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Riz, Rice, Arroz

Rice is born in water, and must die in wine.

-Italian Proverb

Everyone eats rice. Not everyone eats potatoes, or corn, or wheat - but every person on earth eats rice in some form. Yes, even you, Mr.Tater-Tot, there in front of the TV. There's rice in your beer.

On the culinary stage, rice is like an unassuming supporting actor who steals the whole show right from under the stars - sort of the Harvey Keitel of the starch world, able to assume roles, carry whole performances, change characters and, in the wink of an eye, transcend cultural boundaries. Innocently bland, but capable of great versatility, rice is so primal that in many languages the word for rice is the same as the word for food itself. It is at once the most prosaic and profound of foods, the primary sustenance of billions of people, from the humblest beggar to the hautest of princesses.

Rice is a moon-white goddess: pale, soft, delightfully pagan, an ancient symbol of fertility, prosperity and wealth. In prehistory, the watery life cycle of rice was revered as a mirror of the fountain of life itself: a rhythm of birth, death and renewal, a glimpse into the mysterious working of the gods. In some cultures, rice is still considered a living divinity, given to humankind to sustain, nourish and serve.

Archaeologists believe that rice was first intentionally cultivated in China, possibly as long as ten thousand years ago. Through trade and parallel development of agriculture, rice spread throughout Asia, to India, Africa and finally into Spain, Italy and the Americas.

To truly grasp the importance of a tiny grain of rice, it is necessary to think in huge numbers. Half the world's population, over three billion people, is dependent upon rice as a primary food source. Eighty thousand different varieties of rice exist, of which seven thousand have been or are being cultivated. Rice has been grown for ten thousand years. There are thousands of recipes for rice cookery, but rice and its byproducts have hundreds of material uses beyond food. One and a half pounds of rice per day, with no other food supplement, can keep a hard-working human being alive and healthy, indefinitely.

Nutritionally, rice is a powerhouse of readily accessible energy in the form of complex carbohydrates. It is also relatively rich in important proteins. Rice is more easily digestible than wheat and since it is gluten-free, does not cause allergic reactions. It is used as a medicine in many countries because it is the simplest of foods, perfect for the very young, the very old and the infirm. Being a primal food, rice is its own seed
Acre for acre, rice produces more available food energy than either wheat or corn. There are so many varieties of rice that some species can be found to grow in almost any temperate zone, even in marginal areas where other food crops will fail. It can grow in dry areas with irrigation, or in fifteen feet of water, depending on the species.

Rice farming was established in the Carolina lowlands three hundred years ago with African seed and intensive slave labor, but today, rice farming is conducted on a huge scale in Arkansas, California, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas; the US is the fifth-largest exporter of rice to the world. Pre-germinated seed is broadcast by airplane, flooded by computer-controlled irrigation systems, and harvested by fleets of combines.

While we grow vast fields of rice, Americans consume only about 25 pounds per capita, compared to 500 pounds per person in Southeast Asia. A large percentage of the rice that is grown in the United States is not eaten directly as rice, but goes into other products, like beer, makeup and animal feed. (If there is some relation between these three things, I don't think I want to know.) Rice byproduct has industrial uses as a polishing agent, and material for paper and rope. Rice pops up as infant formula and cereal, snack foods, and oil; as rice crackers, rice cakes, crispy rice cereal, rice wine, rice paper, rice vinegar, rice noodles, rice cereal and even rice tea. As every Scot knows, gluten -free rice flour is essential for making delicate, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread; as every soccer parent knows, without crispy rice, there are no rice crispy squares.

Types of Rice

If your mental image of 'rice' has a trolley car, or a smiling man on the package, think again. Rice, a grass like barley and oats, is among the most genetically complex of all plant families. In global seed banks, the genus Oryza spans more than 80,000 different varieties with another 1500 'wild' varieties.

Rice is classified as long, medium or short-grained. It grows in a natural array of colors: black, red, mahogany, tan, golden, brown and purest white. Some rice is elongated and naturally perfumed, while another type might look like dusty pearls. When cooked, rice may be fluffy, creamy, sticky or glutinous, depending on the type and amount of starch naturally present. In general, long-grain rice cooks up dry and fluffy with distinct, separate grains. Short grain rice can be creamy, sticky or even gooey. The texture of medium grain rice falls somewhere in between.

Buy rice in small quantities. Avoid the bulk bins or 20 pound bags, unless you plan to feed a small army. Good rice is of uniform size and will look very clean. It should not be powdery, have broken grains, or be discolored.

Arborio Rice:
Short-grained Italian rice, which cooks up to a creamy exterior and a slightly firm interior. Essential for risotto. Always buy superfino grade or better.

Basmati Rice:
Long-grained Indian rice with a distinct perfume.

Brown rice:
Rice with the hull removed but the outer coating left on. More nutritious, but harder to digest. It is very high in fiber.

Converted Rice:
Long-grain rice that has been par-cooked under pressure and dried in order to enhance its texture and lengthen shelf life. Because of the cooking method, converted rice is actually slightly more nutritious than regular white rice. It becomes extremely hard during processing, and so requires more liquid when cooked. Converted rice gives very reliable results, but has less flavor than some of the more interesting varieties.

Instant Rice:
Indescribably bad. If you're going to get a pot dirty anyway, you might as well take 15 minutes and make real rice. Boil in a bag: Ditto.

Japanese Rice:
Short, round grain, very starchy and sticky, needs to be well washed before cooking. This is eaten at every meal in China and Japan; to turn it into 'sushi' rice, a mixture of vinegar and sugar is added, and the rice is stirred and fanned as it cools.

Jasmine Rice:
Long-grained, sticky, soft rice, very white. Used in Thai cooking.
It is usually used in sweets, or as a side dish. Not a substitute for any other short-grain rice.

Mahogany or Black Rice:
Naturally occurring dark-colored japonica rice, short-grained, with a delicious nutty flavor and chewy texture. Grown by Lundberg Farms in Northern California.

Patna Rice:
The most expensive, long-grained Indian rice, aged for two years to enhance its fragrance and texture. Worth the extra money.

Sweet Rice:
Also called glutinous rice, this rice cooks to a quivering pudding-like texture. Wild Rice: Another member of the grass family and a distant cousin of the regular cultivars, so-called 'wild' rice is now grown commercially.

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Tips For Perfect Rice

  • Do not wash long or medium grain rice before cooking.
  • Do wash short grain rice, especially Japanese rice. Wash under cold running water until no milky starch is visible.
  • Asian style rice is never salted. Liquid for cooking long and medium grain rice should be lightly seasoned
  • Cooking long and medium grain rice with a small amount of fat helps keeps grains separate.
  • Try not to peek. The rice needs to absorb all those wonderful-smelling vapors. You can tell the rice is cooked by shaking the pot; if you can feel it sloshing around, it's not ready.
  • Before taking the lid off, let the rice rest and cool for ten minutes, covered, off the heat
  • Use a large carving fork, a skewer or chopsticks to gently fluff the rice before serving. A spoon will crush the delicate grains.

Flavoring Rice

In order to be digestible, rice must absorb one to three times its dry volume in liquid -virtually any liquid. The key is rice's innate ability to absorb flavors, scents and colors. Rice will take on the characteristics of whatever you cook with it, whether it is saffron-hued chicken stock, beets, orange zest, squid ink or lobster meat (or chlorine -always use filtered water!) The possibilities are truly endless.

Asian rice is generally served plain and unsalted, as a background to other foods and condiments. Long grain pilafs take well to cooking with any flavored liquid, though naturally perfumed rice like basmati and jasmine can be enjoyed plain.

Risottos by definition are strongly flavorful, cooked with highly seasoned liquids, wine, herbs, saffron, and other potent tastes. Risottos are intended to be eaten as a separate course, and so must stand on their own.

Cooking Methods

Rice can be steamed, boiled like pasta, baked with liquid, or cooked in a rice cooker. Cooking time and amount of liquid used depend on the type of rice.

