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Friday, September 07, 2012 2:00 PM
Rice has been the staple food for half the world’s population for thousands of years and is now cultivated in many countries, varieties having been bred to tolerate different soil, climate and environmental conditions.
Interestingly, while in the west unmilled brown rice is regarded as “healthy”, traditional rice eaters value the whiteness of the milled rice.
There are many varieties and types of rice, but we are most familiar in the west with long grain, medium grain and short grain, and rice dishes which can be Asian, paella from Spain, the Middle Eastern pilaf, risotto that originated in Northern Italy and other dishes such as kedgeree.
There are aromatic rices like Arborio from Italy and Basmati from the Indian continent, or fragrant jasmine Thai rice. There has also been an explosion on supermarket shelves of pre-cooked, flavoured rices for all occasions, although rice is easy enough to cook without resorting to expensive pre-cooked varieties, which are handy for emergencies! Calrose is medium grain rice, which originated in California; it is quite sticky and particularly suitable for sushi.
Short grain Arborio rice is best for risotto, releasing its starches into the cooking liquids, which aids towards the richness which should characterise risottos. Basmati is long grain rice with sweetness and a fragrance that is the perfect accompaniment to spicy foods – and it is great for rice salads.
Rice puddings may have been dreaded in boarding school dinners, but a good rice pudding, made with short grain white rice and baked in the oven can be a real treat.
Rice is, of course gluten free which makes it ideal, in its many forms, for those with gluten intolerances or who are coeliac.
A couple of tips: if you are using onion in a rice dish, ensure it is well cooked before you add the rice; otherwise the onion will not soften easily during the latter cooking stages.
Pukekohe vegetable producer Alan Fong says that the secret to good rice for Asian dishes is in washing it prior to cooking, doing it by hand and running it through the fingers under water until the water is clear.
Recipe - Risottos are versatile and not nearly as difficult to make as you think…but you will need Arborio or short grain rice for this mushroom risotto
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