Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rice 101

Rice cake:  for an elegant presentation of your steamed white rice, wet the inside of a measuring cup with cold water, fill with steamed white rice, and invert onto a plate.  For picture-perfect presentation, garnish with green onions or toasted sesame seeds.

In honor of my father, I continue my focus on his favorite four-letter word:  r-i-c-e.  A childhood memory that’s in-grained (pun intended) in my head, revolves around the daily 4:00 hour:  time to make the rice for dinner.  Back then (in the 70s), years before Costco existed, my dad was ahead of the times when it came to bulk-buying.  He would stock up on 25 pound bags of rice from Chinatown, and dump them in a 3 foot tall, brown tin barrel, which sat in the corner of our kitchen next to the fridge.  That barrel represented an endless pit of rice.  I don’t recall ever seeing the bottom of that barrel, probably because my dad would panic that we’d run out and re-fill it before it got even halfway empty.

When you took the lid off the tin barrel, a light-blue, plastic teacup always sat at the top of the rice pile.  Five, level cups of rice would be precisely measured and carefully poured into the aluminum rice pot insert, making a distinct crisp, tinkling sound when the hard rice grains hit the bottom of the pot.  By the mid-70s, my mom had probably made about a thousand pots of rice.  So she finally came to her senses and taught my sisters and brother how to make rice as soon as they were old enough.  So “rice duty” became a weekly rotating chore for them to share.  I always knew when it was 4:00 because I would hear one of my siblings moan and groan about having to make rice.  No more “Speed Racer”; go make the rice!

Since I was the youngest, I was lucky enough to fly under the radar and escape the rice duty rotation.  Years later, the downside to that was that I never really knew how to properly make a pot of rice!  It would come out too hard, too mushy, too overcooked, or just plain too stuck to the bottom of the pot!  Pretty embarrassing for a Chinese girl.  Here are some “Rice 101” basics, so you don’t have to learn the hard way (trial-and-error), like me.
1.      Choosing the rice – Many of the recipes on my blog list “steamed white rice” as an accompaniment.  For all my Chinese cooking, I use Niko Niko Calrose white rice.  You can find small, five pound bags at your mainstream grocery store (in the Asian food

aisle).  However, you’ll get a better price at many of the Chinese grocery stores in your local Chinatown.  Better yet, there’s always Costco (go figure, it's my dad’s favorite store in the world!)
2.      Portioning the rice – How much rice do you make for how many people?  One cup of uncooked rice makes approximately 2 1/3 cup of cooked rice.  You should portion about 1 cup of cooked rice per person.
3.      Washing the rice – You should always wash your rice before cooking to reduce the amount of starch.  After measuring, simply add enough cold tap water to cover the rice by about 3 or 4 inches.  Then grab fistfuls of rice grains in the palm of your hand, rub the grains together, release and swoosh around.  Do this 2 or 3 times.  The water will instantly turn a murky white color.  Then carefully and slowly pour the water out, through the palm of your hand to catch any loose grains.  Repeat this whole process at least 3 times.  The water will never be crystal clear, but you should notice that it will look considerably less murky by the third washing.
4.      Watering the rice – How much water do you add for cooking?  This is the tricky part.  My mom never measures (hence the reason for this blog, remember?), so she’s accustomed to using a very unconventional “flat hand method.”  She would tell me to put the flat palm of my hand on top of the wet rice in the pot, and add enough water to cover the top of my hand.  Gee, that’s really precise…no wonder my rice always sucked!  Guess what, mom?  There’s such a thing called a “measuring cup”!  I add one cup of water for every cup of rice.  This simple 1:1 ratio is foolproof, whether you’re using a rice cooker, or a pot on the stove.
5.      Cooking the rice – As I just mentioned in step 4, you can use a rice cooker, or a sauce pan with a lid on the stove works just as well.  The rice cooker is just a no-brainer.  Measure, wash, add water and push the magic button.  Your rice will be cooked and kept hot until you’re ready to eat.  But if you have a small kitchen and don’t have room for gadgets, just use a non-stick saucepan on the stove.  (Bring the rice and water to a boil on medium-high heat in a covered saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer until all the water is absorbed.)  After my old, ugly rice cooker broke many years ago, I used a saucepan for a long time, until my dad bought me a nice, new rice cooker from Costco for $29.99 (ah yes, another plug for Costco, once again.).  That’s a great deal on a rice cooker with a non-stick insert and plain white exterior (unlike the lovely Asian-flowered rice cooker he bought me 20 years ago from Chinatown – I must confess, I was not sad when that one died.).
6.      Fluffing the rice – Always fluff the rice before serving by gently mixing with your rice paddle or spoon.  This will help “fluff” the grains so the rice won’t taste or appear so dense.
7.      What to do with leftover rice – Leftover rice reheats nicely in the microwave.  If it feels a bit hard, just sprinkle some water on top, cover with a paper towel or plastic wrap, and zap!  You could also make “Xi Fan” (aka “Chinese Turkey Soup with Rice”, see Dragon Lady posting on November 28, 2009).  Fried rice is another way to make the most of your leftover Barbecued Pork, t0o (see “Barbecued Pork” recipe, January 21, 2010 posting).  Stay tuned; “Fried Rice” recipe coming soon!


  1. Yummy, Rice is SO good!


  2. that's probably the prettiest rice presentation i've ever seen, nice pic u took of it too.

  3. Hello! :) Did you take this picture? It's beautiful! :) Please reply.

    1. Why thank you, Graphic Artist! Yes, I take all the photos on my blog. Happy cooking. ~The Dragon Lady

  4. Is this a good rice for making sushi?

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. No, this rice won't work for sushi. There is a specific kind of rice used for sushi. I don't know what it's called, but maybe you can ask someone at your local Asian supermarket, or inquire at your favorite sushi restaurant. Good luck!