I used to think Jasmine as being too sticky when I first tried it. But as time went by, I have grown accustomed to it, and today, I would say that of all the rice we eat, my first choice would be Jasmine rice. Fried rice is best made using Jasmine because the starch content allows it to absorb the sauces we toss in the frying process. That’s how you get the sauce to coat each grain of rice. Basmati has less starch, and thus doesn’t really go well with most of our saucy Malaysian dishes. With Jasmine, the starch would make the grains moist enough, so that it would absorb the sauce. Basmati is usually too dry for our dishes. However, I’ve learned to cook Basmati from my international friends, and when I cook it now, I alternate between these various ways, depending on my energy and willingness to hover over the stove longer than usual.
The Somali TechniqueMy Somali friend taught me to cook it in a way that really fluffs up the individual grains to its full potential, without them sticking to each other. I notice that the way Malaysians cook Malaysian Briyani (I don’t feel right calling it Briyani, as the way it’s cooked is very different from how the South Asians make it) produces not-so-separated rice grains. The Somali way of cooking the Basmati is to saute the onions and spices in a generous amount of oil. They then add the unwashed rice in the saute-ing process and continue sauteing until each individual grain is coated with oil. Actually, my friend taught me to do this until all the oil is absorbed by the rice grains. This means that the pan would be very hot by then. When all the oil is gone, you add the hot water. But, when you do this, be prepared to stand a few feet away, as the heat of the pan will cause the water to evaporate almost instantly and send a spraying spatter of water vapor. Then the pan is brought to a full boil, and then turned down to a low simmer till rice is completely cooked. I used this technique recently for the Malaysian Nasi Tomato. However, I had tried the Desi technique first, but the kids loved it this way. I had cooked Nasi Tomato a different way before, but I find that cooking it this way is easier and less of a hassle. I was too lazy to blend, so I had the tomato pieces saute-ed with the onion and spices till fragrant, added the rice and saute-ed it further, and then added the hot water. I personally prefer the Desi Technique.
The Desi Technique
In this technique, the rice is boiled in water until about 3/4 cooked. I had first learned this from a Shan Briyani box and it took me a while to figure out how to tell if the rice is 3/4 cooked. I later learned this technique hands-on from a Saudi friend, and after doing it a few times, I got the rough idea. This technique doesn’t require me to measure the water. This is what I love about it. I would just make sure the water is enough to give space for the rice grains to expand and still ricochet within the pot. If there is too little water, the rice grains won’t expand as much, it won’t reach its full potential. After the rice grains are 3/4 cooked, you are to drain them. While they were cooking though, saute/fry thinly sliced onions on the side. I usually also add turmeric, ground cumin and coriander, and dried raisins in this pan. I fry the onions until they’re light to dark brown and when the rice is drained, I pour the whole content of this saucepan into the rice. The oil from the onion will be dispersed throughout the rice, but so much so that not all of the rice will be coated with it. I love the bi-color look of this rice. The rice is poured into a pan, which is then covered tightly and put in the oven to dry and fluff up. Rice cooked this way, if you let it reach its 3/4 expanding potential during boiling, will nicely be separated and fluffy. Everytime I cook Basmati this way, I feel so amply rewarded when I peel open the aluminum foil.Recently though, I didn’t let the rice reach its 3/4 point in cooking, and we ended up with quite brittle and dry grains of rice. It was later that I did it again and we realized that this time, the grains are fluffy and pleasantly fat.
I’ve always had a complex with cooking rice. But Basmati to me, now, is pretty forgiving. With Jasmine, what I like about it, is that I can cook it in a rice cooker, and have its aroma waft through the house without even tending to it. Eating Jasmine directly with one’s fingers is a delight, because it doesn’t fall through like Basmati does. Eating with one’s hand may be viewed as uncivilized by the West, but seriously, there is nothing more fulfilling than being able to be directly ‘in touch’ with your food without any intercessors. *Wink*
And because I recently delighted in resuming my side-interest in food photography, what better way to reward myself than put them on display?