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An Introduction To Sticky Rice
How to Eat Sticky Rice
Before even diving into a hot basket of steaming sticky rice, make sure you do a temperature test much the same way you stick your big toe in a lake before jumping in (although I don't recommend you trying the exact same method with a basketful of sticky rice). Should you find the sticky rice to be a bit too sticky, you could put a few drops of cooking oil in the palm of your hand and rub them together to prevent too much stickiness.
The way in which to eat sticky rice is to take one handful and roll it in your hands like Play-Doh, so throw that Western notion of, "Don't eat with your hands" right out the proverbial window here, as not only is this the correct way, it is the only way! After having made a nice optimum sized snow-ball of sticky rice, begin breaking off bite-size morsels at a time and roll these into balls as well. Solid morsels are used for dipping into sauces (soy sauce and fish sauce are simple sauces to try) or stir fry broth. Using this same method, make indents with your thumb into a small ball-shaped morsel for "scooping" up bits of food. In time you will be a pro (practice makes perfect). And make sure you wash your hands before you eat as always! Enjoy, and don't get caught making little animal shapes with your rice, because you really shouldn't play with your food!
A Sticky Solution
Once, when I was a kid in elementary school, I brought a miniature basket of sticky rice with me as lunch. In addition to this, I had something called seen haang which is what many Lao describe as Lao beef jerky. All of the kids at my table were fascinated by what to me was a typical lunch. Some scrunched up their eyebrows. Some even asked if they could try some. Well, in very little time, I looked down to find that I had no more sticky rice left, or any beef jerky. Consequently, the curiosity of my peers and the benevolence of my giving nature made me “empty” inside. “Wanna PB and J?,” my concerned friend Kevin asked me. “No,” I said. “But I’ll take your apple or your fruit roll-up."
But soon after that, more and more kids were asking me
to bring sticky rice to school, which was going for the highest
bitter: The kid with the ham and swiss
usually won. Soon after that, kids were
coming over my house just to have some sticky rice…Did these kids think that we
were growing it in our backyard? After a
while, I had to declare an embargo, per Mom.
But every so often kids from around my block would say, “Let’s go to your
house to play,” only to later on find them elbow-deep in my family’s sticky rice basket. It was certainly a big hit.
History and Cultivation
Khao niao is the literal English translation of sticky rice. It’s also often called “sweet rice” or “glutinous rice” due to its naturally semi-sweet flavor and its gluten-like texture once steamed. Contrary to what its name implies, it does not contain gluten, for those of you that are indeed gluten-conscious. In actuality, glutinous rice is glue-like due to its lack of amylose but rather a high amount of amylopectin (a type of starch) which gives it a sticky quality. With this said, small quantities of cooked sticky rice may be sufficient for an appetizing meal.
Glutinous rice is grown in Japan, China, the Philippines, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Korea and especially Laos (my country), where a whopping 85% of all rice cultivation is glutinous or sticky rice. This fact alone suggests that sticky rice is Laos' most important crop and records show that sticky rice was being cultivated in Laos for at least 1,100 years. There is also speculation that sticky rice was used as mortar in the construction of the Great Wall of China as well, which would then conclude that it’s been cultivated for the last 2,000 years. Chemical testing proved this theory to be correct, as the city walls of Xian does contain remnants of glutinous rice!
The most common type of glutinous rice is white in color, which is milled, and black or purple in color or unmilled sticky rice. The difference is that the bran or husk of unmilled rice is not removed in many cases. I've tried both black and white glutinous rice and really can't tell the difference. However, many believe that there is a difference in taste and swear by it. With the combination of coconut milk and mango, the black glutinous does appear to by more appetizing for some reason.
Preparation and Cooking
The above is a picture of a huat (sticky rice basket) and the pot or steamer that accompanies it. The steps in which to prepare and cook sticky rice is pretty simple. I'll show you how it's done, so here is what you will need:
- A steamer and huat or sticky rice basket as pictured above
- A large spoon, preferably a wooden spoon (I don't recommend a metal spoon as it will stick)
- A large mixing bowl
- A pot or pan lid--the heavier the better
- A sticky rice basket
- Uncooked sticky rice, sweet rice, or glutinous rice (8 ounces uncooked equates to 1 serving)
Step 1: The very that you will need to decipher is how much uncooked sticky rice you will need. I recommend using the formula of 8 ounces of uncooked sticky rice per serving, but you may want to add one extra serving to this formula to ensure that you have a little extra sticky rice for your meal, as you can always reheat cold or utilize leftover rice (more on that later). You will need at least 4 hours of pre-soak time, as sticky rice needs to be soft for maximum results. With this said, you should be proactive in preparation. You could consequently pre-soak your uncooked sticky rice overnight or first thing in the morning before you head out to work to ensure its readiness for steaming. Just add the uncooked rice in your bowl and fill it the bowl about 2 inches above the level of your rice with cold water.
Step 2: Fill your steamer with no more than 3 or 4 inches of water and place on your stove to boil and cover the steamer with a lid. After at least 2 hours has elapsed, you'll want to strain your rice by using your hand and remove any sediment (in some cases tiny pebbles) that may have found a way to your milled rice. You may also want to rinse and repeat to ensure that the rice is free of such sediment.
