Rice can be a tricky ingredient to prepare, and it usually takes a few tries to achieve that ideal fluffy, tender consistency. Different varieties require specific cooking methods, and the type of rice you decide to use—whether long, medium or short grain—will determine your overall recipe. Attempt a short-grain risotto dish using long grain instead, and you'll most likely be left with a dry, overly toothy mess. Knowing these rules matter ensures better results.
The distinction between long-grain, medium-grain and short-grain rice is based on each type's length-to-width ratio when cooked. As its name implies, long grain is long and thin, medium grain is roughly two to three times as long as it is wide, and short grain is shorter and wider than the other two. If you're not familiar with which variety to use for certain recipes, here are tips to help get you started.
What is long-grain rice, and what can you make with it?
Fluffy yet firm when cooked, this slender variety is probably the easiest to make, as it doesn't clump together like short-grain rice. Common types include basmati, jasmine and both American varieties of white and brown. Long-grain rice makes the perfect side for chicken and fish, or it can be transformed into a delicious rice pilaf. The best way to cook it is to bring the rice and water (generally one cup of rice to one and a half or two cups of water) to a boil, then cover the pot and turn the heat down to a simmer until it's fully cooked.
What is medium-grain rice, and what can you make with it?
This less common variety is a bit more supple than long grain and slightly stickier like short grain. Medium-grain rice can either be prepared using a method similar to long grain or substituted for short grain in recipes like risotto and paella (though it's important to note that these recipes might be affected by the swap).
What is short-grain rice, and what can you make with it?
This velvety, plump variety is exactly what you want when making a risotto or rice pudding, because its higher starch content lends it a creamier texture. Two great options are Arborio or carnaroli. Bomba, a Spanish short grain, is perfect for paella, because it can absorb three times its volume in liquid without turning mushy. Another commonly used type is sticky rice, grown in Southeast Asia. This is often seen in sushi, both inside and outside the roll. Cooking sticky rice is a little more involved, because you have to soak the rice for many hours before steaming it. Soaking it allows the rice to be more flavorful and fluffier. But if you're lucky enough to have a good rice cooker, it's smooth sailing.
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