From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Call Your Starch - Variations on Rice

Because we now live in a weight-conscious, carb-conscious, superficial beauty-conscious world, much emphasis has been put on caloric intake, sources of calories, and overall caloric utilization.  In a culinary world where there are hundreds, if not THOUSANDS of different options available, the Asian culture tends to influence the world with variations on just a few starch or carbohydrate options.  Asian cuisine is infused with many different offerings that can be found in many different styles. 

Obvious choices include White Rice, Brown Rice, and Fried Rice, plus noodle options that include Lo Mein (pronounced low me-in, not low mane,) Egg Noodles (my personal favorite,) Japanese Udon and Soba, and many different variations of rice noodles (Pad Thai, Chow Fun.)

Here in San Antonio, the 3rd fattest city in the country, the Hispanic influence is clear, with the availability of "Spanish" rice, corn and flour tortillas, refried beans (yes, they do consider that a starch option...) and tortilla chips.

My personal preference? Brown rice.  But I am the only one in the family who likes it, so I am forced to dine with the masses, and whatever it is we end up with, I eat.  The benefits of Brown Rice over white rice are numerous, and once everyone's awareness level is increased, I can foresee a rush on Brown rice, thus increasing demand, depleting supply, and increasing costs.  Grr...

Brown rice is not only a healthier option for you, but it's gentler on the environment than white rice.
The Difference?
Rice goes through a multitude of processes before it's readyto be cooked. After harvesting, the seeds are run through a rice huller/husker for milling to remove the outer grain husks. This procedure results in brown rice as you see it.

To convert brown rice to white rice the grain is processed additionally and the germ and the inner husk (bran) is removed, then the grain is then polished, usually with glucose or talc.

The process to turn brown rice to white removes valuable nutrients that are sometimes then introduced back in via synthetic sources - this is called fortified white rice.

The loss of nutrients is broad and substantial. Plain white rice has far less Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folacin, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron and over dozen other nutrients. Added to that, the dietary fiber contained in white rice is around a quarter that of brown rice.

Brown rice is simply white rice that has not had the brown-colored bran covering removed. Consequently, brown rice is considered a whole grain. The only substantive reason for removing the bran is because most people prefer white rice for its fluffier appearance and it cooks faster than brown.
Since brown rice still has the bran intact, it has more fiber than white rice. One cup of brown rice has 3 1/2 grams of fiber while the same amount of white rice has less than one gram of fiber. The daily recommended serving is from 25 to 38 grams of fiber in our diet everyday.

Brown rice also contains nutrients like magnesium, manganese, and zinc. White rice has reduced levels of these nutrients, but is often fortified with iron, and some B vitamins.
Brown rice clearly has health benefits.  The secondary question is where the benefit is to the environment.  The simple answer is this:  the less processing of a food, the less energy required. The addition of synthetic vitamins added back in via unnatural means,  produced in laboratories and factories from a variety of chemicals gave resulted in a negative impact on the environment.

The transition from white rice to brown came as some what of a surprise to me.  It can be somewhat of an acquired taste, although for me, the nuttiness was appealing right away. 

All rice, when purchased in bulk, will store well for about 6 months.  Due to the husk and germ still being part of the individual grain, however, brown rice WILL acquire a rancid taste much faster than white rice.  Best practice: Store rice (white or brown) in an airtight container for no more than 6 months.

Cooking white rice is much less complex than many people make it out to be.  While I have seen many different styles of cooking white rice, only 2 people that I know have gone through ALL of the steps, not omitting the most important - RINSE THE RICE UNTIL THE WATER RUNS CLEAR BEFORE COOKING.  This washes out the talc or glucose that was used to polish the rice (as well, sadly, as a majority of the enrichment in vitamins that are added) that make cooked rice sticky.

For every cup of uncooked white rice, cook with 1.5 cups of water.  If you like firmer rice, reduce the amount of water by .25 cups.  Most automatic cookers larger than 6 cups will take about 15 minutes to cycle and cook the rice.  (Smaller rice cookers will take less time, and often require less water.  Experience will identify what the proper proportions will be.)  For fluffier rice, after the automatic switch has tripped, or after you have turned off the heat, leave the lid of your cooker on.

The cooking difference between white rice and brown is minimal - The proportions of water to rice are 2 cups water per every cup of rice, and stove-top cooking can take as long as 45-55 minutes.

Practical Advice:

1. Use Long Grain Rice When Cooking Chinese Food
Medium grain rice will work, but the Chinese use short grain rice mainly for dishes such as congee.  Also, be aware that longer or shorter grained rices require different amounts of water.

2. Rinse the Rice

The need to rinse your rice will depend on waht brand of rice you are using - but rinsing does remove any starch and excess residue that can cause the rice to turn out sticky or “gummy.” Also, I do find rinsing until the water runs clear improves the flavor..

3. Cook the rice in a pot with a heavy bottom.

This will give the rice a thinner crust – copper is an excellent choice..

4. Avoid using salt or butter when cooking plain rice

Adding any seasonings and flavorings to rice during cooking kills its inhererntly natural sweet flavor..

5. Don't use Stale Rice

If your rice is taking longer than usual to cook, you may want to check how long it has been sitting in the cupboard. Older rice tends to  lose some of its moisture, requiring more water and a longer cooking time than fresh rice..

6. On Nights When You're in a Rush, Soak the rice in cold water

Besides speeding up the cooking time, this will give the rice a softer, fluffier texture, so if you prefer rice with a firmer texture, save this for nights when you're in a real hurry..

7. Save Leftover Cooked Rice to Make Fried Rice

Leftover rice is perfect for making fried rice. Be sure to cool your rice quickly, and just prior to making your fried rice, break any large clumps up to avoid white voids in your Fried Rice.

8. Don't use Instant or Precooked Rice

Large bags of long grain white rice are available in Asian markets and most supermarkets - Adolphus is my personal favorite.  (I have seen restaurants using *shudder* Uncle Ben's Instant White and even Brown rice as their source...)
9. Experiment With Cooking Scented Rice

For a bit of variety, try one of the scented rices such as jasmine or basmati. A key pointer with scented rices is that the amount of water required and the cooking time will be different than for other types of long grain white rice.

Rice continues to be one of the most widely used starches, due to its versatility in usage and production.  It can be harvested in the driest of environments, such as the Saudi Desert, to the swampy rice fields of China.  People have used rice to make snacks (Rice Krispy Treats), desserts (Rice Pudding) , main courses (duh), alcoholic beverages (sake) and special foods for religious ceremonies. As a nutrition source, rice is abundant in carbohydrates while being low in nitrogenous matter and fat. For millions of people ricecontinues to be 3/4 of their total diet.

Good Eat, Friends.  I just KNOW that after my daughter reads this, she will ask me to make my Fried Rice for her...

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