Burma, are the only peoples where
sweet / glutinous rice is the main rice. In other cultures it is mostly
reserved for sweets. Glutinous rice is much favored in Laos for it's
ability to be made up into wads used to pick up sauces and other
foods. A wad of rice is their main, and often only, eating utensil.
Properly made, the finished rice should be quite dry, but very
This rice is traditionally made in a steamer of the type shown in the
photo. Both parts were purchased from an Asian market in Los Angeles,
and the lid borrowed from a convenient pot. Other steamers can be used
if you don't have this rig.
1. Purchase Thai or Laotian long grain sweet rice
(not all sweet rice is suitable). This is easily available on-line or
in the large Asian markets here in Los Angeles.
2. Rinse the rice well until the water runs clear
3. Soak the rice in water to cover by a couple of
inches. Soaking time depends on the age of the rice, 4 to 8 hours. If
it came from Thailand to North America, it is probably old enough by
now to take the full 8 hours or overnight.
4. Wrap the rice in cheese cloth. Some on-line outlets
that sell the rice and steamers have wide Thai cheesecloth suitable for
5. Load the steamer with the wrapped rice and put a lid
over it. If using the official cone shaped basket, make sure the basket
doesn't touch the boiling water.
6. Bring to a boil and steam at a light boil until
tender, about 45 minutes.
7. Remove the rice from the cheese cloth and
wash the cloth for future use.
Sticky Rice is immediately removed from the steamer into one or more
covered Rice Baskets and sent to the table. These baskets may be of
individual or family sizes. The inner chamber of the photo specimen
basket is 4-1/2 inches diameter and will hold 4 cups of rice. The
string serves to keep the lid with the basket and to hang the
basket from a convenient hook. Baskets of this sort are available
on the Internet, shipped directly from Thailand.
Pilafs are the main way of cooking rice in Anatolia and from North Africa
through the Near and Middle East, Persia (where it originated) and
northwestern India. A modified form can be found in some parts of Italy
and southern France.
There are actually a number of variations on the pilaf method, but
this one works pretty well for me. Pilaf is a little tricky because you
have to get the water just right from the start, and there's no way to
correct it later. This takes some practice to get just right. so don't
plan to serve your first try to important guests.
If there are other major ingredients I usually do this in a 3-1/2
quart multi-ply sauté pan with a tight fitting lid, using 1 cup
of rice and a bit shy of 2 cups of water (or broth if the recipe calls
for that). If there are no other major ingredients a 2 quart sauté
pan works better.
- Chose a very long grain Basmati type rice, Lacking that, Thai Jasmine
rice, or lacking even that, an American long grain rice can be used (but
not "converted" rice), though it will not have that desirable basmati
aroma. Try to always use the same type of rice, the same pan and the
same stove burner the same way once you get the amount of liquid and
the timing just right.
- Rinse the rice well, then soak in warmish water for 1/2 hour or a
- Most pilafs have other ingredients than rice. At this point you fry
up the other ingredients, or prepare them however the recipe calls for.
This preparation should end with no free liquid in the pan.
- Drain rice very well. Stir it into the pan with the required amount
of water, and some butter (about 1 T per cup of rice).
- Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a slow simmer. Cover
tightly and let cook for about 12 minutes (your timing may vary).
Do not open the lid until the time is up.
- Turn off heat. Open the lid and drape a paper towel over the pan,
then return the lid and let stand for a good 10 minutes (the paper
towel is to keep water from dripping off the lid into the rice).
Risotto is primarily made in northern Italy, but some also in southern
France. I usually do this in a 2 quart sauté pan using 1 cup
rice, 1 T of olive oil or butter and just shy of 2 cups broth.
- Do Not Rinse or pre-soak rice used for risotto. Starch adhering
to the surface of the grains is important to the end result.
- Select a medium grain Risotto type rice at least 6 months old
(Carnaroli, Maratelli and Vialone Nano are considered best, Arborio
not so much - to touchy). Lacking that, a medium grain Egyptian or
Spanish rice, or a California rice such as Kokuho Rose or Calrose can
be used, with slightly less authentic results.
- Chop ingredients for a soffritto if the recipe calls for one.
At minimum some onion, but garlic, celery and parsley are often included.
- Heat some olive oil or butter in the risotto pan (about 1 T per cup
of rice) Fry the soffritto (if any) until onion is translucent.
Add the rice and fry stirring for about another 3 minutes.
- Add half the broth called for by the recipe. Stir as you add the broth
and very often as the broth is absorbed. As needed stir in half the
remaining broth and continue stirring very often until the rice
is creamy and tender (when only 1/4 cup of broth remains, you are
permitted to stir it all in - otherwise you will never finish).
Spanish Rice - Paella &
In Spain, where rice cultivation was first introduced into Europe, rice
is cooked differently from the rest of the world - in an open pan, with no
stirring. Cooked in a shallow stove top pan it is "Paella". Cooked in an
earthenware cazuela, in the oven or on the stove top, it is
The proper Paella pan is a shallow pan with sloping sides made from
regular steel (the kind that rusts). La Espanola Meats carries these in
14 sizes from 9-1/3 inches to 51-1/4 inches (1 plaza to 200 plazas).
Stainless pans are available, but not as good due to the poor heat
conductivity of stainless.
- Select a "Valencia", "Bomba" or "Calasparra" paella rice. These are
super absorbent medium grain rice varieties particularly suited to the
Spanish methods of cooking. They can be purchased from on-line
sources such as La Espanola Meats of Harbor City, CA (Los Angeles) or
La Tienda of Williamsberg, VA, Amazon.com and many others.
- DO NOT rinse or soak rice for paella or Arroz.
- Generally the recipe will call for a bunch of other ingredients.
These are cooked in the pan first, fried, then simmered, and will
produce an amount of broth for cooking the rice.
- When the other ingredients are ready, stir in the rice, about half
the volume of rice as there is broth in the pan (adjust broth if
- Simmer uncovered until rice is cooked tender. Do not disturb the
pan until the rice is done. The result should be sticky, but all
separate grains, not creamy as in risotto.