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Nov 22, 2004 01:06 PM

Boiled rice - now what is the deal!

  • m

Ok, so last night I made "Shrimp and Chicken File' Gumbo" from Anne Willan's "Perfect Soups" books. (Yes, I know that's a pretty circuitous route -- make a Louisianian recipe from a cookbook writer from England who lives in France! but I digress). The Gumbo recipe was about a 6.5 on a scale of 10. Not blow your socks off -- not bad. It's a lot of work, however, no shortcuts, and teaches a good lesson about building a soup/stew on top of a roux in the proper manner. That's what I use Anne Willan for about 1/2 the time (I am a huge fan of all her baking recipes) -- to learn good technique.

Whenever possible, when I use a recipe that is new to me, I try to do everything *exactly* as the recipe indicates, right down to the accompaniments, presentation, and garnishes, so I get the full effect of what the recipe writer was intending. Even if that means doing something different than I usually do. The accompaniments for this were sliced scallions, and "boiled white rice formed into a timbale". Well forming the rice into a timbale is a nice presentation trick (lightly butter a small custard cup, and pack the rice in it, invert onto the soup plate, ladle soup around the rice), but what threw me was the method described for boiling the long-grain rice the recipe called for.

I used Mahatma Extra-Long grain rice. The recipe indicated I bring an (unspecified) amount of (unspecified salinity) salted water to a boil. This is remarkably imprecise for Anne Willan -- who took no less than 6 sentences and three photographs to tell me how to peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes. It says to boil 1 1/2 cups of long grain raw rice for 10-12 minutes, just until tender, then drain and make into timbales, plate, and serve with the soup.

Well well well -- WHY does the package of rice make you do all the measuring of water to be reabsorbed, and increase the cooking time to 20 minutes? This boiled rice was fantastic -- my husband noticed it right away. It was non-starchy, clean tasting, separate, and had a good rice flavor. It was not washed out as I expected it to be. Rice cooked by the package directions was, by comparison, chalky and definitely starchy.

Is the reabosption method to retain vitamins? I don't worry much about the vitamins in rice, as I was serving this with a soup which is very heavy on the vegetables. I think my family and I can get by on vitamins in other foods without having to rely on any vitamins lost in the cooking water of rice.

Does anyone else boil their rice, then drain in a fine strainer, and serve? I really feel like I've been missing out on something. Is this an American regional thing -- or just a weired Anglo-French abberation that Anne slipped into her (excellent) "Perfect" series?

Tell me, Home Cooking board -- what's up with this fine fine method of cooking white rice?

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  1. I live in New Orleans, and have heard this method of cooking rice from many natives, so it must be a regional thing, as I never heard of it in my upbringing in the midwest. I have not tried it, though I will now. And it _is_ very common to get the timbale (didn't know that was what it was called) in the middle of the bowl with the gumbo around it. Though you rarely see chicken and shrimp in the same gumbo, usually all seafood, or poultry/sausage. But beside the point.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Jess

      Thank you, Jess. I'm very glad to hear it's a regional Louisiana method. Those Louisianans know their rice, and from now on I'm going to use this method, because it is so delicious. It is better than "rinsed" rice cooked by the reabsorption method. Much much much better. I always used to laboriously rinse my rice before putting it in the rice cooker or in the saucepan for the reabsorption method. I still will for the kinds of rice (sticky, short grain) that I cook in the rice cooker, but for long grain I'm skipping that step and definitely using the boiling method. It's fantastic.

      I agree about gumbo being all seafood or sausage and chicken. This recipe was actually a variation of the main recipe, which was chicken and smoked ham (or you could substitute sausage) which I know is more authentic. I just felt like giving the variation a whirl, because it's file' thickened, and not with okra (I'm not really an okra fan unless it's deep fried, I have to admit!). I won't be making it a lot, as I said it wasn't a blow your socks of recipe, but I will be using the method I learned for rice. I'll find some other good gumbo recipe to use with this yummy rice.

