Punchinello’s Chronicles

August 21, 2010

Chinese Take-Out: Rice

In the Introduction to this series, I wrote about using an electric rice cooker, and discussed rice a little bit. Rice is so important to Asian cooking, and particularly important to beef fried rice, that I want to give it just a bit more room for discussion. I’ve learned to cook rice in many different ways, but I really want to emphasize that to get restaurant quality fried rice, you’ll want to make the investment in that electric cooker.

There are many different types of rice. Americans typically work with some sort of processed rice like Minute Rice or Uncle Ben’s. That’s probably the least flavorful, but it’s been formulated to provide the best rice with the least amount of work. It’s also harder to mess it up. “Messed up” rice is thick, gluey (very starchy) or watery to the point of being inedible.

When you get away from the simplistic rice, then you have a lot more choice and many fabulous tastes to experience. “Aromatic” rice, like Basmati rice is just that — very flavorful with a definite aroma. The trick is to understand where the rice is coming from. You’ll find “Texmati” rice, usually grown in California, but it’s not as good as imported Basmati, usually grown in India. If you can find it, it’s worth the price (which isn’t astronomical, just higher than Minute Rice).

Common rice is long-grain and extra long-grain. Harder to find is medium grain rice. That being said, “sticky rice,” also known as Sushi rice (because it sticks into balls and works well with sushi) is basically medium-grain rice. A few recipes I encountered for fried rice suggested medium-grain rice. No, that’s not what you’ll get from a Chinese take-out restaurant. Go with the long-grain or extra long-grain. It’s cheap, too!

Texture

Perfectly cooked rice has a very specific texture. The grains seem to stick together in the finished pot, but when you serve the rice onto a plate, the grains easily separate. There’s a sort of dryness to the rice, in that the starch is contained within the rice itself, not on the surface. This starch, if it’s on the surface, is what causes rice to stick together. Additionally, the rice sitting in the pot after cooking almost “bounces.” It’s hard to describe, but it’s vaguely reminiscent of an almost rubbery feel.

After cooking and resting, you can use a fork to “fluff” the finished rice. At that point, it’s easy to see it separate. The “bounce” disappears, and you’re left with light, fluffy rice and no water. Add a touch of salt and some butter, and the rice should be delicious all on its own, without anything else! If you’re not getting that from rice, then buy an electric rice cooker.

When rice has been overcooked, that’s when you get the stickiness. When it’s undercooked, or there was too much water at the beginning, then you end up with watery rice. If the rice is very soft, but still watery, then it was overcooked with too much water. If the rice is hard and sticks between your teeth, plus watery, then it wasn’t cooked long enough.

The texture you’ll want for fried rice is perfectly cooked rice. Additionally, you’ll want the rice to sit overnight (at least 12 hours) in the fridge. I tend to let it sit uncovered, but that’s not critical. It helps dry the outer surface of the rice, removing much of the moisture, but preserving the softness of cooked rice on the inside.

Rice to Water Ratio – 1 : 1.5

In pretty much every recipe I’ve ever seen for raw rice, you can use 1 unit of rice to 1-1/2 units of water. The key factor is that the rice must soak for at least 30 minutes!

Some recipes suggest that you use 1 unit of rice to 1-3/4 units of water. But those recipes soak the rice after rinsing, and during that soaking the cold rice will absorb about 1/4 unit of water. I prefer to soak the rice in a bowl of cold water, pour that water out, then measure 1-1/2 units into a pot. Then shake the soaked rice (in a strainer) and put it into already simmering water. Put on a lid, and begin cooking.

Most rice we get in the US has been treated (fortified) with vitamin powder. It’s a complete waste of time and money, but the FDA presumably wants it done. So the first thing to do is rinse the rice several time, pouring out the water until it runs clear.

When the rice is rinsed, put it into the correct amount of water. Let it soak! Let it soak for 30 minutes!

1 cup of rice will use 1-1/2 cups of water. Half a cup of rice will use 3/4 cups of water. Electric rice cookers come with their own little “cups” (or scoops). They also have lines along the sides of their cooking bowls, marked in accordance with how many scoops you’re using. So if you put in 2 “cups” of rice, you then fill the water up to the 2 “line.”

Note: I checked what 2 scoops works out to be in the real world, with a “scoop” being the little cup that came with the Panasonic rice cooker: 2 scoops = 1-1/3 cups of raw rice. When that’s in the machine, the water necessary to bring it up to the line would be 2-1/2 scoops which = 1-3/4 cups water. Therefore, the ration they’re using is 1:1.25.

I see that they’re using less water than would be needed on a stovetop burner. Probably because the electric heater simmers at a very low temperature.

