Now let's review: amylose and amylopectin are structures that plants use to store energy in the form of glucose. That's the little batteries here. Now, different types of rice contain different proportions of amylose and amylopectin and that greatly determines how a particular rice will perform or behave when cooked. [the models rise]
PORTER: [enters carrying 3 white duffle bags of different lengths]
Luckily, the proportions of starch in any rice can be approximated by the length of the grain. And although there are over 5000 varieties of rice grown in the world, they're all classified as either long, medium, or short-grain. And those are symbolized by these duffel bags here.
P: [holds palm out]
AB: Oh, I'm sorry. [Gives him a single coin] There you go, Sonny.
P: [glares and extis]
First, let's take a look at long-grain rice.
Let's start with long-grain rice. Now this is really cool. Long-grain rices have
a whole lot of amylose but not a lot of amylopectin as you can see here.
[opens the largest of the bags, it contains mostly Styrofoam swirls and very few
green Styrofoam peanuts] Heh. See? That's amylose, right? And this little green guy, that's amylopectin. Yeah, they're packing chips, but just work with
me, okay? This ratio means that this grain will cook up very light, fluffy,
separate from all the other grains. Long-grain rice has what people in the rice
industry call "kernel integrity". We like integrity.
Now, medium-grain rices, a little bit different, a little bit different. If you look here, there is a little bit more amylopectin here. [the medium size bag contains more of the green peanuts] There's still a lot of amylose, but there is definitely more amylopectin. Because of that, this kind of rice cooks up rather soft—not mushy, but soft. And, it can give up some of its starch to the surrounding water, okay? Which can be very, very nice. I would make, for instance, rice pudding out of this.
Now short-grain rices, they're really exciting. As you can see [holds up the smallest duffel bag]—oh, and by the way, they're not really that skinny, just, you know, off-the-rack packs—uh, anyway, as you can see, there is a whole lot more amylopectin. [the bag contains many of the green peanuts] There's still quite a bit of amylose, but there is a heck of a lot of amylopectin. Now that means that this kind of rice, when it cooks, gives up huge amounts of starch to the surrounding environment. And that means it can either be very, very, very creamy, or very, very, very sticky, either of which can be good. Let's look at some examples.
Here's a small collection of the alternative rices that I like to keep on hand including three Italian rices ranging in length from short to medium.
Now a few things about buying rice for risotto. Number one, Arborio rice, which is considered synonymous with risotto in this country, is not the only risotto rice. In fact, in Italy rices like carnaroli and vialone nano are also considered to be very fine risotto rices.
Something about the packaging of
Italian rices you should know. You often see words like semifino, fino, or
superfino on boxes of Italian rice. Those are not quality-related words. Those
have to do with the length of the grain, superfino being much longer than a
semifino. Now here in the United States, any medium-grain rice can be labeled or
packaged as "risotto rice", okay? So, just because you see an Italian word on the
box doesn't mean you're getting Italian rice inside the box.
Now this begs the question: does a medium-grain rice from Arkansas make as good a risotto as a rice from the Po River Valley? Well, I don't know. That would be in the eyes of the eater, or in the mouth of the eater. But I will tell you this, when it comes to risotto nothing matters more than technique. Now for today, I'm going to go the traditional route with two cups of Arborio rice.
Rice is now cultivated in over 110 countries,
in many different climates and environments.
Rice Grains #1 and #2
Here is the risotto engine room: rice, a cooking liquid such as wine, and stock
or broth, finely-diced aromatic vegetables, and butter. Now if the aromatic
vegetables include onion, celery, and carrot, you would have what the Italians
call a suffrito, which is essentially the Italian version of a French mire poix.
Now I say "the engine room" because, without any one of these parts, the risotto won't go. You wouldn't have risotto. But of course, you can add things on, and indeed a whole host of flavorants are added at the very very end of cooking. Let's find some.
