Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rice Pilaf

There have got to be hundreds of different varieties of rice out there, each one more beautiful than the next, each with its own unique color, shape and flavor.  Such a huge array!  I love it!  Pushing my cart through the rice aisle, I can rarely resist picking out a pretty, new rice.  On this particular night, I cooked this particular rice, a medium-grain variety called Lundberg Lehani.  It was fabulous, with a tender chewiness, a great nutty flavor with hints of honey, and a strikingly rich reddish-brown color.

Brown Rice

Of course, there are all sorts of ways you can prepare rice.  The possibilities are endless.  But the most simple, the most basic, the most common preparation for rice has got to be Rice Pilaf.  And more often than not, like maybe ninety-five percent of the time, when I make rice, it’s the Rice Pilaf method that I’m using. 

Now, the method for making a basic Rice Pilaf is exactly the same, no matter what type of rice you use.  What changes from variety to variety, are two things: the amount of liquid you need, and the amount of time the rice needs to cook.  To find out how much liquid and cooking time you’ll need, just look on the back of the rice container – It should always tell you.  If it doesn’t, follow these two simple rules of thumb, and your rice will probably come out pretty close to perfect: For medium or long-grain white rice - Use about 2 cups liquid for every 1 cup rice, and cook for about 15 minutes.  For medium or long-grain brown rice - Use about 2 1/2 cups liquid for every 1 cup rice, and cook about 45 minutes.

But the really important thing I want to share with you is my method for making Rice Pilaf.  Usually the back of the rice container shares a method for preparing the rice too, but the recipe below can’t be beat, so I usually just ignore the container’s instructions, and use it just to find out the amount of liquid I’ll need, and the right cooking time.  For every kind of rice out there, these steps below will stay exactly the same.  Follow them, and you’ll get perfect rice every time.  So, with no further ado, here’s what to do…

Basic Rice Pilaf
Makes about 2 1/2 – 3 cups rice, about 4 servings or so

1 cup rice (any variety)
1 Tbl fab (butter, extra-virgin olive oil, duck fat, etc…)
x cups liquid (water, chicken stock, vegetable stock, beef stock, etc…)
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Rinse the rice with cool running water in a colander, until the water turns from cloudy to clear.  Drain the rice well.  (Rinsing removes the excess starch, so the rice doesn’t turn out too mushy, sticky or clumpy.)

Heat the fat over medium heat in a medium-sized sauce pot for about 1 minute.  Add the 1 cup rice.  Season with salt and pepper, as needed.  Sauté, stirring constantly, until the rice is heated though and coated with the melted fat, about 2 minutes.  (This step causes the starch to begin to break down, gives the rice a bit of a toasty flavor, and encourages the rice grains to remain separate after they’re cooked.)

Add the liquid (remember, the amount you’ll need changes with each variety of rice – look on the container) and with the lid still off, bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. 

When the liquid comes to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid, and decrease the heat in order to maintain a bare simmer.  Peek under the lid from time to time, to make sure you’ve got just a bare simmer.  Simmer with the lid on (remember, the cooking time will vary for each variety of rice – look on the container) until the rice is tender and all the liquid is evaporated and absorbed.  To make sure all the liquid is gone, tilt the pan to the side.  If water rises up the sides of the pan, continue cook the rice a little while longer.

Once all the liquid is evaporated/absorbed, turn off the heat and allow the rice to rest five minutes, still covered.  Then remove the lid and fluff with a fork.  And that’s about it!

You’ll notice you can use just about any type of fat and any type of liquid.  For a basic pilaf, go with olive oil and water.  But for something a little more hearty, jazz it up with butter or a flavorful stock.  You can add other flavorings too, say like a bay leaf or a few thyme sprigs – Add them right along with the rice, then simply remove them once it’s done cooking.  Or you can start out by sautéing a couple tablespoons of minced shallots/onions and a minced garlic clove, then add the rice to the same pan, and continue right along with the recipe.  All of these steps can really enhance your rice dish, and change it from something really simple into something out of the ordinary. The recipe above is as basic as it gets, and a great starting point.




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