Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to Cook Brown Rice

This post originally ran in 2006 on Fitfare, a now-defunct site that was part of the Well Fed Network.

These are the cooking instructions from the side of a box of brown rice:

1. Combine in a two-quart saucepan:
  • 1 cup rice

  • 2 cups water

  • 1 Tbsp butter (optional)

2. Stir lightly; bring to a roiling boil and reduce heat to simmer (low boil).

3. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for 35-45 minutes.

4. Salt to taste

Sounds easy, right? But for some reason, people have a lot of trouble cooking brown rice. It comes out either half-raw or too mushy. It burns in the pan, or the water doesn’t cook all the way out.

We all know that brown rice is much healthier than its white counterpart. Only the hull of the grain is removed from brown rice, which leaves most of the nutrients intact. To get white rice, the bran and most of the germ layer is removed, which is where the bulk of the nutrients are. And brown rice is an excellent source of manganese, which helps produce energy from protein and carbohydrates and produces antioxidants to help protect against free radicals that are created by that production of energy. Converting brown rice to white diminishes the nutrients by more than half. But nutrition aside, what also gets thrown out is the rich, nutty flavor that brown rice has compared to its white counterpart, where starch is the overriding flavor.

When I first started eating brown rice it was a challenge for me to make. I knew it was better for me so I made a concerted effort, but it never came out the same, and it was usually on the mushy side. Even when it came out just right, which it did on occasion, I never knew exactly how it had happened so I couldn’t replicate it with any consistency. I knew it could be mastered, because I always had good brown rice at any restaurant that offered it on their menu, which in Austin, even in the early eighties, was quite a few. So I persevered, and was finally able to manage something that was edible, if not perfect.

When I moved to Chicago in the early nineties, I had to make several readjustments to my cooking. My once perfect five-minute soft-boiled egg came out undercooked and runny. Water took longer to boil, cakes took longer to bake, and my already-precarious brown rice took a nose-dive into glutinous mass of inedible gunk.

Which actually turned out to be a good thing. In my attempts to adjust to my new cooking challenges, I was finally able to master the art of cooking brown rice. And here’s what I discovered, taking the above instructions and breaking them down.

This method works with any brown rice, but brown basmati, which is a long grain rice, maintains its shape the best.

Step 1: Measure out 1 cup of brown rice and pour it into a sieve. Rinse well under cold water. Place in a three-quart saucepan that has a close-fitting lid. Add the water. If you want the rice to be more fluffy, use a little less than the 2 cups instructed; I use 1-2/3 cups of water. I don’t use the oil or margarine (if you want, you can add it after the rice is cooked).

Step 2: Turn the burner on high and bring the rice to a boil. Once it has come to a full, roiling boil, let it continue to boil for at least one more minute before turning down the heat. When you reduce the heat, bring it down as low as it will go without turning off (if you use gas; set it on the lowest simmer if you have an electric stove).

Let the rice boil for at least one full minute

Step 3: Cover with the tight-fitting lid. Set a timer for 40 minutes. Leave the lid on while the rice is cooking.

Step 4: When the timer goes off, take the pan off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, lift the lid and fluff the rice with a fork or spoon. All of the water should be gone, and your rice should be nice and tender, while keeping enough of its shape for the grains to stay separate.

If you're making Spanish rice, or some other casserole-style dish, saute the rice in oil until it turns translucent, then opaque and starts to pop, then add the liquid. If you're adding rice to soup or a stew, just add it earlier than you would add white rice, allowing for the 40 minutes it needs to cook. And don't forget the close-fitting lid.

And that’s it. Be patient. Your rice might not come out perfectly the first few times. But if you use each attempt as the guideline for what to do differently the next time, pretty soon you’ll be making healthy, delicious, perfect rice every time.

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