When it comes to flavoring risotto, the first thing we've got to talk about is parmesan cheese, which is to risotto, what, I don't know, what vanilla is to ice cream. I like to work with solid chunks—I'll grate this myself—about two ounces or half a cup will do the trick. Now, the ice cream analogy continues, because of, like ice cream, risotto can handle bits and pieces and hunks and chunks every now and then. My only two rules are: one, I never add more than two ingredients—chunky, at least—and number two, I never use vegetation that hasn't already been cooked unless it's herbal. You know, parsley, oregano, something like that.
Now, looking around here [the refrigerator], I see ... Hmm, what do we have? Perhaps some leftover asparagus; looks like it was steamed, and that's just fine. We'll cut that into one-inch pieces. It'll be wonderful. And also, ahhh, some wild mushrooms. I'd say about five ounces worth, woodiers, chanterelles, maybe a morel or two in there. And if I remember correctly, I cooked these in a wide pan over medium heat with a pat of butter, a sprinkle of salt and I just cooked them until they turned brown and lost about half of their moisture. Those will work nicely as well.
As far as very very very last-minutes essences, we could always add about a teaspoon of lemon zest. And a little specialty I like—I keep this in my pocket—some nutmeg. I'd say, about, oh, I don't know, half a teaspoon. We could even go a quarter, just for final effect. I think we're ready to face some hardware.
Risotto doesn't call for much equipment, but what is pressed into service matters. You are going to need a wide, heavy pot in the three to four quart range. Wide is good because it makes it easier to stir, and heavy is good because it helps to prevent burning; and I don't just mean a heavy bottom, I mean heavy sides, too.
Other hardware includes a stirring device of some type. Risotto purists insist that wooden spoons are the only way to go because their insulative power prevents heat from seeping up out of the risotto too quickly. I don't know, use wood if you want. But if effective mass moving is your goal, you might think about going with either a rubber or silicone spatula. I usually use this white one over here, but since we're dealing with rice, and rice is white, I'll go with this nice blue model, for television. One item to go.
For reasons which will soon become crystal clear, it is crucial that we keep our cooking liquid at a simmer at all times. The best tool for this? Not a pot. Not a pan. An electric kettle. That's right, it's not just for tea anymore. Good ones heat up fast as lightning, and they turn off when they reach a boil giving you a lot of control. And of course, the little pour spout makes for easy dosing.
Now that we have our kettle in hand, it's time to load her up. I like to keep this over on this side of the cook top. In goes one cup of white wine, and six cups of chicken broth. Homemade would, of course, be best, but carton-based would be okay too. Right to the top. Now we activate the device.
1 Cup White Wine
6 Cups Chicken Broth
Now, time to apply some heat, medium heat, in fact, to our pan. Then we will add two tablespoons of unsalted butter, one cup of onion, chopped very, very fine I might add. And last but not least, a wee sprinkling of the white stuff. Kosher salt, that is. And we sweat.
2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1 Cup Finely Chopped Onions
Pinch Kosher Salt
By sweat, of course, we mean to cook over medium or low heat just to soften and cook the food. Not to color it; not to make it jump around. That would be sautéing and that would be bad.
There. Nice and soft. It is now time to add our rice, the two cups of Arborio, straight to the pan. And we'll stir to coat.
|2 Cups Arborio Rice|
Now we're going to let this cook for three to five minutes. This is kind of the real body or soul of how a risotto gets started. This is a key measure. We're going to cook this rice until it just becomes translucent. That means that it will have taken in a good bit of oil. And that's good, because that is going to make kind of a water-resistant coat on the rice that is going to keep the starch from seeping out into the cooking liquid too quickly. Because if that were to happen, the rice would turn to mush before the sauce was prepared. Think of it as, I don't know, waterproofing, sort of. Remember, we are technically still sweating here, so if you see anything turn brown, turn it down.
There. Have a look. See how it's kind of two-toned, all translucent around the edges. That means we are definitely ready to add the wet works. We're going to add just enough of our hot brew to barely cover the rice. There, that's perfect. Put that [kettle] back on and activate to simmer and just give that [risotto] a few shakes and a couple of stirs. There we go.
|Add just enough liquid to cover the rice.|
[approaches the camera to get by but it doesn't let him] What?