Short grain (Japanese style): Wash a measured amount of short grain Japanese rice under cold running water until the rice no longer throws off milky ribbons of starch. Place the rice in a pot; add an equal quantity of water (1:1 ratio) and let the rice soak for twenty minutes. Bring to the boil, cover, turn heat to low and cook for ten minutes. Let rest off the heat, covered, for ten minutes, fluff and serve.

Pilaf Style (long grain): Sauté a little finely minced onion until soft in a small amount of oil. Add measured amount of long-grain rice and sauté until it becomes fragrant and very lightly golden. Add measured amount of water (2:1 ratio) cover tightly and cook on the stovetop or in a preheated 400 degree oven until the rice no longer moves in the pan. Let stand, covered, at least ten minutes. Uncover, gently fluff and serve.

Pasta Style (long or medium grain): Bring plenty of water to a rolling boil. Add the rice and cook uncovered until soft. Drain well, return to pan, cover and let steam, off the heat, for several minutes. Fluff with fork, drizzle with melted butter and serve very hot.

Risotto Style (Arborio rice): Risotto is stirred while the cook adds small amounts of hot liquid. It will take about twenty minutes of your full attention to make a risotto correctly. Different grades and ages of rice will cook slower, or faster, and absorb more or less liquid, so you need to be alert to what is happening with the rice as it cooks. The risotto is done when the center 'heart' is the texture of perfectly cooked pasta, and there is still a small amount of creamy liquid around the rice.

Sauté Italian Arborio or carnaroli rice (no substitutions!) in a bit of oil or clarified butter with finely diced onion or shallot. Have a well-flavored liquid ready, whatever you are using - traditionally, chicken, veal or fish stock. When the rice is lightly golden (it will smell wonderful) add a good shot of white wine and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Continue to add successive small amounts of liquid while stirring constantly, waiting for the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more. The risotto is done when it is creamy but not dry, and the rice still retains a barely chewy 'heart.'

Rice Cooking Table

1 Cup Uncooked Rice Liquid Cooking Time Yield
Regular long grain 1 ¾ cups 15 minutes 3-4 cups
Regular medium grain 1 ½ cups 15 minutes 3 cups
Regular short grain 1 ¼ cups 15 minutes 3 cups
Brown 2 ¼ cups 45-50 minutes 3-4 cups
Parboiled (converted) 2 cups 20-25 minutes 3-4 cups
Blends, precooked, seasoned mixes - follow package directions
(Rice Cooking Table:

Fingertip method (also known as 'winging it'): May give inconsistent results. Put the desired amount of long grain rice into a pot that has a tight-fitting lid. Rest your finger on the surface of the rice and add enough water to come up to the first joint of your finger. Bring to the boil uncovered (take your finger out, of course;) turn heat to low and cover tightly. Cook for about 15 minutes. If there is any liquid remaining, return to low heat. Let stand 10 minutes before uncovering and fluffing.


Fall Risotto with Smoked Chicken, Wild Mushrooms and Fried Sage

Risotto requires four things of the cook: good quality Arborio rice, flavorful ingredients, real Italian Parmigiana Reggiano cheese, and most important, your unflagging attention. Risotto must be stirred constantly while cooking in order to develop its natural creaminess and prevent scorching. This is a great job for guests who hang around in the kitchen asking to help. Serves 6.

1 cup hot water
1 ounce package dried woodland mushrooms (porcini, cepes, trumpets, or mixture)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup finely minced onions
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 cup superfino Arborio rice
½ cup white wine
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
½ cup filtered water
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces smoked chicken breast, diced ½ inch
1/3 cup grated Italian Parmigiana cheese
6 large, perfect sage leaves, wiped clean
1/4 cup olive oil

Wash the mushrooms well under cold running water. Transfer to a bowl, pour over the hot water and let soak 30 minutes. Squeeze the mushrooms and cut into slices. Strain the soaking liquid through a piece of paper towel or cheesecloth, or the risotto will be gritty.

