Standard Pages (they don't change often)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rice Rice Baby

nonseafood paella, Greenhills, Philippines
Rice is arguably the most important cereal crop in the world. It's pervasive, found in all sorts of cuisines from all corners of the globe. It's an immensely versatile ingredient, but in common American parlance, rice is one of those backdrop players in a meal that plays a supporting role. Heck, most recipes don't even describe the available varieties of rice, and how their different properties make for different cooking methods. Using the wrong method or technique on each variety of rice produces less than optimal results. Here in Houston, we're right next to the biggest rice producers in America in Louisiana, yet our Gulf rice cuisine is somewhat narrow in scope.
Zereshk pollow (Persian barberry rice)
Middle Eastern and Indian cooking favors the use the starchy, aromatic and long grained basmati rice, which actually holds up fairly well to being cooked like pasta. The fluffy grains are prized when they are nutty and separated. Persian cuisine pays particular attention to the crunchy crust that forms at the bottom of a pot of cooked rice (tahdig).
Onigiri and pickles, Toyoko Inn, Nagoya, Japan

Chahan (Japanese fried rice) 
Curry and rice, Cafe Kubo, Houston, TX
Batara (pressed sushi), Sushi Miyagi, Houston, TX

Rice figures strongly in Japanese, Chinese and Korean cuisines, and prized at least among the Japanese is the short grain meshi. Characterized by a lower linear starch, and higher amylopectin content, this kind of rice isn't as fluffy when cooked, and the grains tend to clump. This means that it can be shaped (as for sushi), or easily manipulated with chopsticks. The ratio of amylopectin to amylose in each grain type affects the optimal cooking method.

The very short grain ("sweet") rice is almost all amylopectin, and cooks up remarkably sticky - hence the term glutinous rice. And I think this lends it to remarkable versatility. But let's establish this from the get-go: there's no gluten in glutinous rice.

This type of rice finds multiple uses in Southeast Asian cooking, and is best when steamed in some way. For example, the Chinese wrap rice mixed with various condiments, meats and seasonings in bamboo or lotus leaves, and steam the whole thing to make zongzi. Varying the leaves chosen to wrap the rice in can make for different flavors and textures, and the technique produces a range of derived dishes both sweet and savory

Suman sa latik. Suman is essentially Filipino zonzi, although the ingredients vary accordingly. This is a sweet application. 

Sweet rice stuffed chicken wings, E*Tao, Houston, TX
Rice, of course, makes its way into congee or porridge. Grinding rice in flour, and extruding them into noodles and sheets amplify the number of uses. Understanding the different varieties and matching them to the appropriate technique improves the treatment of this all important grain.

No comments:

Post a Comment