THING: [objects, simulated stirring the pot]
Oh, yeah. I have to tell you, I've tinkered with risotto quite a bit, and I really don't think that that whole constant stirring thing is necessary. I mean, don't get me wrong, movement is good. Movement works. Movement, ... it ... Come here.
AB: [to the rice grains] Okay guys. Jump in, please, please. Hey, you look great. Are you ready? Good.
Okay, here's what movement does in the pot.
AB: Go on. Go. Go.
GRAINS: [begin to rub together up and down]
Now, as the kernels rub together in the hot liquid, they literally scrub off some of their starch, okay? Now hot liquid is added slowly because if it were cold, the starch wouldn't come off.
GRAINS: [begin banging into each other]
And if too much gets added at once, the rice kernels would never make contact.
GRAINS: [begin fighting each other]
Now, I find that occasional stirring keeps the heat and moisture evenly distributed, but gentle pan shaking creates a better gravy.
In a number of Asian languages, the same
word designates both "rice" and "food".
GUESTS: "Good Eats" Crew
Carolyn O'Neil, Registered Dietitian
The biggest issue here is going to be heat control. You want to keep this at a bare bare simmer, so make sure you move it to whatever your smallest burner is. And if that is even too hot, then you're going to want to work a little bit on, and a little bit off the heat. We don't want to overheat things.
Now when you can pull the spatula across the rice and see the pan on the bottom, you know that it's time to add more liquid. So, I'm adding another dose here—again, the heat is very, very low—and just stirring that in. Remember, you don't have to stir it constantly, but often. But whenever the bottom of the pot stays dry when you sweep the spatula through the rice, you know it's time to add just a little bit more, just to cover.
|Add another does of liquid just to cover.|
Now when about three-quarters of liquid has been cooked in, I give it a taste.
[tastes] Still a little dry in the middle. Sometimes it's done at
this point, sometimes it's not. I can also see the bottom of the pan clearly
there, so I'm going to add the last dose of liquid. Don't force it. If it
doesn't need it, don't give it. In this case, it's definitely going to drink all of
And a few minutes later, we're ready to taste for seasoning. Just a little bite. I got a clean spoon. If it needs a little bit of salt, then add a little bit of salt. In this case, it doesn't.
So, we're going to add the finishing ingredients. Five ounces of wild mushrooms, cooked of course, seven ounces of the cooked asparagus, straight into the pot, still over heat here. Going to stir that in. Very nice. Then we'll follow that with the cheese, two ounces of grated Parmesan. Very nice. Starting to get really creamy as that cheese begins to melt. And finally, a little bit of nutmeg and a little bit of lemon zest, about a teaspoon of the latter and a half teaspoon of the first.
5 Ounces Wild Mushrooms,
7 Ounces Asparagus Cooked
2 Ounces Grated Parmesan
1 tsp. Grated Lemon Zest +
The longer this mass stays together, the longer this will be hot and creamy. So consider serving it family style. Why I remember having a risotto at the household of an Italian family that I knew and they just piled it onto a big platter and handed out spoons.
CREW: [crew descends upon the risotto dish devouring it leaving only the spoons and platter]
Legend has it that master glassmaker Valerius invented risotto in 1574 in Milan.
Now when it's first harvested, rice has an outer coat on it—a husk, a seed
husk—which is completely inedible. The first thing that is done at the mill is
that this coat is removed by mechanical means. [pulls a red duffle bag out of a
green duffle bag] There we go. Now that leaves us
with something called "cargo rice" or brown rice.
The bran layer is milled away revealing the pearly white rice inside. [opens up the red duffle bag to reveal the white one inside] Now the enriching process that most white rices go through in this country boosts the nutrition of white rice, but, technically speaking ... [unzips the white duffle to reveal that Carolyn's head is inside]
CAROLYN O'NEIL: ... brown rice is naturally way more nutritious than white rice, and that's because of the bran which contains riboflavin, vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, even some vitamin E. And then, of course, there's the fiber.
Ah, yes, fiber. Nature's broom.
