Why are cooks afraid of this simple grain?

	More than half the world relies on rice as a staple.

	Only in America, though, do cooks need professional help with this basic grain. How else to explain all the precooked, flavored and otherwise doctored rices on the market?

	Some are fast, others fancy. All deliver what an inexpensive bag of plain, white rice can’t guarantee: rice that’s fluffy and separate.

	The problem isn’t the rice; it’s the cook.

	“People who haven’t really taken time to learn the method have trouble with it,” says Diane Neahr, home economist with the USA Rice Council in Houston.

	Cooking teacher Carol Ritchie says that she’s often asked if a recipe is made with “real” rice. Her students worry that their rice will come out sticky.

	“Rice should not be feared because there’s so much you can do with it,” she says.

	Like many experienced cooks, Ms. Ritchie uses plain white rice, no bells and whistles, as the starting point for many dishes. It takes a few minutes to cook, but requires little attention. And the grains bond with whatever you throw their way, from Cajun seasoning to sugar.

	She prefers Uncle Ben’s Converted, a parboiled rice. “It’s fluffy. I never have any problem with it.”

	Avoiding the dreaded gloppy rice is strictly a matter of form. 

	“Some people feel like rice is difficult to cook,” says Ms. Neahr. “But I don’t think they’ve ever had anyone explain to them the basic method.”

	So here, for the record, is how to cook rice: 

	Combine rice and liquid, plus salt and butter or margarine (optional) in pan; bring to a boil. stir once or twice; reduce heat, cover and cook.

	Other methods have their champions. Food stylist Chris Carbone boils the rice, covered, for two minutes, removes it from heat and lets it sit, still covered, for 20 minutes.

	Cooking teacher Kyra Effren starts with a large pot of boiling water, adding a 1/4 cup of long-grain white rice for each person. She reduces the heat so the rice doesn’t boil over, and lets it boil exactly 13 minutes - covered or not. She drains it in a colander, then puts the colander over an inch or so of simmering water, poking holes in the rice. If dinner isn’t quite ready, she covers the colander.

What not to do

	Just as important is what you don’t do to the rice.

	“If you rinse rice, which you should not do, then you are throwing away water-soluble vitamins and minerals,” Ms.Neahr says.

	Don’t peek at rice in progress. Just leave it alone and let it cook.

	When it’s done, fluff it with a fork. Don’t dig into it with a heavy metal spoon. Fluff, then serve.

	Rice connoisseurs turn their noses up at quick-cooking rice, like Minute Rice. But cooks in a hurry swear by it.

	Another route to rapid rice is to cook a lot at once and freeze it in batches.

	“Rice reheats beautifully,” says Joanne Lamb Hayes, co-author of “Rice” (Harmony Books, $11). “You wouldn’t know it wasn’t just cooked.”

	She freezes rice in 1-cup batches and reheats it in the microwave.

	“It’s better than Minute Rice because you have that great real rice flavor,” she says.

	To reheat frozen rice, cover it and microwave on high (100 Percent power) for two minute per cup of rice. If you’re reheating a lot, stir once.

	Cooked rice will keep seven to 10 days in the refrigerator.


	Making flavored rice is “just as easy as the boxed mix, and you have more flexibility,” says Ms. Hayes.

	She starts with onion sautéed in butter, She adds water or stock, spices and rice, plus some extra vegetables if she has them.

	Ms. Neahr suggests using broth or mixing fruit juice and water for the cooking liquid.

	Ms. Effren adds turmeric to the cooking water, then adds raisins and nuts for an Indian-style rice.

	Ms. Ritchie also uses turmeric, which colors the rice yellow, to make what she calls “poor man’s saffron rice.” She cooks 1 cup of white rice with a 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, 2 cups of water or chicken  broth and green onions; “It just glows,” she says.

Types of Rice

 Regular-milled white rice: The hulls, bran and germ have been removed. White rice is sold according to size. Long-grain rice comes out separate and fluffy. Medium-grain comes out tender and clinging. Short grains tend to stick together.

 Brown rice: Rice that has had only the hull removed. It’s chewier than white rice with a slightly nutty taste. It takes 45 minutes or so to cook.

 Quick-cooking or precooked rice: After milling, the rice is cook and dehydrated. The cook reconstitutes the grains. Fairly new on the market is a brown rice that cooks in 10 minutes.

 Parboiled: Before milling, the rice undergoes a pressure-steam process that seals the vitamins and minerals inside and makes the rice harder. Parboiled rice takes five minutes longer to cook and requires more water. Also known as converted rice.

 Enriched: Most rice in the United States is enriched with iron, vitamins and minerals.

 Specialty rices: Arborio is used for risotto. Wild rice, which is actually the grain of aquatic grasses, is often mixed with other rices. Aromatic rices such as basmati and jasmine have an intense aroma when cooked.

How to microwave rice

	Combine rice, liquid, 1 teaspoon salt (optional) and 1 teaspoon butter or margarine (optional) in a 2 to 3 quart, deep microwave baking dish. Cover and cook on high (100 percent power) for 5 minutes or until boiling. Reduce to medium (50 percent power) and cook for 15 minutes (20 minutes for parboiled rice and 30 minutes for brown rice). Fluff with fork.

From The Sunpapers,  Wednesday, January 19,1994


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