Cooking Rice & Grains
Rice is the second most popular grain after corn and is eaten as a staple food in ethnic cuisines around the world. It is combined with a wide range of ingredients to create soups, salads, entrees, side dishes and desserts. Interchanging and combining different rice varieties together adds color, texture and flavor alternatives to basic rice techniques. Many of the classic rice cooking methods can be adapted for other grains or pastas including barley, and quinoa, and orzo. Rice and other grains are low cost items that, when creatively combined with premium ingredients, provide profitable menu options.
Cooked in the same method as pasta, the boiling method is suitable for any type of grain. Use a ratio of one gallon/ four liters water to one pound/450 grams of grains.
- Salt the water, bring to a full boil, and drop in the grains.
- Stir occasionally.
- Cook until the grains are al dente.
- Strain and rinse if desired.
- Use for salads, or as a prep stage for finishing later.
Steamed & Simmered
Steaming and simmering are two names for essentially the same process. A specific ratio of liquid from two to five parts is combined with one part of the grains, covered and gently brought to a simmer.
The grains may be rinsed or soaked and are sometimes blanched in several changes of water to remove bitterness or impurities.
Porridge, Polenta & Grits
Porridge is prepared by boiling oats, rice, wheat, barley, or corn creates a thick meal served as a hot cereal or a side dish. Grains are rolled, steel-cut into groats, or ground, and simmered in liquid until the grains swell and thicken the mixture. Oatmeal, grits, and polenta are the most popular of these dishes.
- The liquid, water, stock, or milk, is usually brought to a simmer and the grains are added.
- For sweet preparations like oatmeal sugar, honey, or maple syrup may be added along with dried fruits or nuts.
- For savory preparations including grits and polenta onions, garlic or other aromatics may be added along with cheese, bacon, or eggs.
Pilaf, or pilau, is braised rice, or other grains, that begin by sweating aromatic vegetables, including onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, in fat. The rice is added to the fat and parched, or toasted, to develop color and flavor. The liquid and seasonings are added, and the dish is covered and cooked, either on the stovetop or in an oven. Long grain par-cooked white rice (Basmati and Carola) holds their shape the best in a pilaf.
Pilaf can be garnished with a variety of meats, cheeses, herbs, and spices. Fold in lemon zest, dried fruits, or toasted nuts, after the rice has cooked. Add fresh herbs at service time. Use this method for other grains, and create variations with additional vegetables, proteins, and liquids, including stocks and broths.
- Pilaf variations of pilaf can be made with a variety of grains (see grain charts for cooking ratios)
- Try a medley of three types of grains such as white rice, wild rice, and quinoa
- Vary the aromatics, for example substitute green onions or leeks for the onions, and add mushrooms and tomatoes
- Use a matignon (instead of a mirepoix) of onions, celery, and carrots with ham or bacon; a Cuban sofrito of onions, garlic, and peppers; a Cajun trinity of green onions, celery, and green peppers; or an Italian battuto of pancetta, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and red chili flakes
- Add bacon, salt pork, chicken, lamb or seafood
- Add cooked legumes such as red lentils, or black beans as a garnish
Herbs and Spices
- Add spice blends to create different ethnic flavors, for example curry powder or garam masala for an Indian pilaf, or achiote powder
- Garnish with a variety of fresh herbs, or herb pastes such as a basil or kale pesto
- Use different stocks, for example chicken or vegetable
- Add tomato juice or puree
- Use coconut milk in a Jasmine rice pilaf
A method of cooking short grain rice in Italy, risotto begins by sweating aromatics in fat, adding the rice, and then slowly adding the liquid one ladle at a time. The dish is finished with butter and cheese, which gives it a creamy and savory finish. Aborio, Vialonne Nano, and Carneroli are the best varieties for a risotto. Substitute other grains for the rice, including barley, brown rice, or orzo (some grains including barley and farro need par cooking). Start with aromatic vegetables of garlic and onions, and add mushrooms, celery, or carrots for variety. Deglaze the rice with white wine, before adding chicken or vegetable stock. Spices, including saffron, should be dissolved in the stock before adding. Garnish with sautéed mushrooms, diced tomatoes, or seafood such as shrimp, scallops, or mussels. Fresh herbs add a finishing touch.
