Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Basics: How to Cook Brown Rice

This is the most basic recipe I can imagine: rice and water. So why is it so hard to find a simple, foolproof recipe for the most basic things? Even Bittman, my go-to guy, is cagey about it. Either, he can't make it simple enough—is butter necessary?—or he won't commit to how much water it takes. And that's in his big yellow book. Complicated, show off recipes abound on the internet. Finding someone who will show you how to chop collard greens and steam them, that is an internet gem. Here, I will tell you how to make brown rice.

The coveted rice pot is the saucepan on the back right burner, behind the pasta pot (which I use to steam vegetables), and catty-corner from my favorite iron skillet. Take a bow, beauties: these are the hardest working cookware in my kitchen.

Brown rice is the staple without equal in the hippie universe. It is the basis of a macrobiotic diet, and was adopted with fervor by vegetarian and omnivore hippies alike in the seventies. Think Laurel's Kitchen, and the Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks. Hippie cuisine has matured over time, and can get as fancy as you like: one of my favorite restaurants is the vegan macrobiotic Zen Palate in NYC. But it's a favorite because I don't cook that highbrow at home. Many of our meals start with about a cup of brown rice.

I have been making my rice like this for several years. I nearly always use the same pot, because it is the right size—a one-quart saucepan—and because it has a matching, properly fitting lid. Many of my pots have suffered concussive injuries, rendering them incapable of holding a lid in a tight fit. In other cases, pots are the right size, but have a vented lid, either the kind that looks like it's sneering, or the kind that are holes in the top that cannot be closed; in the case of the latter, this is also sometimes the result of taking a beating. The kitchen is the most dangerous room in the home, for cookware. I guard this saucepan for its rice making prowess, and if it were to die, I'd have to replace it. I have my oatmeal pot, but it has a sneering lid, so it takes longer to cook rice in.

When you are selecting your own perfect rice pot, choose one that is relatively light. This is not the job for your Dutch oven. About one to two quart capacity, max, with a good, unvented lid.

Some people slavishly rinse their grains before cooking them. When it comes to washing dried beans and lentils and dried grains and similar items, I'm concerned with anything that will affect flavor or texture, and wash accordingly. If it looks clean, not dirty or dusty, that's good enough for me. Other dry bulk goods need a good scrubbing: for example bulghur, which retains odors, and navy beans (usually dirty) and quinoa, which needs to be especially harshly dealt with before cooking, or the naturally occurring saponins will make it taste like soap. I rinse rice in a sieve before I start, but it won't affect the cooking instructions if you do.

Plain Brown Rice

About 6 servings

2 cups organic brown basmati rice
3 ¼ cups water

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rice, lower the heat, and put the lid back on. Cook undisturbed on very low heat for 40 minutes. Turn off the heat, and leave the lid on. Wait 5 minutes, minimum, to fluff with a fork and serve. Yields 7 cups.
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