Back to basics: Rice

The complete guide to cooking and using this staple food, so it’s perfect every time.

Cooking rice is not difficult; it just needs a little care and attention. Rice is satisfying to eat, low in fat, and comes in a number of different varieties. It can be used to create all sorts of tasty dishes. Here we tell you how to cook long-grain, basmati, risotto and sushi rice.

  • There is no need to rinse rice bought in the supermarket before cooking in New Zealand as it has been thoroughly cleaned before packaging.
  • Unless specifically stated in a recipe, rice does not need to be soaked before cooking.
  • Always use a heavy-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Use the correct type of rice for the type of dish you are making. For example, risotto is best made with risotto rice: arborio or carnaroli. Extra flavour can be added to rice by using stock instead of water when cooking.
  • When cooking rice by the boiling or absorption method, never stir the rice during cooking as the grains can split. This causes the rice to become sticky.
  • Rice is cooked when the rice separates well and is not hard in the middle.
  • As soon as rice is cooked, remove it from the pan otherwise it will continue to cook and become overcooked.
  • If you’re using the boiling method, drain thoroughly in a sieve or colander taking care that the steam does not burn you.
  • Lightly fluff with a fork before serving.

As a general guide, different rice suits different dishes.

  • Long-grain, white and brown – salads, stir-fries, pilafs, curries, mince dishes.
  • Basmati – Indian dishes, spicy dishes.
  • Risotto, arborio, carnaroli – risottos, risotto cakes.
  • Sushi rice – sushi and Asian soups.

Boiling method

The usual way to boil rice is in 5 times its volume of water for 15 minutes. As a guide, for 1 cup long-grain rice use 5 cups of water.

Bring a large pan of water to a roaring boil. Add the rice and return to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 12-15 minutes, until the rice is tender but firm.

Once cooked, pour the rice and cooking water into a sieve or colander and leave covered for 5 minutes. Fluff up with a fork before serving.

This method can be used for long-grain, brown long-grain and basmati rice.

Approximate boiling times for other varieties:

  • White basmati – 15 minutes
  • Brown basmati – 25 minutes
  • Brown long-grain – 30 minutes

Absorption method

Cooking rice like this means as the rice cooks, it absorbs all the cooking water. For this method of cooking, accurate measuring is very important. As a guide, for 1 cup long-grain rice use 1 1/2 cups water or stock.

Place the rice and liquid in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil over a medium heat. Stir several times. Cover and reduce heat to a low setting and cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand covered for 5-10 minutes before serving

This method can be used for long-grain, brown, basmati rice and sushi rice.

Approximate cooking times by the absorption method for other varieties:

  • White basmati – 15-20 minutes
  • Brown basmati – 25-30 minutes
  • Brown long-grain – 25-30 minutes
  • When cooking rice using the absorption method you can use water or, for extra flavour you can use a flavoured stock. For a chicken stock, use a chicken-flavoured stock cube crumbled into boiling water or a long-life boxed stock such as Campbell’s reduced-salt version.
  • For a vegetable stock, the cheapest option is to use vegetable water from vegetables you have cooked. This stock can be used to add flavour to all rice dishes.

Risotto is made by using arborio, carnaroli or risotto rice, which are all short-grain varieties. The basic recipe is made by gradually stirring hot stock into rice and softened onions using a wooden spoon. The stirring action agitates the starch in the rice and this gives risotto a creamy texture. For successful results, follow these simple guidelines:

  • Keep your stock at a gentle simmer.
  • Use a wide-bottomed pan that will be large enough to accommodate the rice, liquid and the additional ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon.
  • As a guide, 1 1/2 cups risotto rice needs about 3 cups of hot stock.
  1. Soften finely chopped onion in olive oil in a large pan. Add risotto rice. Use a wooden spoon to stir rice with oil and onion. Cook for a few minutes until rice is coated.
  2. Add a ladleful of stock to pan – it should sizzle when added – and stir with a wooden spoon.
  3. Continue adding stock in this way – as stock is absorbed, add more – stirring continuously, until rice has become creamy (you might not need to use all the liquid). It should take around 20 minutes.

The secret to successful sushi making is to have all your ingredients sliced and the rice cooked before you begin assembly. If you do not have a sushi mat, use a clean tea-towel. Have a bowl of water to hand as wet hands prevent the rice sticking to them so much. You will find all the ingredients for sushi in your supermarket in the Asian aisle.

  1. Once rice is cooked, use a fork or chopsticks to fluff it up. Cool before using.
  2. Lay a sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the centre of a sushi mat or clean tea-towel. Wet your hands and place some of the rice on two-thirds of the nori and press down to cover evenly.
  3. Make an indentation along the top end of the rice and spread with a little wasabi.
  4. Lay a quarter of your fish, meat or chicken and vegetables across the width.
  5. Place your fingers over the filling to hold it in place, then using your thumbs, pick up the nori sheet at the end closest to you (you can use the tea-towel or mat to guide you).
  6. Roll it away from you, pressing in the filling gently as you do so. Continue rolling until the filling is encased in nori, using the mat to help form a firm roll. Unroll the mat. Slice the roll into individual pieces.

Pilaf is a tasty rice dish made using long-grain rice. It is cooked in the oven. As a guide, for 1 cup long-grain rice use 2 1/2 cups hot stock.

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
  2. Heat some oil in an ovenproof dish and cook finely chopped onion until softened. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon to coat the grains with the onion. Add all the heated stock to the rice and stir once. Return to the boil. Cover with a tight fitting lid.
  3. Place in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. Season and serve.
  4. Vary your pilaf by adding diced ham, cooked chicken and vegetables. Or add ground spices and a can of chopped tomatoes.
  • Once cooled, cooked rice can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. It is great for salads and stir-fries. If reheating rice, reheat in a covered bowl in the microwave, or place in a pan with 3 tablespoons water or stock, cover and heat gently for 5 minutes.
  • Make a simple rice salad by mixing a teaspoon of curry powder with 150g low-fat natural yoghurt, a tablespoon fruity chutney and a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir into some cooked rice. Add finely sliced spring onions, slices of mandarin and some unsalted nuts. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Courgettes are perfect for filling with this tasty tomato rice filling.

  1. Cut courgettes in half lengthwise, scoop out the flesh and chop. Plunge the courgette shells into a pan of boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Drain and place on a baking sheet.
  2. Finely chop some onion. Cook the onion with the chopped courgette and onion in a little oil until softened. Add a can of chopped tomatoes with herbs and heat for 3-4 minutes. Add some cooked long grain rice and use to fill the shells.
  3. Sprinkle over some breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Season and bake for 20 minutes at 190°C, until the top is golden brown. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Try these delicious recipes:

Easy sushi
Chicken biryani

First published: Dec 2007

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