The key to a good risotto is to gradually add the stock or other liquids, and gently stir, or “rearrange” the rice until the liquid evaporates. Avoid stirring too much, because even though short grain rice is hearty, it will still breakdown if over-mixed. Continue to add liquid one ladle at a time, until the desired consistency of the rice is attained. The rice should be cooked through, but still have a distinct firmness or “bite” to it.
- For foodservice preparation of risotto, par cook the rice to prior to service until slightly underdone.
- Cool the rice on a sheet pan.
- Finish to order with additional stock, cheese, butter, and garnishes.
- Prepare risotto variations with grains including farro, Thai black rice, or orzo (see grain charts for cooking ratios)
- Try a medley of three types of grains such as aborio, farro, and quinoa; but cook separately because the grains will cook differently
- Add aromatics for variety, for example substitute shallots or leeks for the onions, and add mushrooms
- Use an Italian soffritto of onions, celery, and carrots, or battuto of pancetta, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and red chili flakes
- Try adding small-diced beets for a striking red color, diced root vegetables like celery root, or diced squash varieties like butternut or delicata
- Add savory ingredients like bacon, salt pork, chicken, lamb, or seafood
- Add cooked legumes such as red lentils, or black beans as a garnish
- Herbs and Spices
- Add spice blends to create different flavor profiles, for example saffron, Cajun spices, or curry powder
- Garnish with a variety of fresh herbs, like sage, or chives; or a basil pesto
- Use different stocks, for example chicken, or vegetable
- Try a red wine for a more robust flavor and color
Other Braised Rice Dishes
A Spanish dish that originated in Valencia made with short grain rice, saffron, chorizo, seafood and chicken or rabbit. Paella is prepared in a special large flat pan called a paellerra. The two most popular short grain rice varieties used in paella include Calasparra and Bomba.
Meats are sautéed in the paella pan, and onions, garlic and peppers are added along with tomatoes and paprika. The broth is combined with saffron and added to the pan along with the rice. Recipe variations include shrimp, lobsters, and other seafood.
A rice dish influenced by Spanish paella and French influences, Jambalaya is a classic Louisiana one-pot dish. There are two basic styles Creole or red jambalaya, with origins in the city food of New Orleans, included tomatoes, along with the trinity of vegetables onions, peppers and celery. Creole jambalaya would often contain seafood including shrimp or crawfish. Cajun or brown jambalaya, found in the country, is prepared using chicken or pork with sausage and onions. Alligator, duck, turtle and venison are found in some
- Browning of the meats and sausage in fat is an important first step. The meats should acquire a deep color and bits of the meat should stick to the bottom of the pot.
- The mirepoix trinity of vegetables and garlic are added and caramelized with the meats.
- Tomatoes may be added at this point if desired. Seasoning of salt, pepper, thyme, and cayenne is added.
- The liquid is combined with the meats and mirepoix, brought to a simmer and the rice is added.
- The pot is covered and is allowed to simmer, with an occasional stir until the rice is tender.
Fried rice is an Asian preparation of rice that is stir-fried with other ingredients including eggs, meat (chicken, beef, or cured pork), seafood (shrimp or lobster), vegetables (carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts, celery, peas, and corn), mushrooms, spices and peppers. The dish makes use of leftovers of cold rice, and is seasoned with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. The key to good fried rice is using cold day-old rice. Long grain varieties are the best choice including Jasmine
A Korean rice mixed dish served with sautéed vegetables, chili pepper paste, soy sauce, and garnished with a fried egg and sliced meats. It is stirred together just before eating. Vegetables include bean sprouts, cucumber, mushrooms, spinach, and zucchini. Chicken, fish, or tofu can be substituted for other meats.
An Indian rice dish with lamb, goat, or chicken, seasoned with nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, coriander, mint, ginger, onions, and garlic. It is served with chutney and raita.
A Japanese breakfast dish, long grain rice is prepared as a porridge and garnished with meats, fish, vegetables, and herbs. Sweet versions incorporate sugar, dried fruits, and nuts.