There are three official (i.e., of Western tradition and taught in French-influenced culinary school) techniques for cooking rice and other grains– the risotto method, the pilaf method, and the simmering method.
A brief review of the techniques:
To use the risotto method, you first heat up your chosen fat (e.g., olive oil, butter), with any aromatics you might be using, such as garlic or shallots. Then add the rice to the hot fat and make sure all the grains are coated, but not browned. Next, add a little liquid at a time (usually wine first, then an already-warmed stock you’re holding nearby on the stove), stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed, at which point you add a little more and continue stirring, until the desired consistency is achieved. The typical desired consistency resulting from the risotto method is creamy, with a little bite. Short or medium-grained round rices, such as Arborio or Carnaroli, are typically used for the risotto method; their higher starch content means more starchy molecules are released into the cooking liquid, causing the characteristic creaminess of the resulting dish.
The pilaf method is typically used with long-grained rice, such as Basmati or Jasmine. Like the risotto method, you begin by coating the rice in hot fat, in which you’ve included any desired aromatics. French culinary tradition has you stop short of browning the rice, but other cultures will stir the rice in the hot fat for a longer period of time, achieving a golden tone and nutty, toasted flavor compounds. (For instance, traditional Mexican rice is browned in fat with garlic and onions before stock and tomatoes are added.) With the pilaf method, you next add all of your cooking liquid at once, (1:2 rice:liquid will work for most long grain rice), bring it to a boil, and then lower it to a simmer and cover it, as you would for the simmering method. The pilaf method results in supple, tender, separated grains.
Finally, the simmering method is perhaps the most common– at least in the home, in the U.S. The desired amount of liquid is brought to a boil in the pot. (The amount of liquid will vary by type of rice, but 1:2 rice:liquid is a good rule of thumb for white long-grain rice.) Once the liquid is boiling, the rice is poured in and stirred briefly. As soon as the pot reaches a boil again, it’s lowered to a simmer and covered until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender and fluffy. This method results in a stickier rice than is achieved with the pilaf method.
Last night, I went with the pilaf method, (originally pilau, having originated in the Middle East.) I needed a complementary base with which to plate the pan-fried peppered salmon and Moroccan carrot and olive salad I otherwise had on the docket. I rounded up the long-grain rice I had on hand, (Indian Basmati and red and brown Thai Jasmine), as well as some chicken stock and cilantro. A little butter and olive oil with which to brown the grains, and I was set.
Cilantro Rice Pilaf
- 1 1/2 cups basmati rice
- 1/2 cup brown and/or red Jasmine rice
- 1 head cilantro, largest stems removed
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1/3 stick butter
- a few good glugs olive oil
- Heat the olive oil and butter together in the same pot in which you intend to cook the rice.
- Once the oil and butter are hot, add the rice, and stir frequently until it's been lightly browned and is giving off an appealing nutty aroma.
- Meanwhile, run the cilantro and chicken stock together in the blender on a high setting.
- Pour the cilantro-infused chicken stock over the browned rice; cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed and rice grains are tender.