Cooking School Day 10: Rice & Grains
- Today’s Topic: Rice & Grains
- The Goal: 20 lessons, 20 days to become a better cook at home
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Knowing how to cook a good pot of rice is another cornerstone of our home cooking. Once you have that mastered, you’ll always have a quick side dish or the beginnings of a meal in your back pocket. You can also start to build on your skills to make risottos, delicious pilafs, and grain dishes that use anything from barley to farro. It all starts with you, a scoop of rice or grain, and a pot.
Day 10 Lesson: Rice & Grains
What are Grains? Let’s start with the real basics here. What we call grains are the seeds or kernels of cereal crops like wheat, rice, barley, sorghum, and so on. (See how grain goes from field to bread.) A “whole grain” consists of the outer bran, the endosperm, and the germ, all of which are edible. Highly-milled grains, like white rice and pearled barley, have had the outer hull and much of the germ removed; they have less nutritional value, but they cook more quickly and some people feel they are more palatable. Whole grains are generally brown-colored while milled grains are generally white or very light brown.
How to Cook Grains: All grains from rice to wheat berries cook by absorbing water. You can steam them, cook them with a specific grain-to-water ratio, or simmer them in a large amount of water, like pasta. (Read more about these methods in today’s homework!) Whole grains will take a bit longer to cook, since their tough coating of bran inhibits absorption, while milled grains will cook quite quickly. Even so, most grains cook in about 15 to 35 minutes, with some of the tougher grains taking a bit longer. You can check them as they cook — when the grains taste tender and are no longer crunchy, they’re ready to eat. Most grains roughly double in volume once cooked.
Cooked grains freeze extremely well, making them a healthy timesaver you can always have on hand. Just make extra of your next batch of grains, then freeze flat in a plastic ziptop bag. The frozen grains will defrost quickly to be reheated or thrown in salads, or can just be tossed frozen right into a soup or stir-fry!
Grains in a Recipe: Be sure to note whether the grains are supposed to be cooked or left uncooked before you start making the recipe. It can really trip up your dinner plans to get to halfway through meal prep and realize you were supposed to cook the rice before you started! Also, some grains need to be rinsed before being cooked. Rinsing removes some of the starch from the surface of the grain (particularly rice), which would otherwise make the grain sticky. Rinsing also removes a compound from quinoa that can make it taste bitter. Your recipe should usually specify if the grains need to be rinsed.
Swapping Grains in a Recipe: Grains can be used fairly interchangeably in recipes. You can always swap rice for barley in a casserole, for instance. Be careful of swapping grains where starchiness is a factor, like in risotto or when making sushi.
Going Beyond Cooking Grains with Water: Cooking grains in water is the most basic, fundamental, time-honored method. But it’s easy enough to add more flavor simply by cooking the grains in a bit of broth instead, or throwing a few herbs or spices into the pot. Even a bit of salt and a bay leaf will go a long way toward making grains more tasty.
Every lesson has three homework options. Maybe you’ve already got one down, or you just have time for a quick study session. So pick one, and show us by tagging it with #kitchnschool on Instagram or Twitter.
Study: Take a look at these posts on cooking rice to get an idea for the different methods:
Practice: Cook a different grain than usual with your dinner tonight. If you normally cook rice, try barley. If you normally cook barley, try millet or quinoa. Here are a few guides for cooking other kinds of grains:
Improve: Take your grain skills one step higher and make a risotto following this method: How To Make Risotto at Home. If you already have risottos under your belt, try making one with a grain other than rice.
The Kitchn Cookbook & Rice and Grains
The Cooking School was inspired by our new book, The Kitchn Cookbook — and there’s plenty in the book to help your Cooking School experience.
Today’s tip: See page 113 for a table of cooking times for rice and grains. It’s a good reference resource for when you just want to cook a quick pot without hunting down a specific recipe first.
5 Recipes to Practice Cooking Rice & Grains
The Kitchn’s Cooking School
The Kitchn’s Cooking School is 20 days, 20 lessons to become a better cook at home. Every day we’ll tackle an essential cooking topic and explain what you should know. Each lesson has three different homework options, so you can choose the one that teaches you what you need. Whether you want to refresh your skills or start from scratch, come to school with us!