What’s the first thing you think of when you ponder Chinese and Japanese cuisine? They all go well with rice. This is because much rice comes from the Far East. Its origins are a little murky, though.
Some say rice originated in Thailand, others say Burma, but it was the Chinese who were the first to cultivate it successfully by a technique known as “flooding.” You’ve seen those iconic photos of rice paddies filled with water. The technique was developed hundreds of years ago to ward off weeds and pests. Maybe we need to consider this for our crops, it might save us from all those pesticides!
Rice became popular in Europe in the 1700s and was introduced in America at about that same time. South Carolina was the first U.S. state to grow it.
There are a lot of strains of rice, but the two most common are the shorter grain, or Japonica, and the longer, like Indica-Basmati and Jasmine. Rice is eaten with almost every meal in Asia. It’s the focal point, with vegetables and proteins adding to the flavor.
Most of the rice eaten is polished, white rice, because of the speed with which it cooks. This works well in Chinese stir-fry, because the technique cooks food rather quickly and the quick-cooking rice will allow everything to be finished at the same time.
Indica rice is basically cooked like this:
1-Rinse it well. Use several changes of water to get rid of surface starch and begin absorption of water.
2-Mix 1 part rice to 1 ½ parts water. Don’t boil the water, get it to a simmer. Stir and put the lid on for about 15 minutes. Don’t peek or stir!
3-Take the lid off, put a dish towel on top, put lid back on to hold it and leave it alone for another 10 minutes. The rice should be fluffy and not sticky, as the towel absorbs the excess steam.
Japonica rice works a little differently:
1-Rinse and drain and keep it in the strainer. Leave it there for about 15 minutes so water can absorb a little more.
2-Using equal parts rice and water, follow steps 2 and 3, above, to finish it off.
In Japan, rice is popular for sushi. There is, however, an art to it and apprentice sushi chefs can spend over a year learning how to make proper sushi rice. It’s seasoned with salt, sugar and rice vinegar and it’s an integral part of sushi. There’s a lot of land in Japan that’s used to grow rice. The rest of the plants are used, as well. The stalks are used to make mats, shoes and hats.