Friday, June 3, 2016

Sticky Rice — Southeast Asian Wonder

Sticky rice. Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
With Sticky Rice, the Attraction Is Mutual

My first true taste of sticky rice was in Thailand, on a backcountry bus trip.
We had stopped for lunch but were immediately waylaid by local vendors selling fragrant lengths of bamboo. Inside the bamboo was a steaming tube of coconut-enhanced sticky rice. The vendors also sold black rice pudding, made from dark purple unhulled sticky rice and drowned in fresh coconut milk.
Long story short: I became addicted from that moment forward.
A sticky rice dish with coconut cream, mangos and limes.
Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Also known as “sweet rice” or glutinous rice (despite being gluten free), sticky rice is a large white grain that, when steamed, becomes translucent, shiny and, well, sticky. In French, it’s called riz gluant or gluey, not much more attractive. There should be a better word for it, because it really is undoubtedly one of the best things to eat under the sun.
Sticky rice is a staple in Laos, where it is especially beloved, but it has ardent fans throughout Asia. Wadded into little balls and eaten with fingers is the customary way to enjoy it, the better to dunk into spicy saucy dishes. Sticky rice can be easily grasped with chopsticks, too.
A sticky rice dish with dried sausage, ham, onions and mushrooms.
Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Traditionally, it’s cooked over steam in a conical woven basket. If you don’t have such a steamer, you can use a standard stacking steamer, or even a colander, lined with muslin or cheesecloth. I use a fine mesh strainer that fits over a saucepan for perfectly cooked rice. For the best texture, cooking sticky rice over hot steam really is ideal, but it is possible to do so in an electric rice cooker, using less water than usual, or in a pot on the stove (the downside being inferior texture and a stubborn sticky residue left in the pot).
Versatile sticky rice can be made sweet or savory. As an example, here are two glutinous rice dishes most North Americans are familiar with, which also happen to be personal favorites. Sticky rice with mango is a simple wonder, especially with homemade coconut milk (the next logical obsession, yes?). Mangoes, by the way, are in season right now. Stir-fried sticky rice, a dim-sum standby served in lotus leaves or little bowls, gets deep flavor from smoked bacon, Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and shiitake mushrooms — flavor that actually improves upon reheating.
The good news is, it’s utterly easy to master sticky rice at home. Almost too easy. — David Tanis | New York Times

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