In many parts of the world, particularly Asia, rice plays a central role in most meals. In fact, there are more than 7,000 varieties of rice grown around the world.
Rice has the ability to carry the flavor of a sauce, tame the fire of spicy food, and lend satisfying substance to lighter dishes.
Most rice is classified as either brown or white; the color is determined by the way the grain is processed. White rice is stripped of its outer husk, as well as its bran and germ. Brown rice has its bran and germ left intact, has more vitamins and fiber, a stronger flavor, and a chewier texture. It also takes longer to cook, and is more perishable, so it is best bought in smaller quantities and kept refrigerated. All rice is classified by grain size; the shorter the grain the more starchy it will be.
Rice is most commonly cooked on the stove top or in the oven by the absorption method, in which liquid is completely absorbed by the grain. This method is easy, as long as you leave the lid on while cooking to trap as much steam as possible and avoid overcooking. Be sure to let the rice sit after cooking to absorb the water completely, and fluff the rice with a fork just before serving. Although many recipes call for a ratio of 2 cups water to 1 cup rice, using less water produces lighter, fluffier results.
Pilaf, the second method of cooking rice, is similar to the absorption method, but the grains are toasted in oil or butter before the cooking liquid (usually stock) is added. Many grains can be cooked into a pilaf, but rice is the most common. Toasting the grains keeps them from sticking to one another and helps maintain their shape once cooked. Pilafs often include other ingredients, such as onion, small pastas, or dried fruits. After the initial toasting, pilafs can be finished on the stovetop or in the oven.
Rice can also be prepared as delicious risotto. Rice prepared by this method is cooked slowly and stirred frequently while a flavorful stock is added gradually until the dish is rich and velvety. Medium-grain rice varieties such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano, are used for making risotto. Cheese and seasonings are common additions, but you will also find vegetables or seafood; these are usually cooked separately before being stirred into the dish. Although the consistency will be different (but just as delicious), risottos can be prepared from other grains, such as barley or farro.
Try making rice with these three simple recipes: The Perfect Rice, Rice Pilaf, and Risotto. For more information, download the rice-cooking chart. Learn more Cooking School lessons to practice at home, and test your Cooking School knowledge in our quiz.