Many Traditional Methods

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

The cooking of rice is a matter of introducing moisture throughout the grains and heating them enough to gelate and soften the starch granules. Many Indian cooks boil the rice in excess water until partly done, then drain and steam it so the grains end up intact and separate. Chinese and Japanese cooks boil rice with just enough water to moisten and cook it through in a closed pot, which produces a mass of grains that cling together and are easily eaten with chopsticks. Where rice has always been an everyday staff of life, through much of East Asia, it’s usually prepared simply in water, and judged by the intactness of its grains and their whiteness, gloss, tenderness, and flavor. Where rice was more unusual and even a luxury, in central Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, it’s often enriched with broths, oils, butter, and other ingredients to make such dishes as pilafs, risottos, and paellas. Iranians, perhaps the most sophisticated rice cooks, make polo by partly boiling long-grain rice in excess water, layering it with a variety of cooked meats, vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts, then gently steaming to finish the cooking, and managing the heat so that a brown crust of rice, the prized tahdig, forms at the bottom.