Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Varied and marvelous as Mrs. Chiang’s mother’s breads and noodle dishes were, rice was still the family’s main source of nourishment; the Chinese word for cooked rice, fan, is also the word for meal. Everybody eats zaofan, “morning rice,” for breakfast, zhongfan, “noon rice,” at lunch, and wanfan, “evening rice,” at dinnertime. For Mrs. Chiang’s family, rice was the meal. Except on the most special of special occasions, New Year’s or weddings, every dish was meant to be eaten as an accompaniment to rice. Nobody ever ate, as Americans do in Chinese restaurants, just meat and vegetables. Nor, on the other hand, did anybody eat plain rice all by itself. There was always something to go on top of it, even if it was only a few pickles or a spicy mixture of tiny hot peppers and soy sauce.

    When only the family ate together, Mrs. Chiang’s mother would prepare rice in an ordinary wok:

    “She cooked it until she heard the crackling sound that told her the cooked rice was beginning to stick to the pan. When there were more people, she parboiled the rice in a wok and then transferred it to a steamer that went over a big pot of water with vegetables in it. While the rice steamed and the vegetables cooked, they absorbed each other’s flavors. Leftover rice was never thrown away; it was fried or reheated with a little water, or turned into xifan, or congee, a souplike cereal made of cooked rice and water. We often ate congee for breakfast with pickles or salted vegetables. We also loved it for snacks, especially late on hot summer nights when nobody could sleep. I always ate it when I was sick, too; congee was food for invalids, small children, and old people.”

    Rice comes in many shapes and sizes, but the two main types are short- and long-grained. Short-grained rice becomes moist and sticky when cooked; long-grained rice is drier and the individual grains do not stick together as much. There are also differences in taste, so subtle that even experienced gourmets find them hard to describe. Mrs. Chiang remembers the sweet taste of freshly harvested rice. Glutinous rice is a special variety reserved for sweets and pastries; its round, opaque white grains become very sticky when cooked, and it is never served as boiled rice.

    Choosing long- or short-grained rice is a matter of taste; both go well with Chinese food. We prefer short-grained rice; we grew accustomed to it on Taiwan. We like its flavor and the way its soft, gluey texture absorbs the complicated sauces of Szechwanese food. Supermarkets often carry both, and Chinese markets always do. If you eat a lot of rice you may want to buy it in 10- or 25-pound sacks in Chinatown, which should also save some money.

    Cooking rice used to frighten me. There seemed to be so many ways to do it and so many ways to go wrong. You could use too much water or too little, the rice could turn out too hard or too mushy, it could be undercooked or scorched or both at the same time. However you did it, it was a procedure fraught with danger. Cooking rice Mrs. Chiang’s way solves every problem; it’s too simple to fail. An even easier way is to use an electric rice cooker.



    1 cup raw rice

    2 cups water

    Measure the rice out into a saucepan and rinse it under cold running water twice. By the second time the rinse water should be fairly clear. Drain the rice thoroughly, then add the 2 cups water to the rice.


    Cover the saucepan and bring it to a boil over a high flame, then turn the flame down and let the rice simmer for about 20 or 25 minutes. Don’t stir the rice while it is cooking.

    After you have turned off the flame, let the rice sit, covered, for about 10 minutes before you serve it. Any excess water will be absorbed.