All You Need to Know About Rice

Rice has been a staple in our dishes and our culture for generations. Here's the story--and the recipes that bring it home.
Donna Florio
Cranberry-Almond Wild Rice

Where to Find It

A New Tradtion on the Great Pee Dee
Near Darlington, South Carolina, Campbell Coxe feels a similar connection to the rich history of the Carolina rice culture. "Georgetown produced more rice than anywhere else in South Carolina," he says, "and we're on the Pee Dee, so we irrigate out of one of the same rivers the early planters did." He explains that back then, the tide pushed fresh water up the river back into the ricefields. Today, Campbell uses a diesel pump to water the aromatic rice that he and wife Meredith market under the name Carolina Plantation Rice. Although the variety is Della, a long-grain aromatic rice, the soil, water, and latitude of the Coxe's fields produce an exceptional grain with a nutty, popcorn-like aroma.

Wherever it is grown, rice is one of the South's most sustaining and versatile grains. It is an admirable complement to any entrée that includes gravy or sauce, and it can be used as a base for pudding or patties. Its sturdiness and absorption qualities allow it to join with meats, vegetables, and broths in main dishes.

Which Rice?
Here are some helpful definitions of the most common varieties of rice.

  • Long-grain rice has long, slender kernels that cook up separate, light, and fluffy.
  • Medium-grain rice is slightly shorter and wider than long-grain. Cooked kernels are moist, tender, and slightly sticky.
  • Short-grain rice kernels are almost round and stick together when cooked. It has a higher starch content than other rice.
  • Brown rice has the outer hull removed, but retains the bran layers that give it a tan color, chewy texture, and nutlike flavor. Brown rice has more minerals, vitamins, and fiber than white rice.
  • Parboiled rice is soaked, steamed, and dried to remove the outer hull. Grains are firmer and more separate and retain more nutrients than regular rice.

Cooking Basics
We cooked rice in a stove-top steamer, an electric steamer, and a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. All methods yielded similar results. For the steamers, we used the amounts of liquid and cooking methods recommended in the directions. Pot method: Bring 2 cups of water and ½ teaspoon salt to a boil. Add 1 cup long-grain rice; reduce heat, and cook, covered (no peeking), for 20 minutes. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes, and fluff with a fork. Makes 3 cups.

Some cooks suggest washing the grains before cooking for a fluffier finished product, but we found the washed rice to be stickier than the batch that we didn't wash.

Purchase electric rice steamers at cookware stores and Asian markets. Order stove-top rice steamers ($29.99 plus shipping) from Charleston Hardware, (843) 556-0220.