Cooking Rice

The rice is hard and has a protective outer shell-like surface. To cook it, the rice will have to absorb water. The problem is how much water, how quickly, and how to know when it’s absorbed it’s total capacity of water. This is why electric rice cookers are so brilliant!

When you’ve rinsed your rice a few times (I use a strainer and bowl), you let it soak. You can soak it in a strainer and bowl, or in the pot and water you intend to use. When it’s soaked, then begin to heat the water. On a stove, that’ll be around medium heat until it begins to bubble. Then you turn down the heat to low simmer, COVER the rice, and let it simmer until all the water’s gone.

Generally speaking, a rule of thumb would be that it takes around 15 minutes for the water to be absorbed. Don’t lift off the cover! Only at the end should you lift the cover, and then, only long enough to check that the water’s been totally absorbed. Then leave the cover one for another 30 minutes!

As you can see, there’s a lot of guesswork and variability in cooking rice. With an electric rice cooker, you don’t have to worry about any of that. The physics of the cooker takes care of shutting it off when there’s no more water.

Day-Old Rice

I use 2 scoops of rice (about a regular 8-oz cup) for my fried rice. That makes a LOT! Remember that rice expands as it absorbs water, so you’ll get a lot more cooked rice than what you see when it’s raw. I let it sit until it cools, after the rice cooker has shut off.

  • 2 scoops raw rice = 4-1/2 cups cooked rice
  • Use 2 measuring cups of cooked rice when making fried rice
  • 2 scoops raw rice (Panasonic) = 1-1/3 kitchen measuring cup raw rice
    • 2-1/2 scoops of water to cook 2 scoops rice = 1-3/4 cups of water

When the rice is cooked, it’s sat for awhile, and I dump it into a bowl, it comes out in a clump. That’s because it’s compacted during the cooking process and hasn’t been stirred. Even so, the texture is somewhat sticky to the fingers, but the “clump” falls apart easily.

You’ll want to break up the rice so it’s not just a big mass of cooked rice. If there are a few small balls, that’s fine, but work your fingers through it until it’s mostly all separated. Again; it’ll feel sticky on your fingers, and some grains will stick to your fingers.

The test for the right texture is that although your fingers will feel sticky, as soon as you run them under some water they’ll clean right off. “Sticky” rice will still feel sticky when you rinse your hands.

If you don’t use a rice cooker, then you can only experiment until you get exactly the right consistency. But take it from me: I did everything under the sun to get perfectly cooked rice in a pot on the stove. Nine times out of ten, it just didn’t work well in the fried rice. It tasted wonderful when served as a side dish with a meal, but it didn’t work as fried rice.

You’ll let the rice sit in the fridge for at least the one night. At some point, I tend to reach into the bowl and stir it around with my hand, just to keep it loose. When it’s ready to use, it will feel a little hard against your fingers. It’ll almost feel as if it hasn’t been cooked enough.

The point is to dry out the rice on the outside, enough that it will actually fry in some oil and not just turn into a soggy mess. Get the rice cooker! They’re not that expensive!

Summary

I get in the mood for Chinese food, so I know I’m going to be cooking it. Right? Of course! I actually can read my own mind! Therefore, I know ahead of time to cook up some rice and let it sit. I may cook it a few days ahead of time, or I may cook it the day (or night) before. It’s not that critical! It just has to be leftover rice!

Another thing we’ve done that works pretty well, actually, is to let the rice sit overnight, then freeze it in a zipper-type plastic bag. When it thaws, it’s pretty close to the right dryness for frying. It’s a tad more moist, but close enough for rock ‘n’ roll.

You should know that most of these recipes are either going to use a meat marinade, or you’re going to want the day-old cooked rice, or you’ll want some cool and cooked cabbage. That’ll give you egg rolls, fried rice, or something like beef-and-broccoli.

So you’ll have to get used to what the Chinese refer to as “patience.” No, you can’t just come home at 5:00 o’clock, pop together some stuff and have a take-out Chinese dinner! Doesn’t work that way! If that’s what you’re hoping for, then go buy some take-out at your favorite restaurant.

Otherwise, figure that you’ll want to have 1 day (or evening) for preparation, then about an hour to cook everything. Yes, when you’re skilled you can do the cooking part in 15 minutes, but why? it’s a lot easier to just figure on about an hour to cook everything so it turns out right. Speed is not essential, glass hoppah!

Related – Table of Contents

Advertisements

1 Comment »

  1. […] Chinese Take-Out: Rice « Punchinello's Chronicles […]

    Pingback by A Little Easy Tips on Cooking With Rice « shiyan — August 21, 2010 @ 11:59 am | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: