Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Rice: The 411.


Plain steamed rice is the perfect backdrop for literally thousands of different flavoured “toppings”. It is the most widely eaten staple food in the world. In fact, rice provides more than one-fifth of all the world’s consumed calories. It is widely available in local grocery stores and because it has a very mild flavour, it is very versatile in cooking. Rice is naturally gluten-free which makes it digestible for people with celiac disease and other gluten sensitivities. Rice’s accessibility and versatility makes it a favourite grain here in Our Greener Kitchen.

White rice versus brown rice? Basmati? Jasmine? Converted, parboiled and instant? Long grain, short grain? It can get a little bewildering in the grocery store, so here’s the basics on rice. Cooking instructions for the various rice types are found here. 

White rice: all the bran from the grain has been removed. The downside is that it has less fibre and less nutrients than brown rice. The benefits is that it stores longer, cooks quicker and its milder taste can make it a great background for other things. 

Brown rice: this has only the hull, the toughest part of the rice seed, removed. The bran remains, providing some very important nutrients and fibre. It takes approximately twice as long to cook as white rice. 

Long-grain versus short grain? Short or medium grain rice absorbs water very easily. The cooked product is soft and somewhat sticky – an advantage when eating with chopsticks!! Long-grained rice tends to cook up more firmly with each grain separate from its neighbour. Which is better? It all depends on what you are using it for but generally, for plain steamed or boiled rice, one would choose a long grained rice. 

Arborio: this is a short grained rice that is very starchy. It’s quite sticky when it cooks up which is why it is used for dishes like risotto or rice puddings. It’s the released starch that gives those dishes their creaminess or mouth appeal. 

Basmati rice: This is one of the longest grained rice and is very common to Indian cooking. When cooked properly, the grains rarely stick to one another making for a light, fluffy rice with a beautiful aroma to it.  Generally, it is a more expensive rice, so the Kitchen Pixies tend to reserve this for making steamed rice. 

Converted or Parboiled? This is rice that is partially cooked in its husk  before being dried and packaged. The parboiling process helps drive some of the nutrients deep into the rice grain, making converted rice more nutritious than plain white rice (other than the Vitamin B content) and has about 80% of the nutritional content of brown rice. One of the best known brands of converted or parboiled rice in North America is Uncle Ben’s. A great advantage to converted or parboiled rice is that it holds up better in long cooking processes. It’s a good choice for making fried rice dishes, using in a slow cooker or a casserole. It also keeps its shape better when frozen. 

Instant rice:  This is rice that was cooked at the factory, dehyrated and packaged. All that's left if to rehydrate it with hot water. It's the stuff that's "ready in 5 minutes". It's also very expensive, tastes horrible, has a lousy texture and doesn't have much nutrition left in it. It is NOT a Kitchen Pixie recommended product.

Wild rice: technically this isn’t a rice at all. It’s a completely different plant; however, it cooks up like rice and is often used as a rice. It is very expensive and for this reason, the Kitchen Pixie use it as a flavouring agent and mix it with brown rice for a tasty and visually appealing dish.

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