Saturday, October 15, 2011

Steaming Details: Rice and Water

Cooked rice, 60% moisture, is 60% water, by weight. Dry rice, 10% moisture, is 10% water by weight. So 50% moisture is added, during soaking and cooking, or +50% water by weight. A cup of rice (200 grams, 7 oz) and a cup of water (236 grams, 8 oz) weigh roughly the same. So the amount of water added needed to soak and cook rice is roughly 1:1. Nearly every recipe uses a total of 2:1 ratio, because half of that water is lost as steam during boiling and steaming.

Tip: With the perfect amount of water, the rice becomes firm just as the pot becomes dry. It’s difficult to measure the perfect amount of water, because water is lost to steam. Uncovered pots loose more water than covered pots. Wider pots loose more water than a narrow pots. Rapid boil looses more water than simmer. Longer cooking brown and wild rice looses more water than fast cooking white rice. A good rice cooker controls these different variables. Until the perfect amount is discovered, just use extra water, and drain.

Tip: With source heat removed, the pot and rice retain heat, and the rice continues to cook. As pot and rice gradually cool from simmer temperature (85 C) to hot temperature (50 C), the rice continues to cook. Remember that starches begin to gel from 55 C to 85 C, so they also continue to cook from 85 C to 55 C. If your rice has cooled too quickly, use a warm burner or warm oven to add enough heat so the rice finishes cooking. A rice cooker warm setting adds just enough heat so the rice doesn’t cool too quickly and finishes cooking.

Tip: Add a paper tower or thin dish towel between pot and lid to keep steam. The towel will become moist and trap the steam.

Tip: Suspend rice in colander, and simmer small amount of water, covered, to steam cold rice.

Tip: Pilafs cook rice in broth. During cooking, you want to concentrate the flavor, not dilute it, so you don’t want to add water. And after cooking, you don’t want to drain and waste excess broth. So getting the perfect amount of liquid is important for pilafs. When cooking a pilaf, keep a sauce pan of extra broth nearby, and add hot broth, not water. Water lost to steam reduces the broth and concentrates the flavor.

Tip: During the steaming step, recipes may also gently cook finishing ingredients like small fresh vegetables or delicate herbs and spices, such as fresh green peas, coconut or cilantro leaves.

Trouble: Once water is gone, the dry pot, without any cooling water, suddenly begins to heat above 100 C. This is when rice begins to burn and stick to the bottom of the pot. If this happens, add enough splashes of water to cover the bottom and begin simmering again. Use a wooden spoon to move some rice and check the water at the bottom of the pot. Don’t scrape or use the burnt rice.

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