      Say,,,,, living in Louisiana.... you, Jess, by chance, don't have a good gumbo recipe to share? :)

      1. re: Mrs. Smith

        In one of my first cooking classes, that's how our teacher told us to always cook rice...he had trained in Chinatown for many years and swore that was how they all did it!

        1. re: Mrs. Smith

          Yeep. I am not a gumbo expert, only having lived here 6 years. I've made it a few times from the recipe in the Commander's Palace cookbook (roux based, w/ file) and really liked it, though my husband wasn't so impressed because it's not like his mom's (okra based, seafood-- don't have the recipe). Linked below is a local food forum (from Tom Fitzmorris) with plenty of locals who I'm sure would be glad to share. You may set off a file vs. okra firestorm, though.


          1. re: Mrs. Smith
            Marcia M. D'A.

            Boiling rice in lots of salted water is also traditional to the Low Country areas of South Carolina and Georgia. I grew up in Savannah, and rice was boiled, drained in a colander, rinsed and then steamed so that every grain was separate.

            I seldom use the method, nowadays, but I use many different kinds of rice. It does make nice rice,though, even if all the vitamins go down the drain.

        2. While I don't have my copies in front of me, I believe Julia Child employs the boiled rice method in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as does Marcella Hazan in her non-risotto recipes in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (in particular, in a recipe for white rice with mozzarella, butter and basil (which, as an aside, is out-of-this-world good)). So, to me it looks like a European/Asian kind of thing, as most Asian cuisines appear steam their rice. How this translates into American cooking and rice packaging in particular, I have no idea!

          2 Replies
          1. re: DanaB

            Don't forget Jamie Oliver. I made his curry and lemon rice last night and the technique is much the same: throw (Yes, he said "throw") 1 lb Basmati rice into boiling water for 10 minutes and drain. No specification to how much water or whether to rinse the rice before (I thought it might have helped. Either that or a whole lot more water.) and I think it needed at least 12 minutes, not 10.

            Good rice though. To the rice, you add mustard seeds and strips of lemon rind heated in oil with and lemon juice (He also sauteed curry leaves and ur dhal(?) which I didn't have).

            1. re: SandraV

              maybe he meant urad dal? a little, oval, white legume that you can usually find at indian groceries. it's used mostly as a nutty flavoring, as here. i think it is split and hulled mung beans.

          2. If I'm feeling lazy, I'll often treat risotto rice just like pasta. One of my favorite quick meals involves breaking an egg and a few handfuls of grated parm cheese into a large bowl. Boil up some arborio rice exactly as if it were pasta. When it's done (takes about the same time as pasta), drain the rice in a fine colander and toss it (while it's still hot) with the egg and cheese mixture. This is the basic recipe. More often than not, I'lll some chopped asparagus or broccoli into the rice pot for the last few minutes of cooking, and season the egg/cheese mixture with some lemon zest or chopped herbs or bacon, or whatever. It's a flexible and tasty catch-all sort of dish.

            I actually make this dish much more often than risotto, which I usually find too heavy and caloric and labor intensive.


            1. I don't think it's a regional thing, IIRC, my German (Dr Oetker) rice mold calls for putting the raw rice in the (perforated) mold and putting the whole thing in a pot of boiling water.

              1. This is not uncommon in Middle Eastern recipes as the first step in a rice dish. Sometimes the rice (long grain of course) is boiled for only 8 minutes or so and then finished by steaming in a tightly covered colander over boiling water. It yields a very nice fluffy rice and is a good way to hold it ready while you finish other things. It is also a first step in making chelou and chelou ta dig (with a crusty bottom). These are more complicated but basically you finish the steaming in the pot that you cooked in, not the colander, and with butter and sometimes saffron. Another trick here is to wrap the lid in a dish towel or even paper towels to absorb the rising steam. You can also do this when cooking by the total absorption method.