Strange names, great tastes.
Rice is a fat-free carb source and a must-have staple in all Asian cultures that complement almost any dish in every meal. It’s also one of the easiest things to cook. In Asia, even a child can cook the perfect rice; be it soft, fluffy white rice or wholesome, chewy brown rice.
Yes, yes, they have rice cookers. But rice-cooking is a matter of practised precision. Simple to do, but takes some trying to master. And no, you don’t really need a rice cooker. You can easily make the perfect rice with your stove, oven or microwave. Water is key: too much makes gummy, mushy rice; too little makes them dry and crusty, and might even scorch your pot. Different types of rice require different ratios and methods.
And that’s what we’re here for. Follow our cooking guide for these common Asian rice types and you’ll always savour the perfect rice from your own kitchen.
Long-grain white rice is probably the most common Asian rice, served from high-end restaurants to hawker stalls and households.
Rinsing rice before cooking is an Asian practice to remove dirt, dust and excess starch; but it’s actually optional. However, we recommend cooking with a little less water if you rinse, because, without the starch to absorb the bit of extra water, your white rice may turn out too mushy.
To cook with your stove: for every cup of rice, add 1½ cups water. Use a pot with a lid, and cook on medium heat. Keep the lid closed. No need to check it or stir it. Just cook for about 15-20 mins, then switch off the fire, and let it rest for at least 10 mins. This last step is crucial, allowing the grains to absorb the residue moisture within the pot. The result is evenly cooked rice, tender and fluffy to taste.
To cook with your oven: same rice-to-water ratio, but it’s best to use boiling water – this allows for faster, more evenly cooked rice. Just pre-cook the water to boil, and pour it into a casserole with the rice. Cover the lid, and bake at 200°C for 35 mins. Take it out and let it rest for 10 mins.
To cook with your microwave: for every cup of rice, add 2 cups of boiling water. Use a round container 3-4 times taller than the water level – it will bubble up during cooking. No need to cover it yet. Just microwave for 12 mins on high. Take it out, then cover and rest for 10 mins.
The same methods apply for all types of white rice, including Jasmine rice and Basmati.
However, to truly experience the aromatic wonder of Basmati rice, you must try the Biryani recipe. Takes a little more effort, patience and some extra ingredients, but the delicious fragrance and rich, exotic flavour is totally worth it!
Wholegrain brown rice retains the hull, bran, and cereal germ; which give them colour and extra nutrition. Although less fragrant, brown rice is just as tasty as white rice with any dish.
Like white rice, rinsing before cooking removes any grit, dust and excess starch; some also feel that it improves brown rice texture. On the other hand, toasting before cooking gives you an extra nutty flavour. Soaked in water overnight (or 6-8 hours) can help reduce the phytic acid in the grain, making it faster to cook and easier to digest. All three of these methods are optional, however. You can cook brown rice straight from the bag.
For every cup of brown rice, add 1 ½ cups water. Use a pot with a lid. Cook with medium heat till boiling, then turn the fire low and close the lid. Brown rice takes slightly longer to cook, so let it simmer for 30-35 mins. No peeking or stirring. Check it afterwards: if the rice is soft and steamy with some moisture, you’re good; if it’s still crunchy, add a little more water and continue cooking for a bit longer. Once it’s done, switch off the heat, keep it covered, and let rest for 10-15 mins before serving.
Short-grain white rice is more sticky than long-grain when cooked. This is why all sushi is made with short-grain rice to keep them firm in their yummy shapes. The most common short-grain rice ideal for sushi is Calrose.
Rinse and wash the rice until the water is clear, then drain before cooking. Use a pot with a lid. For every cup of rice, add 1 cup of water. Cover and cook on high heat until the water boils, then bring to low heat, and simmer for 15 mins. Switch off and let rest for 20 mins. The best-cooked sushi rice is firm but tender, and the grains stick together.
In the meantime, mix 2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, ½ tablespoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Cook the seasoning mix in a small pot, until the sugar and salt dissolve. Switch off and let it cool.
After the cooked rice is rested, lather the seasoning, and mix well. Now you’re ready to make any kind of sushi! Here is a salmon and avocado delight to get you started.
The short-grain glutinous rice is an Asian special. Contrary to its name, it contains no gluten. Its stickiness when cooked is due to its amylopectin – a component of the starch. Glutinous rice is great for all kinds of savoury dishes, from the classic yum cha Loh Mai Kai to a kaleidoscope of mouth-watering desserts.
Cooking it is trickier than white rice, with or without a rice cooker, because you’ll need to steam instead of boil. The simplest way to set up a steamer: use a large pot with a lid, a heatproof bowl that can fit in the pot, and a cleaned and emptied tuna can. Yes, you read that right – the can is to hold the bowl of rice above water in the pot. Or, if you’re using a wok, just flip a smaller heatproof bowl/plate to place.
Now for the glutinous rice: first, soak in water overnight, or at least 6 hours. Drain the water, and put the rice in the heatproof bowl. Fill your pot or wok with a couple of inches of water – not too much, or it’ll take longer to boil and steam. Place the tuna can ‘stand’ at the base; then the bowl of rice atop it. Close the lid and steam at medium to low heat for 30-45 mins. Off the heat and keep it covered until serving or making your dish.
Generally, glutinous rice is best enjoyed warm; for the tender chewy texture, and sweet, fragrant flavour.