Rice to the occasion

EAT’S EASY - Ernest Reynoso Gala (The Philippine Star) - July 4, 2013 - 12:00am

Rice is the best, the most nutritive and unquestionably the most widespread staple in the world.  —Escoffier

My mom, who has taught the top caterers, hotel and restaurant owners and is a consultant for numerous food companies, always told me that Filipinos judge an establishment by the rice it serves, and they feel great if one does not scrimp on the quality of rice.

My aunt, master cake decorator chef Leni from Wilton, Collete Peters and Nicholas Lodge, constantly state that, “without good rice, there would be no surprise.”

My other aunt, chef Lorrie, a senior chef instructor at the New York Restaurant School for 19 years and the only Filipina we know who graduated valedictorian, with a Grande Diplome from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Paris — who counts among her many students former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s personal chef and Nobu restaurant’s outstanding Filipino chefs — recalled that her first few months in France were difficult because she was craving for rice and it was not always available, making the adjustment difficult.  She now teaches at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York and still preaches the importance of rice and how it is a staple food for half of the world’s population.  

Rice is a grain and has a protective husk that is removed to make white rice. Most of the nutrients are lost in the process of milling because most of the nutrients are found in the germ and bran. In brown rice the kernel and bran layers remain intact, thus making it the more nutritious and healthier choice. Rice is classified under three varieties. One is long, like the fragrant Indian basmati, grown in the northern part of India and previously known as Royal rice since it was reserved for royalty and the upper class. When cooked the grain swells lengthwise and stays separate and is excellent for pilafs.

Second is medium-grain rice like Arborio, the traditional rice for risotto. This plump, roundish medium grain has high starch content and yields a moist, creamy texture. Vialone Nano and Carnaroli, which have higher starch content than Arborio, are, for my Italian culinary mentor John Nocita of the Italian Culinary Institute, better for cooking risotto Milanese. Italians prefer to sauté rice in olive oil with butter, onions, and other ingredients before adding boiling beef, chicken, seafood or vegetable stock. An example of this is for 1 cup rice, 2 cups boiling broth is added, a half cup at a time, stirring uncovered constantly, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. The next batch is added and the process repeated until the rice is fully cooked, which takes 18 to 20 minutes. Italy only has two classifications of rice: long and short.

Spaniards like to use Bomba rice, which is similar to Arborio — round, plump, and also classified as medium grain. It has a creamy, sticky texture characteristic of paella, and is also cooked uncovered. It can absorb five times the amount of liquid compared to other types of rice.

Although it is often referred to as glutinous or sticky rice, Japanese rice, commonly eaten by the Japanese Uruchi Mai, is non-glutinous.  The glutinous variety known as Mochi Gomes is used for stuffed rice desserts with the same name. The Japanese wash their rice at least five times between their hands until their hand turns pinkish. Rice is soaked for one hour before cooking. Per 1 cup uncooked rice, use 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups water and cook in rice cooker for 20 minutes. The yield will be three cups cooked rice, a similar measurement to when you cook rice at home.

Short-grain rice is sticky, also called sweet or glutinous rice. Opaque in color, it is slightly sweet in flavor and has a sticky composition. When I took the full course at the Thai Cooking School at the Oriental Hotel Bangkok (voted numerous times as the best hotel in the world) where mom, Auntie Leni and I stayed, we learned that it is an all-purpose rice that is soaked, drained, placed in a cylindrical bamboo basket over a pot and steamed over high heat in boiling water for 30 minutes. All over the world, glutinous rice is used for dessert. Very important tip when using malagkit rice for suman or ginataang mais or other kakanin, add sugar when the rice is fully cooked. My sister, chef Morella, discovered this technique, which is why she can whip up different Filipino desserts in such a short time! Adding sugar prematurely will take the rice forever to cook.     

Brown rice is the least-processed form of rice. The outer hull has been removed but the nutritious, high-fiber bran that gives this rice its light tan color, nutty flavor, and chewy texture remains. Brown rice can be long, medium or short grain.

Doña Maria brown rice is what dad and I eat and also serve. Chef Jessie Sincioco of Rockwell Club mentioned this to Brian Lim, owner of Agritech, the first Filipino company to export rice, when they met at the inauguration of Morella and my school, Galastars Culinary (catered by chef Jessie, Johnlu and Alou Koa of French Baker and Chatime, while San Miguel Purefoods president Francisco “Butch” Alejo gave the ham and cold cuts. Café Puro provided the coffee courtesy of Philip and Teresa Huang. Thanks to all of you!).

In black rice, there are numerous varieties of this hulled rice with black bran, including the Thai sticky rice and Chinese back rice, which is ideal for paella Negra. Wild rice is not truly rice, but the seed of a water grass called cogen. The hand-harvested variety of wild rice, manohmin, is gathered the traditional way in canoes. Very expensive, a cheaper, commercially cultivated version that is uniform in size and color can now be found in specialty stores.

In the Philippines, Doña Maria has come up with the very best of both worlds: Jasponica, a cross between jasmine for its aroma and ponica for the characteristic Japanese stickiness. Miponica from the Philippines is a cross with the number-one variety, Milagrosa.   Milagrosa was my Lolo Pepe’s favorite. He would travel to Everybody’s Café, a landmark restaurant in San Fernando, Pampanga, run by the Jorolans, to eat the wild duck and other Pampango dishes served with the tiny, aromatic grains called Milagrosa. Miponica is a mixture of Milagrosa and Japanese rice, making it ultra-delicious!

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For recipes and a schedule of classes visit www.sylviareynosogala.com or www.facebook.com/Sylvia Reynoso Gala Culinary or www.facebook.com/Galastars Culinary or call 671-4489 or 98.

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