Ask Peter: Brown rice
I would like to start using more brown rice in my cooking but I still want to make regular meals the not so healthy kind, but I find most brown rice ideas focus on the healthy side. For example can I still make a rich, creamy risotto? I realise it won’t be up to the Ferron standard recently featured in Bite, but is there a way to treat brown rice to achieve similar effects to white? I am after the nutritional benefits of brown rice but don’t care about the other ingredients used.
It’s interesting to read you’re wanting to use a healthier rice, but aren’t too interested in the health aspects. Even when I’m eating a toasted cheese sandwich, as I am at the moment in an airport in the US, I’m pleased to see it’s been made from a deliciously chewy sourdough rather than some dreadful white mass-produced dough.
I do think health and excess can happily be soul mates, and the more often they are the better for long-term health. Both brown rice and white rice have similar levels of carbohydrates and calories, but the former is far more nutritious, with higher levels of B vitamins, dietary fibre, magnesium and iron among others.
The bran that is removed contains oil, and this is where rice bran oil comes from - leftovers from the processing of brown rice into white rice. It’s worth noting that it is thought this oil can help lower LDL cholesterol. So a healthy brown rice loses quite a lot of its nutritional qualities in order to become white rice, but in the process a healthy cooking oil is produced. Fascinating don’t you think?
The texture and taste of brown rice is fabulous and something well worth exploring.
It certainly doesn’t need to be limited to recipes requiring you to cook in sandals and a vest you’ve woven from recycled rope! What brown rice offers is a firm, chunky bite, with nutty flavours and a good, hearty texture. White rice, which I also enjoy but for different reasons (in fact I like pretty much every carbohydrate that exists) is in many ways a carrier of flavour that helps make a fry-up sloshed with soy sauce or a piece of deep-fried buttermilk marinated chicken doused in chilli sauce, even better as you get to have the slightly soggy rice enriched with the various sauces and crusty bits at the end of your meal. With brown rice it’s almost a meal in itself.
To make a risotto really successfully you need a rice, that with quite a bit of stirring, breaks down and disintegrates on the outside of the grain causing the liquid it’s cooked in to thicken and also the flavours to be absorbed into the rice. This is why you end up with a creaminess in the finished dish — apart from all the butter and cheese you’ll likely add. This just isn’t going to happen with brown rice because although the husk has been removed (too chewy for humans and it’d take forever to cook) the bran layer and the germ are still intact — protecting the rice grain and unfortunately preventing the disintegration you desire. However, tell your mates you’re making a brown rice stew with chicken, goat’s cheese, basil and pine nuts and they won’t think of it as an inferior risotto.
I also like to almost overcook it, and then mix with green beans, toasted crushed hazelnuts, halved cherry tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil for a great salad. Boil 1 cup of brown rice (rinsed briefly in a sieve) in 2½ cups water for around 15 minutes with grated ginger and garlic, then place in a baking dish with chopped carrots, capsicums and peas. Sit largish chunks of fish, scales removed but still on the bone, on top, season, brush with oil (try rice bran for the above reasons) and scatter with chopped chillies and picked thyme. Pour on enough water or stock to barely cover the rice and bake at 180C until the fish is cooked, at which point the rice will be too. Scatter with shredded coriander and spring onions.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.