There are over 2,000 varieties of rice, grown in more than 110 countries, and every culture has its own repertoire of rice dishes, from the paellas of Spain, the nasi goreng of Indonesia, and the congees served for breakfast throughout Asia to the famous pilavs of the Balkans and Middle East, and the risottos of Italy.
Rice can generally be divided into two types long grain (which tends to stay separate when cooked) and round or short grain (which sticks together, making it ideal for risottos and rice pudding).
This way of cooking rice is the most common method used throughout Asia. A pan with a tight-fitting lid is essential, and it is important to measure the water or stock accurately.
You can cook the rice on the stovetop or in the oven, which is in fact the basic pilaf method. Brown rice (long grain or basmati) can be cooked by this method, although it will need more liquid, or it can be boiled. Which ever method is used, brown rice will take up to double the cooking time of whit rice.
Put the rice and water or stock into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir once, then simmer, uncovered, until all liquid is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Cover the pan with a towel and a tight fitting lid. Return to very low heat and leave undisturbed for 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and leave for 5 minutes with the towel and lid still in place, then uncover and serve.
Packaged rice sold in the West is rigorously checked and thoroughly cleaned, so if you "wash" it (i.e. rinse it) all you are doing is washing away nutrients. In Asian countries, however, rice is normally washed several times before cooking to help keep the grains separate.
With the exception of basmati, and sometimes wild rice (to reduce the cooking time), rice does not need to be soaked before use. Some people suggest soaking long-grain brown rice before cooking to make it softer; this will not shorten the cooking time. Follow recipe directions, and soak rice only if instructed to do so.
When boiling or steaming rice, it can first be lightly toasted (i.e. fried) in oil or butter for 1 to 2 minutes before the water or other liquid is added. This greatly enhances the flavor.
Steamed rice is cooked in a hot vapor, rather than directly in liquid, which significantly reduces the loss of nutrients. The rice in the upper section of a steamer cooks in the steam produced by the water or stock boiling in the lower section. A well fitting lid is essential to keep the steam in, as is careful timing, since steamed rice is tasteless if even slightly overcooked. Rice can also be steamed very successfully in a pressure cooker.
Once cooled, cooked rice can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. It is great for rice salads and to use in stir fries and soups. When rice is reheated it tastes as good as it did when first prepared. Either reheat it in a tightly covered bowl in the microwave or put the rice in a saucepan with 2 tbsp water or stock, cover, and heat gently for 4 to 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
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