Thursday, June 13, 2024

Rice, Plain and Simple

Perfectly cooked rice is a joy to eat, a joy to serve and a joy to be able to consistently make yourself. And therein lies the rub: rice is tricky to cook.

Without going too deeply into the science of what rice is, most of us know a grain of rice has multiple layers. Brown rice contains the three most nutritional: the bran, germ and endosperm, which contain fiber, fats, nutrients and starch. (That’s why brown rice is best kept refrigerated — the fats make it less shelf-stable.)

“Regular” white rice is pure starch (only the endosperm) and the three sizes (long-, medium- and short-grain) have different amounts of the two starches that rice naturally contains.

Long-grain rice, like Carolina, Jasmine and Basmati, have just the right ratio of starches to both fluff up and separate the grains — when cooked properly. Shorter-grain rice will be stickier and more glutinous (an example would be sushi rice) — unless it’s precocido, i.e., precooked/parboiled. In that case, the grains are already cooked whole with the endosperm separated afterward, and you’ll get separate, fluffy grains. “Converted” or parboiled rice also cooks more quickly than regular rice.

Salmon bowl
This delicious salmon bowl also means plenty of Omega-3s!

It’s a lot of information, and kind of confusing. I’d wager that most of us, at this point, have a favorite type of rice we cook and maybe a method we swear by.

Put simply, the keys to perfectly cooked rice are rinsing it first, the water to rice ratio and not letting the steam escape. That’s why a rice cooker or Instant Pot makes perfect rice every time.

Mexican cuisine relies heavily on the stickier short-grain rice, but I prefer Basmati, an aromatic long-grain rice popular in Indian cooking. It’s available in Asian food stores, grocery stores and big-box stores like Costco.

My know-it-by-heart recipe uses a ratio of ¼ cup less than twice as much water to rice. So for 1 cup of rice, I use 1¾ cups water. I always rinse the rice till clear (I actually have a special rice strainer that I found in a Chinese store here in Mazatlán) and let it dry before cooking.

I bring the water to a boil, add a pinch of salt, dump in the rinsed rice and bring it to a boil again. Stir once, turn heat to low, cover tightly and cook for 16 minutes. Voilà!

Vanilla-Coconut Rice Pudding (Arroz con Leche de Coco)

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, split and with the seeds scraped OR ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 cups whole milk, plus extra to adjust consistency
  • 1 cup full-fat coconut milk, shaken to mix
  • 1-1/3 cups cooked long- or medium-grain white rice
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

Combine sugar and scraped vanilla seeds/vanilla extract. in a 3-quart saucepan. Add milk and coconut milk; whisk until sugar is dissolved. Stir in rice and salt.

Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then immediately lower heat to simmer. Cook, stirring and scraping bottom and sides of pot every few minutes with a rubber spatula to prevent sticking and scorching, about 45 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain gentle bubbling until mixture begins to thicken.

Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until pudding thickens to the consistency of yogurt and coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes longer.

Remove from heat. Serve warm or chilled, adding ¼ cup milk if too thick after refrigeration. Top with toasted coconut, fresh fruit or pineapple. —

Coconut chicken
Cashews and coconut milk make this chicken dish nice and creamy.

Sesame Salmon Bowl

  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1½ cups sushi rice (short-grain white rice), rinsed well
  • 1½ pounds skinless salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • ½ tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. safflower/canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped scallions
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 3 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 3 packed cups coleslaw mix (or equivalent made fresh)
  • 1 avocado, sliced

In large saucepan, combine rice vinegar, sugar and salt; stir to dissolve sugar. Add rice and 1¾ cups water; stir. Bring to a boil over high heat; cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until rice is tender and most but not all liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

In small bowl, toss salmon with ¼ tsp. sesame oil. Season with salt. Once rice is tender (after about 20 minutes), arrange salmon in even layer on top of rice. Cover pan and steam over low heat until fish is cooked to medium, 10–12 minutes.

In another small bowl, combine soy sauce, white vinegar, oil, scallions, ginger and remaining sesame oil. Mix well; season with salt.

Scoop salmon and rice into bowls. Top with cucumbers, coleslaw mix and sliced avocado. Drizzle with vinaigrette and serve.

Creamy Coconut Chicken with Rice

Cashews and coconut milk make this something special.

  • 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each thigh cut into 2 equal-size pieces
  • ¼ cup coconut/olive /neutral oil
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1½ cups Basmati or other white rice, rinsed until water runs clear
  • 1¾ cups chicken broth
  • 1 (13.5-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • ½ cup roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
  • ½-1 medium white onion, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
  • 1½ cups chopped baby bok choy, spinach or other mild green, leafy vegetable

Heat oven to 375 F. (Or use stovetop, see below.) Drizzle chicken with 1Tbsp. oil. Season with salt and pepper.

In large Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp. oil. Brown chicken, turning halfway, until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper-towel lined plate.

Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil, ginger and garlic to empty pot. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in rice to coat with oil; add broth, coconut milk, bell pepper, cashews, onions and remaining 1 tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Stir well. Arrange chicken on top; bring to a boil over high.

Cover and bake until liquid is absorbed, rice is tender and chicken is cooked through, 25 minutes. (Alternatively, cook, covered, on stovetop over low heat, checking after 15 minutes.) When done, scatter with bok choy; cover and let sit 10–12 minutes till tender-crisp.

Scatter cilantro on top and serve.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expatsfeatured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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