Step 3: Now take your huat or bamboo basket and completely rinse it with water in your sink, as a dry basket will may cause it to burn while steaming. Pour your uncooked rice into the basket and give it a good "shake" in an up-and-down motion to free the rice of as much water as possible by taking hold of the basket's "ears" with both hands. As soon as the water in your steamer begins boil, place the basket of sticky rice on top of your steamer and cover it for 20 minutes.
Step 4: Now uncover the basket and take hold of its "ears" again and use the "shake" method once more. By now, you'll find that your rice is now one clump rather than a scatter of glutinous rice grains. Much in the same way you flip a pancake, you'll want to flip your rice (which should be triangular in shape) just once so that the top of the "clump" is facing downward and allow it to steam cook (with the lid covering the basket) for another 5 minutes.
Step 5: After 5 minutes has elapsed, shut off the burner and uncover the basket which will now be emitting steam profusely. You may want to blow and use your "shake" method once more to cool the rice. Please be careful by the way, as the rice is hot enough at this point to cause burns upon contact! Pour the now cooked sticky rice into your rice basket and carefully toss it the rice with a large wet spoon (hopefully a wooden spoon). Should the rice stick to your spoon, simply wet it again and continue to toss and blow on the rice while it is inside the rice basket. After doing this for about 3 minutes or so, your rice should be cool enough and so is ready to be eaten!
Note: If you are not ready to eat just that instant, you could leave the sticky rice basket uncovered to let cool. On the other hand, if you want to keep the sticky rice warm, just close the sticky rice basket. In addition to this, you could cover the sticky rice basket with a dish towel to help keep your sticky rice warm.
Need more help? Watch this!
Please click to enlarge
What goes well with sticky rice?
Okay, this is somewhat of a trick question, because the real question be, "What doesn't go well with sticky rice?" In either case, here are some great dishes that should be enjoyed in the morning, noon, or night along with sticky rice:
- Kai Yang: Pronounced Guy Yong, this is a well seasoned grilled young and very lean chicken which taste similar to Chinese spare ribs (but better). I recommend using free-range chicken when preparing this for the best results as it's much healthier and is free of hormones.
- Seen Haang: As I've earlier mentioned, seen hang is a very popular prepared food item made with very lean beef which is then seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, and sugar and then dried in the sun. As soon as it's dried for a full day, it is then momentarily deep-fried and served as a meal item (as there is much more than one during a sitting).
- Laarb: As there is much more than one kind of laarb, the picture to the right is of the chicken variety. Laarb is a type of tossed and seasoned salad made primarily with meat and meat items you may or may not be accustomed to eating, such as cow kidney, heart, liver, and tripe. However there are a plethora of alternatives and can be kept pretty simple diversely appealing. Other laarb include beef, pork, shrimp, and fish laarb.
- Stir Fry: I'm sure I don't have to explain to you want stir fry is, so I won't! There are endless varieties of stir fry all throughout the continent of Asia, made popular due to the lack of wood for fuel in many cases (short preparation time). In Laos it is no different and makes for a quick yet appetizing meal.
- Tom Maak-Hoong: Tom maak hoong (or som tom Thai) is a spicy unripened papaya salad that is very popular in both Laos and Thailand. It's made with shredded unripened papaya, chili peppers, lime, and fish sauce among other things. (It's also been known to cure hangovers too!)
Although I only listed a fraction of what is available in Lao cuisine, these are just some of the more popular dishes from Laos. If you have not yet tried the dishes as I've listed, I highly recommend that you do with sticky rice, as they are savory and have a cacophony of taste explosions. If unable to acquire these dishes, I suggest that you find other ways of accompanying your sticky rice, like substituting these dishes with fried chicken, sliced seasoned steak or pork. If you are vegetarian, seared tofu would be a good compliment.
Would you like to learn how to make this?
Watch this video and you will!
Thank you very much for visiting my hub and allowing me to share with you the most important crop of my native Laos. As there are too many ways to use sticky rice, I could only list a few of them. By the way, if you do find that you have some left over sticky-rice, you could always re-steam it. If the sticky rice becomes too hard to do so, you could always deep fry it and have yourself a delicious snack.
My other Food and Drink Hubs include 15-Minute Pork Chops, 20-Minute Rice, and Beer Lao. In addition to this, I also wrote about some of the most exotic and admired fruits of the world, which include the Durian, Mangosteen, and Jackfruit, so click away!
I hope you enjoyed reading this and that you'll rejoin me once my next hub, "An Introduction to Lao Desserts" is published. Here is not only a "taste" of what you will find, but also a few bonus photos as well in which several are made with sticky or glutinous rice (their depictions and NOT the actual photos!). In the meantime, please enjoy!
Khanom chun dessert made with sticky rice
Khao doem with black beans
This is khao doem is of the salted pork and yellow bean variety
Wickless dynamite? No, dessert.
This should get me through the winter
A bamboo ka toke for typical Lao cuisine dining
Mortar and pestle used in the preparation of many Lao dishes
A Pituresque Sticky Rice Paddy
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