How to make perfect rice, every time (& 5 recipes)
At the gym last Thursday, between presses on the bench, Anna and I talked about food. Nutrition, diets … what we ate as kids. The latter was the interesting bit. Growing up in long-ago Australia — before waves of immigrants from war-bruised Europe suggested that there could be more to our meals than over-roasted legs of lamb, and the beef and mashed potatoes of Olde England — our family’s fare was as simple as food might be. Wonderful French, Spanish, Greek, Indian and all the rest? None of that. Ne’er even that international favourite, a bowl of rice!
Even though I could almost guess what my trainer’s answer would be, just for fun I asked Anna — who I knew had grown up in Germany — if she had had much rice as a kleiner liebling?
“Nein,” she said. (Actually, she said “no.”) “We were meat and potato people — and any other veg that came seasonally from our garden … Oh yes, and those wursts. The wursts were the best!”
While rice and its carby cousins have come a long way in the southern parts of Europe, I’m sure that even staid Germany is also on board with this world-wide wonder. Everyone has rice now and then. It might seem obvious, but right after wheat, rice is the most widely cultivated cereal in the world. It works for dishes at the start of the meal, as a pearly-white add-on for mains and as a sweet dessert.
Ricepedia.org, a cousin of “Wik” is a bubbling pot of info about rice in Europe, and makes it clear that while rice is neither a staple nor a major European crop, it’s a big deal in Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal, and to a lesser extent in France, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Per capita consumption down south ranges from 6–18 kilograms annually, compared with just 3.5–5.5 kilograms up north.
The Camargue region of France, colourfully famous for its white horses, black bulls and pink flamingos, also supplies about 20 percent of that country’s rice requirements. The balance comes from the United States, Madagascar and the Ivory Coast.
Perfect Rice, Every Time
My Larousse Gastronomique says that the key to cooking rice is ensuring that the grains remain a little firm (al dente) but not hard, so they remain separate and retain their flavour. I once had the good fortune of living next to a dietitian, who among other things, offered me a no-fail method for cooking rice. (It needs a video, but, short of that, here’s the deal.)
Pour into any saucepan the amount of rice you estimate will be needed for your meal. Half a cup of uncooked rice per person is a good starter. Crook your third finger and hold it against the rice as you pour cold water to cover the second joint of your crooked finger. Add a half-teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of oil. Bring to a boil, then immediately cover with a lid and turn the heat to its lowest point. Leave covered for 20 minutes, then lift the lid. The water will be absorbed, and the rice will be cooked. Before serving, add butter, salt to taste, stir and serve. Feedback on your success — with any saucepan — will be welcomed.
Here’s another for a serving for two. Two cups long-grain rice. Place the rice in a saucepan. Wash and rinse the rice several times — until the white starch disappears. Add enough cold water to cover the rice by half an inch. Cover and cook on high heat until boiling. Boil for two minutes, then turn the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and stir with a fork. The rice will be fluffy.
Meatballs? How about riceballs stuffed with cheese? Delizioso!
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup arborio rice
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded Fontina cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs, divided
Vegetable oil, for frying
Bring the broth and 1/4 tsp salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the rice, reduce the heat to low and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let cool completely.
Combine the pine nuts, mozzarella, Fontina and parsley in a bowl. Set aside.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then stir in the cooled rice, the Parmesan and 2/3 cup bread crumbs. Shape the mixture into 16 1 1/2-inch balls.
Place the remaining bread crumbs in a shallow bowl. Press your finger into the centre of each rice ball, insert 2 tsp of the mozzarella mixture, then pinch the rice around the filling to enclose. Roll the balls in the breadcrumbs and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Loosely cover and refrigerate, for at least 1 hour or overnight. (If refrigerating overnight, roll in additional bread crumbs before frying.)
Heat 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350˚F. Working in batches, fry the rice balls, turning, until golden brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season with salt.
Green peppers stuffed with rice
Juicy green peppers are made for stuffing, and rice, tarted up with other goodies, is perfect for this stuffing opportunity. (Just like the cavities of our favourite poultry.) I found this super-easy stuffer at Allrecipes.com, repository of mountains of great cooking ideas.
1 cup water
1/2 cup uncooked arborio rice
2 green bell peppers, halved and seeded
1 tbsp olive oil
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp salt
1 pinch ground black pepper
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Stir in the rice. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Place the peppers cut side down on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until tender and the skin starts to brown.
While the peppers are roasting, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onions, basil, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in the oil for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato and cook for 5 minutes. Spoon in the cooked rice and stir until heated through. Remove from the heat, mix in the feta cheese and spoon the mixture into the pepper halves.
Return to the oven for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
Marion Cunningham at Epicurious says that this is more Cajun-New Orleans than it is a dish from your favourite Spanish haunt. She goes on: “This recipe gave rice a little style, made it a delicious ‘fancy’ side dish to serve alongside grilled meat or chicken. I always look forward to having any leftovers as a cold salad for lunch the next day. If you like a little added spice, put some hot pepper sauce on the table.”
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 green bell peppers, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup long-grain white rice
250 ml tomato sauce
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, then add the onions, green peppers and celery. Sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute while stirring.
Add the rice and stir together to mix. Add the tomato sauce and the water carefully. Season with the salt and pepper, and add the cumin, if using.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the rice is done, stirring once or twice.
Baked Rice with Apples
This smooth and delicious dish comes from Suburban Grandma’s collection. It has European roots, and again demonstrates the versatility of rice, especially on Day 2. A winner for fans of cinnamon!
4 cups cooked white rice, divided
6 medium apples, peeled, cored, coarsely shredded
2 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
2 tbsp cinnamon, divided
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup light cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Butter, for greasing the casserole dish
Grease a 6-quart casserole dish with butter then spoon in 2 cups of the cooked rice, spread it evenly, and firmly pat it down. In a medium bowl, mix the apples with 1 tbsp of sugar, 1 tbsp of cinnamon and the lemon juice. Spoon the apple mixture over the rice layer and pat it down. Cover the apples with the remaining 2 cups of rice and pat it down. In a medium bowl, mix the cream with the vanilla extract and remaining 1 tbsp sugar. Gently pour this mixture over the rice layer. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tbsp of cinnamon overtop. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Serve warm or cold with fresh fruit, jam, whipped cream or your favourite syrup.
An Indian dish that’s equally at home on the dessert menus of England or in my kitchen in Canada. Rice pudding — you may have had the Kozy Shack version? — is the smoothest of comfort foods. Like wrapping yourself in a duvet in front of a fire on an early fall day.
1/3 cup long grain rice (prewash and then soak in a saucepan of cold water for 2 hours)
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
5 cups half and half
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp soaked raisins
2 tbsp slivered almonds
2 tbsp chopped pistachios
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp rose water
Drain the rice and return to the saucepan. Add the milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 5 minutes, lifting the lid occasionally to stir.
Uncover, add the salt and pour in the half and half. Increase the heat to medium and bring slowly to near boiling, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook, uncovered, stirring from time to time to prevent burning and until the mixture thickens. (This will take about an hour. Do something else while this is happening!)
Stir in the sugar and continue to cook, stirring fairly steadily until the mixture has the consistency of thick custard and drops slowly from the spoon. (At this stage, the rice will have almost completely disintegrated.)
Stir in the raisins, almonds, pistachios and cardamom. Blend everything well and remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the rose water and spoon the pudding into a serving dish. Serve warm or refrigerate and serve cold. You may wish to decorate the top with some slivered almonds. I usually grate some nutmeg or cinnamon overtop.