Carbs can do no wrong in our eyes. And if you’re anything like us, you build most of the meals you eat around carbs — the glorious source of energy that propels us to take on anything life brings our way.
But have you ever thought about certain carbohydrates as more than just side dishes? Rice, specifically rice from Thailand, is a perfect example. It’s the most widely consumed rice in the world, boasting vibrant colours and varieties that pack more grain nutrition than standard white rice.
To learn more about Thai rice varieties and the potential for cooking with rice, we spoke with local culinary expert Angus An, the chef leading Vancouver’s Maenam Thai restaurant.
In North American culture, An tells Daily Hive that many people think of rice as a side dish. However, he explains that rice is “the main dish” in Asia and “all dishes are served to encourage rice consumption.”
Growing up, he says he always loved jasmine rice (referred to as “hom mali rice” in Thai), notably its fragrance and texture. “I think the texture is very different from shorter grain rice. It is, in my opinion, the best ‘plain rice’ that you can choose when eating Asian dishes because it soaks up all the flavours really well.”
Beyond the versatility of plain jasmine rice, there’s jasmine brown rice, which An says has grown in popularity over the last 10 to 15 years.
“I love the texture it provides, and it is best suited for curries where it can still have a brilliant texture after being saturated by sauces. It also has great health benefits as it is a rich source of natural fibres, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.”
“Growing up a Chinese child, sticky rice is something I love because there could be both savoury applications as well as sweet dessert applications,” says An.
“We do a lot of stir-fries and sticky rice, and in Thailand, you get the plain sticky rice with grilled meats. But it’s also very delicious in sweet applications.” And if you’ve ever tried to cook sticky rice only for it to result as an epic fail, don’t worry — you’re not alone.
According to An, the trick to getting it right is to pre-soak the rice in water overnight and steam it dry. Whatever you do — do not cook the sticky rice in water.
If you’re looking for another alternative option to try, there’s Riceberry — a crossbreed between jasmine and black jasmine rice. It’s highly nutritious and rich in antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamin E. “I love Riceberry,” An tells us. “It is texturally pleasing as well as the flavours and aromas of black fruits and nuts.”
Curious to know what people typically get wrong when cooking Thai rice, we put the question to An. He says it’s simple: “The water!”
The Vancouver-based chef explains how it’s very easy to overcook or add too much water to your rice. He recommends always reading the label and instructions as different brands of jasmine rice require different amounts of water.
But not only that, it’s advisable to see if the label mentions that the rice is a “new crop” as they often require less water. “Always follow the instructions on the bag rather than a standard instruction you’re used to because every batch of rice is different.”
When An uses any variety of rice, he says he likes to rinse it several times before cooking it. This helps wash away the excess, cloudy starch that can help promote the “bouncy texture” of the rice and allows it to separate easier.
At Maenam, An says the most popular rice dish on the menu would have to be the fermented Thai sausage with curried crispy jasmine rice.
“It was a dish to utilize the leftover rice (it is a sin to throw away rice!). We mix it with curry sauce, form them into balls, and fry. The result is a mixture of crispy and soft aromatic rice, perfectly balanced with the fermented pork.”
An’s go-to? The fermented sausage salad. “It is simple and yet complex, balanced with flavours and textures,” he says. When testing the recipe, the chef says he and his wife had different ideas on how to prepare the rice.
“I wanted to make individual rice puffs, while she wanted to make it the traditional way with rice balls. We all know who won that fight,” he laughs.
At the end of our interview, An shares a brilliant tip for improving the Thai fried rice dishes we all cook at home: use day-old rice.
“Use jasmine rice or jasmine brown rice, save the leftovers in the fridge uncovered, and spread it out, so it dries out a bit. This will ensure better separation and frying when making fried rice dishes,” he adds.
You can take a single batch of rice and add it to everything from soups to curries, to desserts, and more. Plus, it’s easy to find at Asian grocery stores such as Asia Market, T&T, and PriceSmart Foods.
Pro tip: Make sure to look for the Thai Hom Mali Rice certification mark on a package to ensure you get the original and uniquely fragrant rice of Thailand.