Heat the butter and oil together over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they begin to stick. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft. Reduce heat and add the rice. Stir and cook until the rice becomes fragrant and starts to color slightly.

Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed. Add half a cup of the chicken stock and stir until it is absorbed. Continue to add the chicken stock, the mushroom soaking liquid, and lastly, the water in half-cup measures as the rice absorbs the previous batch. (This process is greatly speeded up if the liquids are warm.) Above all - keep stirring!

Towards the end of the cooking time, the risotto will create its own sauce and should be fairly loose. Season with the salt and black pepper, fold in the diced smoked chicken and the grated Parmigiana.

When the risotto is ready, heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium high heat. Carefully set the sage leaves into the oil. They are cooked when they stop sizzling. Drain on paper towels and serve one leaf as garnish on each serving. Offer more grated cheese and fresh ground pepper at the table.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Seared Greens

This is a substantial side dish for grilled chicken or fish, or it can be served as a separate course. The bacon can be omitted to make a vegetarian entrée. Remember to keep stirring as the risotto cooks. Serves 6.

¼ cup butter or olive oil
½ slice thick bacon
White part of one leek, washed and diced small
¼ cup minced white onion
2 cups butternut squash, peeled, ¾ inch dice
½ a small parsnip (about 1/3 cup) peeled and diced ¾ inch
1 cup Arborio or carnaroli rice
½ cup white wine
2 cups strong chicken stock, unsalted or low-sodium
1 ½ - 1 ¾ cups water
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano (real parmesan) cheese
1 bunch spinach or other greens, well washed and cut up if large
1 tablespoon olive oil

Blanch the bacon: Cut the bacon into small pieces. Place into a small saucepan with a little water, bring to a boil, drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan with a heavy bottom. Add the bacon, leek and onions, and cook over medium heat until the onions are soft but not brown. Add the diced squash and parsnips, increase the heat and cook the mixture until it begins to lightly brown. Season with salt and pepper. Turn down the heat to medium; add the rice and cook, stirring, for one minute.

Add the wine and continue to stir until it is absorbed. Add a half cup of the chicken stock and keep stirring as the rice absorbs the liquid. Repeat until all the chicken stock is used. Continue to add water as needed until the rice is cooked through and the risotto has a creamy consistency with a little "sauce." Stir in the parmesan cheese and taste for seasoning. Set aside.

Heat the tablespoon of oil in a sauté pan and sauté the spinach or greens over high heat until wilted. Season with salt. Serve the risotto topped with a little of the seared greens.

Spicy Shrimp Soup with Rice and Cilantro

I adapted this recipe from a Peruvian soup, which is served with whole shrimp, heads and shells intact. I suggest you peel them and use the shells for Shrimp Stock- a great way to get all the flavor out of expensive shrimp. Makes 6 servings.

3 teaspoons vegetable oil
1-2 Serrano chiles (to taste), sliced into rings
3 small cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
11/2 pound head-on, shell-on raw shrimp
2 roma tomatoes, diced
5 cups Shrimp Stock
1/3 cup tablespoons heavy cream
Kosher salt to taste
2 whole eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups cooked white long grain rice
Half a bunch cilantro, picked and chopped
Lime quarters

Remove the heads and shells from the shrimp, and make the Shrimp Stock. Devein the shrimp and cut into three pieces each.

Have ready 6 warmed soup plates or bowls. Reheat the rice and keep warm.

Heat a 12 inch sauté pan over medium heat. Add the oil, Serrano chile and sliced garlic, and cook for a moment, stirring constantly. Add the shrimp and cook until pink, then add the shrimp stock and cream, and bring to the boil. Season to taste. Off the heat, whisk in the beaten egg. Stir in the diced tomatoes and rice and divide into the soup plates. Garnish with the cilantro and serve right away, with the limes on the side.

