I stood in front of the rice bins at Real Food, a San Francisco organic grocery store. The labels read: SHORT GRAIN WHITE RICE, BASMATI WHITE RICE, BROWN BASMATI RICE, ARBORIO RICE, JASMINE WHITE RICE, SHORT GRAIN BROWN RICE, SUSHI RICE, BROWN & WILD RICE, and WILD RICE. There was no Long Grain White Rice. I always thought that was “regular rice,” which is what I thought I wanted to buy. A twenty-something woman walked by and asked if I needed help. I said, “Which one is regular white rice?” She looked at the bins and looked at me and looked baffled. “Maybe the Basmati?” she said. I could go for that, but the Basmati bin was empty.
For dinner, I made couscous to sop up the sauce from shrimp stuffed cabbage. Couscous is quick and easy and comes in a box with directions.
I prefer starch that comes from pasta, potatoes, beans or noodles, so I’ve never learned much about rice. But Carol is a lover of rice. All I know is that when I open the rice and beans drawer, there are usually full jars of sushi rice or risotto rice, but only a scant half cup of “regular” rice.
So I hit the internet. The leading sites that came up on Google when I typed in “rice” were as empty of a simple list of rice types as my “regular rice” jar. I persevered. From a combination of the Wikipedia, The Cook’s Thesaurus and Cook’s Illustrated sites, I learned a thing or two. With that information and a paragraph in James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, I was able to make a one-page summary of rice information that I can print and put in the rice and bean drawer. Here it is.
Rice is classified mostly by the size of the grain. Most varieties are sold as either brown or white rice, depending upon how they are milled. My focus is on white rice.
Long-grain rice is long and slender. The grains stay separate and fluffy after cooking, so this is the best choice if you want to serve rice as a side dish, or as a bed for sauces. This is what I call “regular rice.” One particular long grain is basmati rice. This aromatic, long-grain rice is grown in the foothills of the Himalayas and is especially popular in India. The cooked grains are dry and fluffy, so they make a nice bed for curries and sauces. The original and best is Royal Basmati. Jasmine rice has a shorter grain than basmati, is somewhat stickier and cooks slightly faster. Popcorn rice = American basmati = della rice = Texmati = California Dreamin’ This rice is a cross between basmati and American long-grain. Don’t bother with it. American-grown basmati is not aged and hence doesn’t expand as much as Indian-grown rice. Indian rice is widely available in most supermarkets and costs about the same as domestic.
Medium-grain rice is shorter and plumper, and works well in paella and risotto. Rice for Risotto: Arborio rice is an Italian medium-grain rice. It is named after the town of Arborio, Italy (in the Po Valley) where it is grown. Cooked, the rounded grains are firm and creamy. Rice for Paella: When it comes down to it, a good paella is all about the rice: It’s not just filler. Use the Spanish Bomba Rice or Valencia Rice.
Short-grain rice is almost round, with moist grains that stick together when cooked. It’s the best choice for rice pudding and molded salads. Rice for Sushi: All recipes for Sushi Rice that I found call for short grain rice, rinsed, cooked and then mixed with a mixture of vinegar, sugar and salt.
Brown rice retains the bran that surrounds the kernel, making it chewier, nuttier, and richer in nutrients. White rice lacks the bran and germ, but is more tender and delicate.