Asian Sticky rice

 

A word about this post: there is a recipe at the bottom of the page. I promise. If that's all you're after, skip to the bottom of the page. Because it turns out I got quite enthusiastic about rice and all of its charms. So I've written about

  1. the recipe,

  2. why rice becomes sticky,

  3. the cooking process

  4. the dangers of reheating rice and how to avoid them.

So, yeah, I promise there is a recipe at the end.

 

I came up with this recipe after practically drooling over a readers' 'recipe swap' on miso. The curator wrote that this miso dressing would go perfectly either with “a bowlful of grains and crunchy greens”, or simply “atop a bowl of rice”. Personally, I thought atop a bowl of rice with crunchy veg on top would be even more delicious. In this post I've adjusted their recommended miso dressing – am I the only one that thinks olive oil doesn't really have a place in soy saucey-kinda flavours? – to my tastes and included full instructions on how to make perfect sticky rice.

I really love the texture of this dish. The hot, sticky rice is made smooth and silky by the thick dressing and contrasts with the crunchy vegetables.

It is also very comforting. Cradling a deep bowl of this stuff while curled up on the sofa is comfort food at its finest.

Before making this recipe a few times I hadn't understood the art of making sticky rice. Rice is rice, right? Wrong. The key to perfect sticky rice is both the type of rice, and also the dual cooking process: boiling, then steaming. It's less complicated than it sounds, though. I promise. I'm promising a lot today, aren't I?

 

So, to the type of rice. What you want here is short-grain rice; more specifically, glutinous rice. Do not worry if you're sensitive to gluten, though, as it's called glutinous rice because of its 'gluey' texture; it doesn't contain any gluten at all. Cooking the short-grain varieties of rice gives you that sticky, gluey texture so important for many Asian dishes. Long-grain rice, on the other hand, becomes fluffy and the grains remain separate from one another. Why does this happen? Science goggles: on.

It basically comes down to the type of starch in the rice. Most starchy carbohydrates (think bread, pasta, potatoes, etc) contain the more common starch which is made up of two components: amylopectin and amylose. Typically, starch is roughly 75% amylopectin and 25% amylose. The starch in short-grain rice, however, only has up to 15% amylose. Glutinous rice has virtually no amylose at all. This is the key difference in the two varieties of rice. All it is is how much amylose is in the starch!

But why does this result in different textures after being cooked? Well, as the temperature of the cooking water rises, the granules of starch begin to absorb water. They swell up, just like blowing up a balloon. Until pop! The granules burst. The temperature that this happens at is known as the gelatinisation temperaure. I like to think of gelatinisation as the point everything starts bursting and starts 'gelling'. So more starch granules popping = more sticky rice. Granules of starch in short-grain rice burst at lower temperatures because of the lower amount of amylose; amylose delays the swelling of starch granules. So more granules have burst in short-grain rice by the time it is cooked, making it more sticky!

 

Anyway, back to how you actually cook the rice. It's not quite as simple as normal long-grain rice. A key point is to remove the lid as little as possible. Why is this so important? To get perfect sticky rice, essentially what you do is boil the rice with the lid on until all the water is absorbed, and then leave it for 10 minutes so that it keeps cooking in the steam gathered beneath that lid. Peeking inside and removing the lid lets a lot of steam out, so try to avoid doing this!

Now, a word on keeping rice safe. In my experience (asking friends and family), it seems that most people will happily reheat some take-out rice that they drunkenly ordered at 2am. I really wouldn't recommend doing that. Not the drunkenly-ordering-food-part, the leaving-rice-out-then-reheating-it part. I don't think that they know every time they are doing this they are taking a bit of a gamble on food poisoning. Scarily, pretty much all raw rice contains dormant spores of a toxic bacterium that can cause food poisoning. Despite that, rice that has just been cooked is perfectly safe to eat; it takes a couple of hours for these dormant spores to become living bacteria. The dangers arise when rice is left hangin' around at room temperature for too long. Most bacteria love room temperature. They thrive in that environment. It's like a sunny beach to them. And so… they start reproducing. After a few hours millions of bacteria can exist. You don't want to ingest them!

 

Worry not, if you follow a couple simple rules you'll be completely fine. The key is minimising the time at which the bacteria hang out at their favourite temperature, room temperature. So basically aim to keep rice either piping hot or fridge cold, avoiding the middle ground. To be more specific: serve the rice soon after it is cooked, and if you have leftovers after eating, box them up and quickly stick 'em in the fridge.

Also, here's a cool trick I often do to cook rice in advance. You basically want to cool the rice down as soon as possible after it has been cooked. So, take the saucepan you've used, rice still inside it, and submerge its bottom in a sink of iced water. Once the water has become warm, drain it and replace it with fresh iced water. After a few more minutes, put the saucepan in the refrigerator. Now when you reheat the rice, make sure it's piping hot (more specifically, above 70C/160F) and everything will be A-OK.

So after that long tangent, back to the dish at hand. To serve this I like to let everyone build their own bowl. So put all the different veggies on the table in separate bowls. To assemble, add a couple of large spoonfuls of rice to your bowl and as much dressing as you want. Add a few handfuls of the different veggies and mix everything together. Enjoy!

Recipe

Sticky Asian Rice

Yield:
Serves 4
Hands-on time:
30 mins
Hands-off time:
15 mins

Ingredients:

  for the dressing
3 tbsp brown miso
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp groudnut (peanut) oil (or any other neutral tasting oil)
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced/crushed/grated
2cm ginger, grated
 
  for the vegetables:
¼ sweetheart cabbage, shredded
3 carrots, chopped into matchsticks
1 red/yellow/green pepper (capsicum), thinly sliced
3 cups cooked edemame beans
6 spring onions, thinly sliced
 
  for the rice:
2 cups glutinous rice (AKA sticky rice, waxy rice, sweet rice). If you can't find this use short-grain rice.

Process:

  1. For the dressing, put all the ingredients in a jar with a lid. Shake the jar vigorously to mix the dressing. Shake it again just before serving.
  2. For the veg, put each different ingredient in a separate bowl so that people can add from each bowl after they've served themselves some rice.
  3. For the rice, pour the rice grains into a medium saucepan with a lid. If you have a transparent lid, use that. Go to the sink and pour water over the rice to get rid of the surface starch. Swish the rice around with your hand, then pour away this water. Repeat this 4 times until the water being poured off is almost clear.
  4. Drain the rice once more, then return it to the saucepan. Add 2 cups + 2 tablespoons of water.
  5. Cover the pot, then bring it to a boil over a high heat.
  6. Listen for the chattering sound of the lid (or if you must, take a quick peek inside) to check if it has come to a boil. This will take different times depending on the strength of your hob. So if it takes 3-5 minutes to come to a boil, turn the heat to low and cook for about 7 more minutes or until all the water had been absorbed. If it comes to a boil quickly (e.g. if using an induction hob), cook on low for 8-9 more minutes.
  7. Remove the pot from the heat. Leave it, still with the lid on, for 10 minutes. Do not skip this step.
  8. Now stir up the rice gently and serve into warm bowls. Add some dressing and mix it all up, then pile on some veggies and mix again. Enjoy!