If you’re at all like me, you probably think of brown rice as the rice that you reach past to get to the standard-issue Uncle Ben’s white rice when you’re in the grain aisle of the grocery store. Despite its high nutrient content, brown rice is frequently dismissed as being a less attractive dinnertime accoutrement than its white counterpart for myriad reasons, including its lower shelf-life, grainy texture and often bitter flavor.
On that last point, there was only one person to reach out to — Kate Leahy, a former classmate of mine at Northwestern who is now a certified food expert and an accomplished and respected author of cookbooks (all of which are great). Lucky for you (and me), she spared a few minutes from her legitimately busy schedule to share her advice on the best ways to tame the brown rice that’s staring menacingly at you from your cupboard at this very moment.
What is it about brown rice that makes people fearful of adding it to their meals?
For starters, brown rice, especially when you’re talking about the standard-issue, long-grain American brown rice at the grocery store, just takes longer to cook. It’s also more fibrous. It sometimes cooks unevenly, so some pieces are mushy and some pieces are firm. It just doesn’t have that fluffy, delicious flavor that you have with white rice. And so, it’s not that inspiring.
Are you saying there’s never a good reason to cook with brown rice?
Actually, I cook with brown rice more than I cook with white rice! I’m just careful about the types of brown rice that I buy. There are a couple of things to look at that can make the brown rice experience a lot more fun. Look for brown rice that naturally has a shorter cook time. One of the things that happens is that you’ve finished your work for the day — it’s dinner time; it’s six o’clock — and your brown rice is going to take an hour to cook. So by 6:30 p.m., you think if you crank up the heat and just use more water, somehow your brown rice will be better. What ends up happening is you get the mushy, firm, unevenly cooked rice I mentioned above.
I recommend getting brown jasmine rice. You can get it at Trader Joe’s, but a lot of grocery stores now carry it, and it cooks faster. In 20 to 25 minutes, you can have that brown rice ready to eat. Just follow the instructions on the bag, and it should come out well. It’s a little bit lighter in texture. It’s not quite as luxurious as white rice, but it has a nice nutty quality that you can play with when cooking it.
Interesting! What do you like to pair with brown rice?
If you have more time for cooking, I like short-grain brown rice. It’s great with Korean food. It’s also great if you want to make healthy, homemade sushi, because it’s got that sort of chewy grain. Short-grain brown rice takes longer to cook, but it has this great chewy flavor. Straight up, the best way to change how you think about brown rice is to shop for it a little differently. After that, there are all sorts of little things you can do to make it more interesting.
So let’s say I have this short-grain brown rice, and I have some spare time to get it started while I do other things. What I could do instead of just putting the rice in water in a pot, putting the lid on it, bringing it to a boil and letting it simmer slowly for 45 minutes to an hour is take that same pot, put a tablespoon of coconut or olive oil in it, get that hot and then add the rice kernels. Next, stir it for a minute or two. You’ll start to smell the rice, and it will take on a more toasted quality. Then add some water, or you could use stock if you wanted to. Add a pinch of salt, and you’re good to go! You’ll add a little more depth of flavor to that brown rice, and it will have a nice texture as well.
You have to remember, though, that you’re talking to a guy who was an unsophisticated barbarian in his 20s. How can I fool-proof this process and make the brown rice more palatable and tolerable?
If you don’t want a lot of fuss, and you don’t want to monitor the rice while it’s cooking, get a good rice cooker. Spend a little time looking at reviews online and get something that at least has good reviews. You can just put the brown rice in, and you can cook it a couple of hours before you’re even ready to eat. It will be ready to go, and it will stay hot for you. That’s nice because it’s already taking care of itself. Just follow the instructions exactly as it says on the rice cooker about how much liquid to add rather than the amount it calls for on the package. The rice cooker knows best about what kind of liquid it needs to cook the rice in the pot.
I’d also recommend always saving the leftover rice. Fried rice is a great way to use up whatever’s in the fridge, and it doesn’t take a bunch of crazy knife skills. You don’t need a wok and a high-powered stove. You can just get a standard pan and some oil and add some sliced green onion and garlic. You can probably even buy those in a store already ready for you. Then you can throw in some snap peas and put them in the oil. Add the cold rice to the pan, and break it up with a spatula as you’re cooking. You’ll find that cold brown rice transforms into amazing fried rice because the texture on the outside gets crispy, the inside gets hot, and everyone wins!