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A FRESH Point of View: All About Rice

I grew up eating rice, but like a lot of Americans, it was mostly the same kind – plain white rice, served as a side dish or maybe with a Mexican dinner. It wasn’t until I got my own kitchen, and started experimenting with more ethnic cuisines and interesting recipes, that I realized how very different rice can look, smell and taste.

At FRESH, we carry more than a dozen kinds of exotic and specialty rices – and I am loving learning to cook with all of them.

Short, long or medium?  Broadly speaking, rice is usually categorized by the length of the grain. Short grains are plump and often are a little stickier, like arborio rice used for risotto. Medium grain rice is a good all-purpose rice, perfect in casseroles, pilafs, or as a side dish. Longer grains, like basmati, are more traditional in Asian cuisines.

Brown or white? This refers to how the rice has been processed; you can get many rices, including jasmine and Texmati, in either brown or white form. Brown rice is more of a whole grain; it contains the rice bran, so it’s nuttier, chewier and takes longer to cook. In white rice, the bran and germ have been removed, so it has less fiber and fewer nutrients, but a lighter, more delicate flavor.

Jasmine: The traditional rice of southeast Asia, especially Thailand. It has a wonderful, almost floral aroma as it cooks, and a nutty, rich flavor. To get the proper light, fluffy texture, it should be steamed; if you eat a lot of jasmine rice, a rice cooker may be a good investment. You can use this long-grain rice for any dish where you’d use brown or white rice, but it’s especially great with Thai curries. For a change of pace, our bulk section also carries purple jasmine and ruby red jasmine, truly striking on a plate.

Basmati: Native to Indian cuisine, this is a flavorful, rich long-grain rice; it tastes a little earthier than jasmine, but its scent isn’t quite as perfumed. Because of the way it is processed, you should rinse this three or four times in cold running water before cooking; the grains cook up fluffy, dry and separate, so it works well with Indian curries, rich sauces or gravies.

Texmati: A hybrid rice, this blends the best qualities of basmati and American long-grain rice. It’s a little nutty, very fragrant, and very versatile – you can use it for just about any recipe calling for rice except ones that need a stickier, short grain (like risotto).

Arborio: This is the rice Italians use to make risotto. A stubby, short grain, it releases more starch as it cooks, but retains a firm center – giving it that creamy, slightly sticky, but chewy texture of good risotto. In a pinch, you can use other short-grain rices, even sushi rice, to make risotto.

Sushi: Another short grain rice. Though good sushi rice is a little sticky, the stickiness actually has more to do with the sugar and vinegar you add when preparing sushi. Sushi rice should be rinsed before cooking. Out of sushi rice? You can substitute arborio or another short-grain rice.

Bamboo: Exotic, green short-grain rice that has been infused with bamboo juice; it cooks up sticky and moist, so it can be subbed for sushi rice.

Forbidden:  This black sticky rice looks almost a deep purple color when cooked. It’s nutty, mild and almost sweet; it makes a terrific rice pudding, especially cooked with coconut milk. Usually available in our bulk section.

Wild: Wild rice isn’t actually a rice; it’s a grass. It’s nutty and chewy and dense. Often, wild rice gets mixed in with white or brown rice to make a pilaf, but I also like it on its own as a side dish, paired with fish or game. Rinse it before cooking, to remove any chaff.