When I was a kid, our church had a potluck lunch every Fifth Sunday (i.e., if a month had five Sundays, we at lunch together on the fifth one). Every family would bring a couple of dishes, and since there were a lot of good cooks in our church, we always had quite a spread. My favorite dish from those lunches was brown rice: white rice, onions and mushrooms cooked in beef consommé. Mmm. When I was home from my grandmother’s funeral last fall, I hid out in the kitchen with some of the ladies from church and ate brown rice out of the casserole dish with them as we cleaned up.
It wasn’t until high school or college that I realized that there was actually a type of rice called brown rice. The first time I tried it I really did not like it – so dry and bland compared to what I had grown up thinking brown rice was. However, once John was on a gluten free diet I became worried about whether he was getting enough fiber and I started cooking brown rice instead of white. Over time our palettes adjusted and now we love the stuff! Especially with tamari. *
We’ve been making brown rice so frequently that we bought a rice cooker off of Ebay. While it does make a big pot of rice, we have to watch it closely and the results are not consistent. So tonight I did some research to see if I could find a way to make a really good pot of rice on the stove-top.
It turns out that there are four major variables in brown rice recipes.
1. The recipes that I selected for tonights experiments are all very different. Steve Pavlina’s recipe for brown rice uses a 1.5:1 water to rice ratio, a very short cooking time, and no precooking preparation.
2. Just Hungry has a instructional post on how to cook Japanese rice in a cast-iron pot. This recipe called for a 1.5:1 up to 1.8: 1 water to rice ratio; a cooking time of at least an hour; and, a precooking soak of at least one hour. Needless to say, since we were incredibly hungry I altered this recipe a bit which may be why the results were less than spectacular. I used the 1.5:1 ration, but skipped the pre-soak. I also toasted the rice in oil and then added boiling water before cooking for a rather brief 40 minutes. Now that I’m writing it out, I really didn’t follow her recipe that well all all =)
3. The third recipe is my usual method of cooking brown rice. I really thought that it had no chance of winning, but included it as a control.
I was skeptical about Steve’s recipe. Although he’s been cooking brown rice this way for 10 years, I thought that the 1.5:1 ratio would be too low and that the 20 minute cooking time would be too short. He does state in his post that he likes his brown rice on the chewy side and that’s exactly how it turned out. The rice grains were almost al dente, but not undercooked. The grains tended to stay separated rather than sticking together which could be good or bad depending on how you want to use the rice. A bit of water was still in the pot when I took it off of the heat, but most of that had been absorbed by the time I removed the cover.
Grade: A- This is a solid recipe, and great if you need brown rice quickly. Total “to the table time” was 30 minutes. I like my rice a bit more chewy, so this would not be my first choice if time was not a factor.
The rice that I cooked in my cast-iron casserole was definitely the one that we were the most anxious to see. When I added the boiling water to the toasted rice the water made a loud hissing noise, steamed up the entire kitchen, and boiled as hard as I have ever seen water boil. So hard that I was afraid it was going to lift the cast-iron top off of the pot! I think that a lot of the water evaporated at that point, and I really expected to have a pot of burnt rice. Fifty minutes later John removed the top and we both said “Burnt!” at the same time. After I fluffed the rice we realized that it wasn’t really burnt; it was just a lot darker than the other rice because I had toasted it first. The rice was well cooked, but on the dry side. The grains were completely separated and reminded me of the rice at our local Mexican place. Toasting the rice grains gave this batch a distinctly nutty taste, which I enjoyed.
Grade: C- mainly due to my experimentation. However, I liked it enough that I’m sure I will be experimenting with this cooking method in the future.
I was very surprised that I liked my recipe this best. I really didn’t expect too, and am slightly embarrassed that it turned out this way. The main difference in my recipe is that I place couple of layers of paper towel over the pot before I cover it. The paper towels help to absorb some of the moisture so that the finished product is not watery. My rice was more chewy than Steve’s due to the longer cooking time, and it was more sticky, which I think was due to the extra water.
Grade: A This rice takes longer to cook – probably 45 minutes from start to finish, but I really like the chewiness and slight stickiness. My recipe is below if you’d like to give it a try.
Yield: 7 – 8 cups