The bottom shelf of my pantry is laden with rice — burlap bags of La Bomba from a trip to Valencia, Aquarella in a tin from a trip to Italy, an enormous bag of Persian rice from a trip to the Persian store on 34 Avenue.

Enough already. For somebody who rarely cooks rice I have quite the collection. Is it the seemingly infinite variety of types and colours?

Or is it because rice figures so prominently in the culinary world? According to Wikipedia, 25 per cent of the world’s calories are supplied by rice. Every cuisine has an iconic rice dish. Think Spanish paella, the bayou’s jambalaya, Indonesia’s nasi goreng, Canadian Chinese’s beef and broccoli. (My mother would order spring rolls for a party from the Moon Palace, the Chinese café next door to Loblaws. We would have beef and broccoli for lunch while we waited — bright, almost neon green, crispy broccoli with salty flavourful bits of beef over pristine white rice.)

Yet even within its hundreds of varieties, colours, aromas and origins, rice can be summed up by the size of the grain — short, medium and long, each ideal for a different way of cooking.

Long grain rice, about four times longer than wide, produces a light and fluffy cooked rice. Fragrant jasmine and basmati are long grain rice, as is what Alford and Duguid call in their book The Seduction of Rice; “Chinese grocery store rice, ordinary, everyday, non-aromatic reliable rice, plain long grain rice usually grown in the US. Sometimes it’s slightly transparent not white white like sticky or glutinous rice.”

Short and medium grain rice on the other hand, are sticky due to their concentration of more of one starch amylopectin, over another, amylose, in the grain.

Certain strains of short-grain rice such as the best rice types for paella, La Bomba and Sollana, can absorb tremendous amounts of liquid while cooking. Italian-grown short-grain varieties (the grains look almost round) such as arborio, vialone nano, and carnaroli are best for risotto for the same reason.

Glutinous, or sticky, rice are bred for extra stickability. Unhulled glutinous rice ranges from brown to purple black, such as Bhutanese red rice or Indonesian black rice. And no, there is no gluten in glutinous rice.

Wholegrain brown rice sold in Canada is generally from California. It’s long grain, complete rice with all its parts — bran layer, germ and the endosperm.

How to cook rice

Ceclia Chiang’s method from The Seventh Daughter, my Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Fransisco, Ten Speed Press.

  • 2 c rice
  • 2½ c water

Swish rice around in water until the water runs clear. Place in a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the water, bring to a boil, stirring briefly to make sure the rice isn’t sticking. When it boils, rapidly cover and turn to low. Let cook without lifting lid for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and lift lid to release steam, then replace lid immediately. Let the rice sit, covered, for 10 minutes to allow the starches to firm up. Turn rice over gently using a wet rice spoon or wooden paddle.

Or follow the directions with your rice cooker.