Shrimp Stock
Yield: 4 1/2 cups

1 tablespoon vegetable oil or butter
½ large white onion, in large dice
1/2 rib celery, cut into one inch pieces
Shells and heads from 1 1/2 pounds of shrimp (about 1 quart)
½ cup white wine
4 cups cold water
1 whole head of garlic cut in half around the middle
2 tomatoes cut into chunks
6 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons tablespoons kosher salt
Optional: 1 Serrano chiles, cut in half lengthways

In a deep one gallon pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions and celery over medium heat until softened. Add the shrimp shells, heads and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the shells are pink. Add the remaining ingredients; the water should barely cover the solids. Bring to a simmer and cook on low heat for one hour. Strain.

San Diego Paella

This basic one-pan' paella' will lend itself to countless variations, as long as you stick to the basic ratios of rice and liquid. Do use converted rice for this - it's virtually foolproof. The pan is important: it must be ovenproof, 13 or 14 inches wide and no more than 3 inches deep. Serves 6.

2 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth or homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine or medium sherry
Pinch saffron, toasted, pounded and soaked in 2 TB water (optional)
3 very ripe tomatoes, diced small, or a 14- ounce can small diced tomatoes in juice
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 red pepper, diced
2 jalapenos, diced (optional)
½ cup onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups uncooked converted rice
1 tsp. salt
8 ounces linguica sausage, crumbled or sliced
8 ounces boneless chicken meat, cut into one-inch squares
½ pound thawed shrimp, preferably in the shell
½ pound fresh black mussels, or mussels and clams mixed
½ bunch cilantro, picked, chopped
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the chicken stock, salt, wine and saffron with soaking liquid (if you are using canned tomatoes add them here.) In a large (12 to 14 inch) shallow-sided paella pan or frying pan with heat) resistant handle, sauté the vegetables in the olive oil until just softened. Add the linguica, and then the chicken. Season with salt. Cook for one minute. If you are using fresh tomatoes, add now and cook another minute until softened.

Pour in the rice and toss to coat evenly with oil. Pour the chicken-saffron mixture over the rice. Stir well and bring to a simmer, then place into the oven uncovered, and bake 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove from the oven, arrange the seafood on the paella, return to the oven uncovered and bake a further 10-15 minutes or until paella is dry (poke around with a fork to see if there is any liquid in the bottom of the pan). Remove from oven, cover loosely with a clean napkin or foil wrap and let stand, off the heat, for 15 to 30 minutes before serving. Sprinkle the cilantro and optional olives over the paella just before serving. Pass the lemon wedges at the table.

Lemon-Coconut Rice Pudding

This is my absolute favorite rice pudding, both simple and rich, the perfect finale for a light meal. Cook it on the back burner as you make the rest of dinner. Long stirring develops the natural creaminess of the rice, but you can also cook it in a double boiler. Can be eaten warm or cold. Serves 6 .

1 cup medium grain white rice (not converted)
2 cups filtered water
1 cup heavy cream
2 1/4 cups milk
½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest and juice of one lemon (reserve juice)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar (or to taste)
¾ cup shredded sweetened coconut
½ cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Fresh raspberries, blueberries or other seasonal fruit (optional)

Place the rice and water into a two-quart saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes.

Add the cream, milk, vanilla bean or extract, lemon zest and sugar. Bring to the simmer and cook over medium heat, stirring gently and continuously (a double boiler can be used for this step) until the rice is thoroughly cooked and very soft- about 20 minutes The rice should be loose and very 'saucy.' It will thicken as it cools. Adjust to taste with more drops of lemon juice, if desired. Set aside.

Preheat broiler and spread the coconut in a shallow pan. Keep a close eye on the coconut as it toasts, stirring frequently. Cool.

Whip the remaining ½ cup of heavy cream with two tablespoons of powdered sugar, until it is thickened, but still runny. Chill.

To serve, spoon the pudding into oriental-style bowls, champagne tulip glasses or martini glasses. Dollop a spoonful of whipped cream on top. Garnish with the toasted coconut and berries.


  • For vegans, this dessert can be made with vanilla-flavored soy milk or coconut milk instead of heavy cream.
  • Omit lemon and coconut. Soak golden raisins with hot water and a little rum. Drain and stir into the pudding. Sprinkle top with a little cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg.


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