I get asked a lot about how to use rice so dishes turnout as best as they can be.Here are my tips, but first a bit of background. In Pakistan rice is not actually seen as the biggest part of our diet. Instead we have the traditional flat breads such as naans and rotis for most of our main meals. For many families in Pakistan, rice will be eaten for the main meal twice a week on average.
Pakistan’s extreme weather means that the availability of food is seasonal so sometimes rice and other staples are not easily available. This is one reason why there is a tradition of preserving/maturing rice, another is for pure cooking reasons. Matured rice is best for Biryani and Pilau dishes as it absorbs more flavour, makes it fluffier and still able to keep its shape. New, fresher rice is good for plain boiled rice and rice-based deserts because it has a nice aroma and is softer than matured rice. However, because fresh rice is soft it can quickly become mushy and sticky meaning that it is not ideal for dishes like Biryani. Aged rice has less of an aroma than fresh rice but is able to keep its shape. This works well with dishes like Biryani and Pilau that have a lot of spices and other ingredients and have a longer cooking time, which need the rice to be able to keep its shape. I recommend that new cooks use matured rice as it is easier to handle.
I like to buy rice when it is cheap yet still good quality from the market. In Pakistan that depends on the season but in good supermarkets this is usually not an issue. I will usually buy in bulk and then mature it at home using a one of the following methods.
5 kilo Rice
200g Neam Leaves or 3 tbs Neam Powder
5 kilo Rice
5 tbs Salt
3 tbs Turmeric Powder
5 kilo Rice
10-15 Bay Leaves
Rice with bay leaves method
Whichever method you decide to use, all you have to do is mix the ingredients and then store the rice in a plastic storage jar or even in the bag that the rice came in (as long as it’s seal-able). Store in a cool, dry place and for best results leave it for a at least 1 year. It can still be used in the mean time but the longer it is stored, the better the affect of the preservation on the rice. Doing all of this will help stop the rice from going off, deter pests and strengthen the rice. Matured rice is best for Biryani and Pilau dishes as it absorbs more flavour, makes it fluffier and still able to keep its shape. New, fresher rice is good for plain boiled rice and rice based deserts because it has a nice aroma and is softer than preserved rice. However, because fresh rice is soft it can quickly become mushy and sticky meaning that it is not ideal for dishes like Biryani. Aged rice has less of an aroma than fresh rice but is able to keep its shape. This works well with dishes like Biryani and Pilau that have a lot of spices and other ingredients and have a longer cooking time therefore need the rice to be able to keep its shape. I recommend that new cooks use preserved rice as it is easier to handle.
There are lots of ways to make perfect rice. The method used depends on the experience of the cook, their love of cooking and the time they have to spare. New cooks can use this easier method;
1 tbs Oil
1 cup Dry Rice
1 tsp Salt
2 cups Water
Fry the oil, rice and salt on a high heat for 2-3 mins. Then add 2 cups of water and then mix it well only once. Let it simmer until the water is bubbling. At this point the rice is absorbing the water and you have to cover the pot, leaving it on a low heat for 10 mins. After this time is done turn off the heat and leave it for another 10 mins.
Fresher rice can be used to make traditional Punjabi deserts such as the rice pudding dish we call Kheer. Or there’s Firni, a kind of rice fool. These deserts are relatively easy to make because you can allow the rice to go mushy, checking the consistency along the way. Preserved rice or old rice can be used to make sweet dishes as well, Zarda for example. This kind of rice also requires a longer cooking time, typically about 40 mins. In this time it can absorb flavour from spices and other ingredients added to it yet can keep its shape without becoming mushy and sticky. This is why it is ideal for Zarda, Biryani and Pilau.
Some other good tips include:
Adding 10ml of Lemon Juice every 1 cup of Rice, especially when making Biryani or Pilau, in order to help the rice keep its shape and add to the flavour.
Use Sela Rice for Zarda and Biryani, Kirnal Basmati Rice for Biryani and Pilau and New Basmati Rice for plain boiled rice, Kheer or Firni.
I like to check that the rice is perfectly cooked by putting a little between two hands and rubbing it. It should release a lovely rice aroma, be soft and yet keep its shape without breaking.