A few months ago a very talented young chef told me that cooking rice is one of the hardest things to do in a restaurant. There’s the quantity involved for serving a lot of guests, and the lack of the right pot and even heat. He baked rice in a shallow “hotel” pan and used jasmine with a 1:2 ratio of rice to water because he liked it softer for the French dishes he prepared. His rice was nice but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I didn’t like his rice as much as I enjoyed every other component of the meal. The thing is, rice lovers are particular.
A Hmong farmer once told me that he mixed long-grain and short-grain to get a satisfying chewy-firm texture. One of my mom’s friends buys fresh-crop rice and ages it because fresh-crop is too mushy for her. Then there are cuisine specific preferences too: long-grain vs. medium vs. short vs. super long basmati. Regular rice or sticky rice? White, brown, or partially milled beige rice. Rice culture is complex and elastic.
Rice was the first thing I thought that I mastered. My mom taught me to prepare rice the way my dad liked it – firm with a certain toothsome texture. If I made it too dry or too wet, I apologized to the family at the dinner table. There was always another batch of rice to be made.
I learned to make rice in a cheap National brand rice cooker, using my finger to measure the water. Each day I made the same amount – measured with a brown melamine coffee cup, so it was no sweat. I gauged the water level with the same finger each time and we only had one rice cooker. I learned to be consistent. What I didn’t learn that there was a difference between rice cooked in a pot and a rice cooker.