15 November 2011

Food Lab 12: Rice

Chef Spouse has a love/hate relationship with rice. Well, since he got serious about cooking, it's actually mostly been a hate/hate relationship. It always seems to come out sticky. Like clumpy sticky.


So we decided, once and for all, to figure out how to get it right.

Before you even start with me, yes, I know: "rice cooker." But Chef Spouse is of the "no single taskers!" school of though, so no rice cooker. Also, even though when we renovated the kitchen, we got a LOT more cabinet space, it's not infinite. And we don't really make rice often enough to make it worthwhile to devote the space to that as opposed to, say, a food mill.

Despite what you might think from the lovely picture above, we stuck with basmati rice the entire time for quality control.

The basic variables are:

Rinsed versus unrinsed
Soaked versus unsoaked
Boiled versus steamed versus baked

The first test we did was rinsed then soaked versus unrinsed then soaked. By "rinse," I mean you rinse and swirl and drain until the water runs clean. Both were then drained and cooked in the traditional manner: bring rice and water (in a 1:1.5 ratio) to boil, then lower heat and simmer under water's pretty much gone (~8 minutes for pre-soaked white rice), then remove from heat, covered, and steam for ~10 minutes. Unsurprisingly, there wasn't much difference between rinsed versus unrinsed when you were then going to soak and drain.

For the second test, we rinsed them both, then tested the boiled in lots of water (like pasta would be) versus the traditional cooking method described above. The pasta style was softer and fluffier, while the traditional cooking method was more al dente. Strong preferences started to emerge.

For the third test, we did everything wrong - no rinsing, stirring constantly, no rest. That rice was not good, and didn't cook the whole way through. We used it later to make Persian rice (which is basically rice that's partially cooked, drained, and then finished by being poached in butter. Yeah, it was pretty damn good.)

For the fourth test, we did the Commander's Palace method - it's a parboil, at a 1:4 ratio, for ~12 minutes, then you drain it, bung in butter and bake it at 325 for ~5 minutes. It's good, for sure (BUTTER!), but would probably be best for a situation in which the oven's already on.

For the fifth test, we tried a risotto style method, where you saute your rice in fat first (BUTTER!), then do the traditional 1:1.5 boil/simmer/steam method. This one also came out a true al dente, with a nice chewy center.

Of course, we also ran a test with the Mad Kitchen Scientist's rice cooker.  It came out quite light and fluffy - similar to the pasta-style rice.

So what did we learn?

Rinsing is critical. No matter what method you use, you MUST rinse your rice first.

Resting/steaming at the end to finish the cooking is also critical. Well, at least when you do the boil/simmer/steam method of cooking.

Soaking is good, if you remember/have time for it. If you rinse your rice and put it on to soak as you start your dinner prep, you should be golden, particularly since pre-soaked rice will cook more quickly.

Pasta-style is great if you need to make a LOT of rice, because it's more forgiving on technique and time, and you don't have to worry about the bottom grains burning to the pot before the top grains are cooked through.

And yes, a rice cooker is also great, if you have space for one and aren't ethically opposed to single-taskers.

So of course, with all that leftover rice, we made rice pudding.

Actually, the funny part is, only one of the recipes we chose used already-cooked rice. So we cooked yet more rice for two of the three rice puddings we made. Food Lab, thy name is excess.

So we did a custard style that started with cooking rice in milk on the stovetop and then ended with the custard topping dumped on top going into the oven. That resulted in a rice pudding bottom with a flan-like top. Good. Not amazing. Would be better as rice pudding and flan, two separate desserts.

We also used leftover rice to make an entirely stovetop version. That was quite good, very easy, and what is going to happen to all my leftover takeout Chinese rice from now on.

And then there was the version that started with uncooked arborio rice and went straight into the oven. A few caveats: take the advice of the commenters and stir it every 15 minutes to prevent a skin from forming in the first place. It will take about an extra 15 minutes to cook in the ramekins (probably longer if you do it all in one container). Add vanilla when you add the heavy cream at the end.

All that said: IT WAS F-ING AMAZING.


Best rice pudding ever.


Not kidding.