Tuesday, 8 March 2011


It occurs to me I may be gotten things round the wrong way when I didn't start my posts about Thai cooking with a post about kao (rice). The devotion to rice is difficult for most of us of European extraction to understand - in modern day Australia in particular there are really no foods that occupy such a singularly central role.

So important is the role of rice that it works its way into everyday language expression - go to dinner (bai gin kao) is literally go eat rice. Emotions are subject to rice too - I'm so sad I couldn't eat sticky rice. When Thai farmers build a new dwelling they start with the rice house and then build their own dwelling. Rice is life.

While some Europeans rely very heavily for example on bread as part of a meal, there remain whole parts of the cuisine untouched by it. And while a slice or two may be considered an essential addition to the dinner table it does not occupy the lion's share of things when all is said and done.

Given that rice forms the largest part of most meals, it is important to cook it right. In most parts of Thailand Jasmine is the rice of choice - it is long grain and early harvested but unlike it's very popular cousin, Basmati, Jasmine is not aged before sale. Rice is sold in markets in Thailand graded by freshness and quality, with 'spring' rice being most highly valued.

Minimising the contact with water is the key to good rice - boiling it in loads of water is guaranteed to make a Thai recoil in horror. Apparently the very best Jasmine rice is steamed - though I only ever steam sticky rice (more on that below) and cook my Jasmine by the absorption method. This is how I was taught and this method has never failed me.

Steamed Jasmine Rice

1 cup of rice
1.5 cups of water

This is what I would use for 2 adults. This is generous by aussie standards, though the smaller the quantity of rice you make, the more wastage per person you get from the bits that stick to the bottom of the pan so I would say 2 cups would feed 5 adults.

Rice cooks best with an even heat and a well sealed lid so the heavier the post base and the tighter the lid, the better the result. I use a stainless steel saucepan, but an enamel cast iron pot is even better.

Put the rice and the water in the pot, put on the lid and put it on as high a heat as you can. As soon as the water starts to boil, turn the heat as low as you can*. Do not open the lid, do not stir, do not mess about with it. It should take about 10 minutes on the low heat, though the age of the rice will affect the timing.

After this time, take it off the heat, stir with a fork to fluff it up (NOT scraping any stuck bits off the bottom - leave them there because they are hard and not nice to eat) and test for doneness. If it's good replace the lid until time to serve. If a little underdone replace the lid and wait, the warmth of the rice and pot will keep the cooking going. If it is very underdone and very dry, add a little more boiling water, replace the lid and replace on low heat for a few more minutes.

* [You can also take it off the heat completely after boiling and let it sit for up to half an hour or so while you prepare the rest of the meal. When you are almost ready to eat, stir the rice well, add a dash more water if required and then put it onto a low heat to finish the cooking - usually only for a few minutes once up to heat]

Steamed Sticky Rice

Sticky rice is just about my most favourite form of rice. It's chewy and flavoursome and best of all, you eat it with your hands! It is the rice of the Isaan region of Thailand and Lao - it's the rice the poorer people eat. It is a different variety and is sometimes sold labelled as glutinous (rather than sticky) but isn't the same as the glutinous rice I have seen used elsewhere, which is short grain. Here is the packet of the brand I often get.

Because sticky rice is steamed, the ratio of water to rice isn't important and I never measure! I guess you would still use about a cup for 2 adults, or maybe less since it doesn't stick to the pot.

Soak the rice for at least a few hours (I usually do it overnight or for the day). Cook over steam for about 10 minutes - or less. Cooking time depends on soaking time, age of rice etc, but it can be quite quick. It shouldn't be at all crunchy, but it will still have texture.

I use this traditional sticky rice steamer which came home from Thailand with us. You can use any steamer, lined with cheesecloth or muslin.


Tanya said...

Oh I love the look of that sticky rice steamer. Hey, by the way, you may know this already, but all rice is gluten free, with the jasmine, I think you are referring to it not being 'glutinous' (however you spell that)which, from your description and my experience I think of as kind of sticky or starchy...not being a smart alec, just clarifying!
I also love the 'I'm so sad I couldn't eat sticky rice'!

Kate said...

I cook my jasmine rice in the microwave. Yes, I know. But it is the only way I have ever managed to get my rice to be acceptably not-gluggy. I do the same ratio - 1 cup to 1.5 of water. 10 minutes in my microwave, on high. I always do one cup because I haven't quite nailed the times for any other amount!

jules said...

YUM. I love rice! Always have, but I developed even more respect for it after travelling in Japan. Apparently, there, it is considered sinful to leave even a grain of rice uneaten in your bowl at the end of a meal... not that I need an excuse to finish it or anything!

Thanks for the thai series- I am definitely keen to get cooking...


Ren said...

Great post Sooz. I use both the steam and absorption methods for non-glutinous. I don’t measure, since I learnt to cook rice at a young age – dad was a rice farmer after all – but now that I’m a fair dinkum Aussie, I can’t be bothered steaming anymore. The difference in taste and texture is so negligible that the only person I know who can tell the diff is my dad. For sticky rice, I always steam.

Emily said...

I love the 'i'm so sad I couldn't eat sticky rice' too, sometimes the day-to-day sayings tell us so much about other cultures. I've also always cooked rice using absorption, but my mum always told me to turn it off and let it sit when the bubbling water is just no longer visible in the holes that open up in the top: and no stuck-to-the-bottom bits...