Raise your game: Rice
How to achieve perfect fluffy rice and sloppy risotto
Judging by conversations I’ve had with my friends loads of you struggle with cooking rice. It’s largely, I suspect, because we were all brought up on the so called ‘absorption method’ where you cook the rice in twice the amount of water which it rarely absorbs fully and ends up leaden and soggy.
Some years ago I was enlightened by cookery writer Roz Denny who was working at the time for Tilda and told me that you should basically cook it like pasta in lots of water.
Perfect fluffy rice
So what you do is measure out the amount of rice you need per person (Tilda says 60g, I’m inclined to say 75g*).
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add a good pinch of salt, tip in the rice, give it a stir and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve then place the sieve over the hot pan cover with a tea towel or paper towel and leave for 4-5 minutes. Tip away any water that has accumulated in the pan, tip back the rice and fork it through.
It’s also a question of using the right kind of rice. Since I was indoctrinated by Ros I’ve always used Tilda with whom I hasten to add I have no commercial relationship but any good quality long grain rice will do. Don’t use easy cook or cheap budget rice though.
Note: Brown rice will take longer to cook - 20-25 minutes then 3-4 minutes to stand but will never go quite as fluffy
*That might leave you with enough leftover rice to make egg-fried rice but chill it first as it needs to be made from fridge-cold rather than recently cooked rice, again to avoid it going soggy.
Top picture by StockImageFactory.com at shutterstock.com
Risotto is also a bit of a minefield in terms of achieving the slightly sloppy creamy texture you should be aiming for. You want to be able to eat it with a fork but it shouldn’t be stiff or stodgy. “Risotto should not be like a savoury rice pudding” as Valentina Harris the author of Risotto, Risotto told me firmly when I went on one of her cookery courses in Tuscany.
How do you avoid that? The most crucial thing is to cook or ‘toast’ the rice for 2-3 minutes after you’ve added it to your sweated onion until it becomes translucent. Then add your wine, if using, which will bubble up and evaporate almost immediately and then the stock - which should be simmering by the side of your pan - a couple of ladlefuls at a time, letting it absorb before the next addition. Then once it’s done (which should take about 20 minutes) you take the pan off the heat, add butter and parmesan (depending on the recipe) and let it rest, covered, for 3-4 minutes. (See Valentina’s recipe below)
In this case the rice you should use is an Italian risotto rice like carnaroli or vialone nano which you can pick up in most large supermarkets but I prefer to buy from an Italian deli just because they’re so much more fun to shop in.
Picture by Ale02 at shutterstock.com
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Here’s a recipe from Valentina to practise your improved technique.
Risotto con Asparagi
500 g fresh asparagus, trimmed
75 g unsalted butter
2 large shallots, finely chopped
450 g risotto rice, preferably Carnaroli or Arborio
About 1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock kept at a low simmer throughout
50 g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
Boil or steam the asparagus with a large pinch of sea salt for about 6 minutes, or until just tender. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid, and cool. Keep the cooking liquid warm.
Melt half the butter in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan and fry the shallots for about 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent – make sure they don’t brown.
Meanwhile, chop the cooled asparagus stalks into small pieces, leaving the tips intact. If the end of the asparagus stalk is very tough, peel carefully to expose the tender centre and discard the rest. Add the chopped stalks to the shallots and cook together for about 5 minutes, stirring gently to prevent burning.
Add the rice all in one go and toast, stirring it around, until it is heated through, crackling and shiny. Pour in a couple of ladlefuls of the asparagus cooking liquid and stir until it has been totally absorbed, then add some more – each time add enough to swamp the rice just for a moment, but then always wait for the rice to absorb the liquid before adding the next batch. When you run out of the cooking liquid, begin to add the hot stock. Continue cooking in this way, gradually adding liquid only when the rice requires you to do so, and then stirring, for about 20 minutes, until the risotto is creamy and the rice is swollen but still just firm in the middle of the grain.
Add the asparagus tips and stir in the Parmesan and parsley. Season to taste. Remove from the heat, cover the pan and leave the risotto to rest for 4 minutes.
Stir again before transferring to a warmed serving platter or individual plates. Serve at once.
If you want to do even more to raise your risotto game Valentina is running a masterclass on risotto and arancini on the Rosemary Shrager online cooking school on May 24th. You can book here.
Do share any tips you have for rice cooking!
I use the Nigella method - rinse rice in cold water - heat a knob of butter and when melted add the rinsed rice and stir to coat all the rice in butter. Then add approx twice water to rice (I always add a bit under) and bring to the boil - then reduce heat to a minimum and cook until all the water has gone - always works for me.
For rice buy a good rice cooker. When visiting the far east I'd always wondered why many houses had rrice cookers. I now understand and wish I'd bought one 20 years ago. Perfect rice every time and will keep warm and in good condition for several hours.