Making Brown Rice Behave Like It's Not

I have worked at Chow for a couple of years now, and have learned many things. One of the first things I had to learn was how to do this "healthy" thing. I'd read through the recipes, and be terrified at how little fat there was in everything. How there was no fried food. No white bread. And how we'd only use white rice on a rare occasion. This meant that I, for whom rice is not a grain but a way of life, had to learn to use the rice we keep on hand at Chow.

Brown rice. Not even long grain brown rice, but medium grain. No, really. I was as horrified as you are. OK, so you're probably giving me an odd look. "What's the great difference," you may ask. For one thing, long grain rice is meant to be separate, and fluffy. Medium grain tends to be chewier and stickier. Mind you, this is merely a generalisation, but one that works ... generally.

[Sorry about that. It's been a long morning. The snow's been piling up, and I can't be fussed to reach into the recesses of my brain to find a more sumptuous word. Back to rice.]

In Tamil Nadu, we have this tradition கலந்த சாதம் (kalantha saadam, or "mixed rice"). It means that when you're wanting a quick snack, you reach for rice, mixed with _____. Lemon rice, coconut rice, tamarind rice, tomato rice, and so on. It's one of those dishes that never fails to please, regardless of how simple the ingredients. I have blogged about lemon rice before. At length. Why? Because it's such an integral part of our daily lives that the method is extremely important.

So what does the one have to do with the other?

For one thing, I like to reach back into my culinary history to make specials at Chow. There are times when you really do want to share a part of yourself, and the things that you ate growing up. The things that brought you comfort on rainy days, on train journeys, on early mornings when you're returning from somewhere and don't have the mental wherewithal to conjure up something more substantial.

That's what mixed rice is to me. It's a go-to method for when I need something tasty, filling, and simple. Because it's so easy to customise, be it by adding nuts, different spices, or various other ingredients, you don't have to depend on specific things being in stock. Rice, a couple of likely spices, and some flavouring agent, and you're golden (or red, or brown, depending on what you're adding).

However, at Chow, as mentioned previously, the rice is brown, and a shorter grain than I'm used to. What does this mean? No south indian rice dishes? Heavens no! It just means that I have to improvise in the techniques, and make it work for me.

How can I make medium grain, brown rice behave like I want it to?

There's a couple of options. For one, I could use the pilaf method, and sautee the rice in fat until it gets nutty smelling, and then add liquid. First problem with this is that risotto is done in this manner, and that's not exactly long and fluffy. It's sticky, creamy, and delicious in its own way. Also, Arborio rice is a medium grain rice. Mind you, you're stirring to create that texture of creamy and sticky, but the point remains. It isn't exactly long and fluffy.

Another option is to undercook the rice, as many Indian restaurants are wont to do. It's a terrible thing to do to rice, and often leaves one with a foul tummy ache. Not worth it. You should feel good after eating a meal, not like you want to crawl under something and die. I think that this is one of the many sins comitted against Indian food in restaurants and catering events, and should be stopped right now. No. Definitely not an option in my books.

Then it hit me.

Soak the rice. It's done for basmati rice when using it to make pilafs and the rest. Why can't it be done for brown rice? I soaked the rice for an hour or so in boiling hot water, and drained it well. What ended up happening is that the rice got parcooked, but not cooked, of course. It also meant that the surface starch went down the drain. Instead of being sticky and mushy, this would mean that the rice would have a chance to be separate. It also meant that the rice was wonderfully hydrated. I could add a little less water than usual [for brown rice], and add water as if it were white rice, and it wouldn't get undercooked.

Then, it all went into the rice cooker with cold water. When the rice cooked up, it was tender, but not sticky. Score. I went to make the spice blend. This is usually the last thing I do when making mixed rice, because it's such a fast step, and there's no sense in having it sit around for too long, and having the ginger getting overcooked. Ginger should be cooked for the least amount of time possible.

While making the spice mix, I cut back on the fat. Instead of adding it to the spice mix, which would mean that the fat is hot, I used some of it to toss the rice, so that it remains separate and neat. Awesome, isn't it? At the end of the day it ended up working out just fine.

I'm pleased.
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