CO: And it turns out that the oil in rice bran actually helps remove the undesirable low-density lipoproteins ...
That's the bad cholesterol.
CO: ... from the bloodstream. And you know, these oils are mostly unsaturated.
Ahh, good for the body. But unsaturated oils go rancid relatively easily, so you need to store your brown rice in either the freezer or the refrigerator.
Say, Carolyn, how do you like yours?
CO: Mmm, I like my brown rice—because of its sort of nutty chewiness—in a salad.
AB: Ahh, yes, brown rice salad. Fabulous idea. Thanks, Carolyn.
The challenge to cooking brown rice is time. It takes a long time to cook this stuff. Why? Well it's those little bran coats. They almost act like, uh ... [turns to the rice grain]
GRAIN #1: [is wearing a yellow slicker, he's not smiling]
Yeah, kind of like little rain outfits.
AB: Go and smile. Good.
Because of that, the cooking liquid just has to really, really, really take a long time to fight its way in. That's why when most people cook brown rice, they put it in a pot, they put it on the cook top, and they let it go forever. The problem is, is that the rice near the bottom almost always scorches, and the rice that doesn't scorch usually gets really mushy because it kind of explodes out of the side of the kernel, out of its little coat.
AB: [to the Grain] That's precious.
There is another way, though.
Brown rice is not only better tasting than white, but is better for you.
The oven provides even, multidirectional heat that will reduce the risk of scorching and certainly make stirring unnecessary. So place one and one-half cups of medium or short-grain brown rice in an eight-inch square baking dish. Now over that, we're going to pour two and a half cups of water just off the boil, along with a tablespoon of unsalted butter which is dissolved in there, and a teaspoon of salt which is also dissolved in there. There we go. Now just give that a little stir and then cover with a piece of foil.
1 1/2 Cups Brown Rice
2 1/2 Cups Boiling Water +
Now it's important that you get this good and tight or you will lose moisture during cooking, and you will end up with dry rice. This goes into a 375 degree oven for one hour.
Perfect. Now you could serve as is or you could let this rest for a few minutes after fluffing with a fork, and go make yourself a salad dressing, which is what I'm going to do because it's got bacon in it.
|Heat a ten-inch sauté pan over medium heat and fry about six pieces of bacon until nice and crisp.||6 Slice Bacon|
|Remove, and then lightly fry half a cup of diced red onion in the fat. When it's nice and brown, deglaze with half a cup of white wine vinegar. Add it very slowly. There might be some splattering.||
1/2 Cup Diced Red Onion
1/2 Cup White Wine Vinegar
|Then follow that with half a cup of chicken broth, two teaspoons of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.||
1/2 Cup Chicken Broth
2 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1 tsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp. Freshly Ground Black
|Add the crumbled bacon back into the pan, along with one recipes worth of baked brown rice and a tablespoon of fresh dill. Stir until all the liquid is absorbed.||1 Tbs. Chopped Fresh Dill|
Refrigerate for up to a week. Now during this time whenever you break out your
salad, it will be pleasantly chewy. But it won't be hard, the way, say,
refrigerated Chinese take-out restaurant rice would be. Why is that? Well,
long-grain rice, which is usually what's inside one of these, contains a very,
very high percentage of amylose. [holds up the model] Remember this guy? When
this cools, the amylose and water come together to make a structure that's kind
of like, well, kind of like a crystal, which is why it's hard as a rock. The
process is called "retrogradation", and it's reversed when the rice is reheated.
Now since medium-grain rices have more amylopectin in them, this never happens
in the first place, which is why I use medium, and sometimes short-grain rices
for all refrigerated-bound applications.
Well, I hope that we have persuaded you to move beyond the typical long-grain rice and delve into the short stuff. Whether you are concocting a smooth, silky risotto, or a nice, nutty salad, you'll definitely find that short and medium-grain rice will open up an entirely new realm of culinary possibilities. And it's a realm, that we like to call "Good Eats". See you next time.
AB: [to the grains, one still in the rain slicker] You know, it's really too bad you guys don't have arms. You could try this. Oh well.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010