“I like rice.  Rice is great if you’re hungry and what 2,000 of something.” – Mitch Hedberg, Comedian

Rice serves as a staple food for over half of the world’s population.  It’s no wonder when you consider the many remarkable characteristics of this grain:

  • Excellent source of complex carbohydrates
  • Gluten-free
  • Cholesterol-free
  • Low in sodium
  • Virtually fat free
  • Extremely versatile
  • Affordable
  • Readily available
  • Long shelf life
  • Easy to cook

Wow – now that’s what I call a super food!

Now that I’ve got you hungry for rice, below is an overview of the common varieties and a few tips for cooking successful rice every time.

Long grain, medium grain and short grain rice

Rice is classified by the size of its grain – long, medium and short.

Rice that is considered long grain is 4 to 5 times long as it is wide.  When cooked, the grains separate easily and are light and dry.

Short grain rice tends to be more starchy and cooking results in rice that is creamy and moist, and grains that stick together.  Short grain rice is perfect for risotto, sushi rice and as a side with Asian dishes when it will be eaten with chopsticks.

Medium grain rice is between long and short grain rice in terms of both length and starchiness.

White Rice versus Brown Rice

White rice is white because it has been milled to remove the husk, bran and germ.  This results in rice that cooks quickly (about 15 minutes for long grain white rice) and has an indefinite shelf life.  Because of the milling process, long grain white rice should be placed in a fine mesh sieve and rinsed under cold, running water.  The rice is ready to be cooked when the water runs clear under the sieve.  Don’t rinse white rice if it is short grain and you are making a dish that is supposed to be starchy and creamy.

Brown rice has only the inedible outer husk of the grain removed.  This results in a high fiber bran coating that gives the brown rice a tan appearance, nutty flavor and a higher nutritional value than white rice.  Brown rice has a shorter shelf life (about 6 months) than white rice, because the bran coating can go rancid.  Keeping it in the refrigerator can extend the shelf life.  Brown rice takes longer to cook (about 30 minutes more) than white rice.  There is no need to rinse brown rice before cooking because it has not been milled.

Cooking Method

There are many ways to cook rice.  For long grain rice the following method works very well and results in individual, dry rice grains.  This method makes enough for 4 people as a side.

In a 2 or 3-quart saucepan that is wider than it is high, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil over medium heat.  When hot, add 1 cup of rice.  Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, or until the rice sizzles and each grain is well coated with the oil.  Season the rice with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

Add 2 cups hot water (as hot as you can get it from the tap) and stir again.  (Be careful – the water will sizzle and spit when added to the pot.)  Bring the water to a rolling boil, and once boiling, stir again, cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and turn the heat to the lowest setting.

For white rice, let it cook undisturbed for 15 minutes, and for brown rice 45 minutes.  Lift the lid and check the rice using a fork to separate the grains.  If there is still water in the bottom of the pan, put the lid back on and continue cooking until all of the water has been absorbed.  If there is no water, taste the rice.  If it is still crunchy, add 1/4 cup more water, stir, cover and let the rice continue to cook until the grains are soft and the water has been absorbed.

Once cooked, either serve while hot or cool quickly by spreading the hot rice on a baking tray.  Once cool, the rice can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 3 months.  To reheat, place the cooked rice in a saucepan and add just a tablespoon or two of water.  Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until hot through.

Other rice definitions:

Arborio Rice
A high starch Italian short-grain rice traditionally used in risotto. The increased starch of the short, fat grains lends the dish its essential creamy texture.

Basmati Rice
A long-grained rice with a fine texture known for its nutty aroma and flavor.  Basmati rice has been grown in the foothills of the Himalayas for thousands of years.  Literally translated as "queen of fragrance," its perfume is attributed to the fact that basmati grains are aged to decrease their moisture content.  Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines are among those that feature basmati prominently in their cooking.

Jasmine rice
With a flavor and fragrance comparable to basmati rice, jasmine rice is an aromatic rice from Thailand.

Instant or Quick Cooking Rice
Rice that has been partially or full cooked and then dehydrated before being packaged.  This process reduces the cooking time but both flavor and texture are adversely impacted.

Rice Pilaf
Pilaf typically refers to a dish where rice is sautéed in oil or butter with onion or other vegetables (such as carrots) and then cooked in chicken or vegetable stock.

Wild Rice
Wild rice is actually a long grain marsh grass – it isn’t rice at all.  It has a nutty taste and a chewy texture, and is quite a bit more expensive than rice.  Mixing brown rice and wild rice together gives you the flavor but helps cut the cost.  Wild rice takes typically takes an hour or more to cook.