In today’s Atkins/carb-averse times, rice is a food item that often gets cast aside as if it were poison. This practice of aversion is everywhere. Look around, how many times have you witnessed fellow diners shun full servings at a restaurant or dinner party?
I admit, sometimes I’m guilty as charged. Some places just serve too large of a rice portion. But I do have vast respect for it. It has a lot to do with the way I was raised. My mom hated when my siblings and I left rice uneaten. Times were tough for my parents growing up in Korea as well as for the majority of other Koreans. If you were able to continually eat rice (bap as it is called in Korean), you were lucky. Incidentally, this is not a unique story for just Koreans. Ask your parents or even your grandparents; they’ll be thrilled to share with you one of those “in my age, we didn’t…” stories.
Growing up, I ate rice every day – usually twice a day. I didn’t respect it as much as my parents because I was never denied it. Back when they were growing up in Korea, rice was expensive – too costly for most citizens to wholly eat on a continual basis – so Koreans would mix in other cheaper ingredients with rice to prolong their household supply.
Common versions of this were medium grain white rice mixed with red azuki beans and/or green peas, then steamed all together. Less popular was kong bap – white or brown rice mixed with red beans, barley, soybeans and green peas. Kong bap used to have a negative image due to being a staple of Korean prison food. Koreans would say to eat kong bap is “to be imprisoned.” Nowadays, it has bounced back from that image due to its healthiness. I haven’t asked for it in a while but So Kong Dong on Buford Highway, a local Korean restaurant specializing in soondubu (tofu soup), will serve bean rice upon request.
When I was a child, my mom always prepared and served steamed white rice. She would alternate between Nishiki or Kokuho Rose Japanese medium grain. And she would mix in pressed oats so when steamed with the rice, it would take on the same form and texture. She taught me to wash the rice until the “water is clear and let it settle in water 10-15 minutes before you cook it.” The washing was to rinse off the talc (believed to be bad for you) and excess starch. The soaking decreased cooking time and expanded the grain.
How much water? In the older versions of electronic rice cookers, the rice pots were generally wider. The correct amount that I was taught was when the water level came right up to your knuckles when you laid your hand flat down in the rice pot.
Over the years, this did not turn out to be a reliable water measure with the variety of cooking vessels I used for rice. I discovered that I generally prefer 1.25 cups of water per 1 cup of rice – less than that the rice is too al dente; significantly more water, the rice becomes too mushy.
Sometimes when you visit with other Korean families, they may have a certain style of rice that they like and will serve. For instance, my wife’s family mixes the nutrient-abundant black rice with white rice. The end result is this purple-ish mound of bap speckled with darker glisteny grains. The blend also imparts a subtle yet bewitching floral-fruity aroma when cooked.
In my home, this version of black rice is generally what my wife or I consistently prepare. If you’re curious, black rice is sold at Asian grocery stores such as Super H, Assi Mart or Buford Highway Farmer’s Market. I found that the best way to prepare this version is like regular white rice but do not add the black rice until the white rice is completely rinsed (black color will run off which is purportedly nutrient-rich). Per 1 cup of white rice, add about a 1/3 ounce of black rice. Add 1.25 to 1.33 cup of water (since this is a little more than 1 cup of rice), gently blend the rice together and let it settle until the white grains transform from translucent to solid white (about 30 minutes).
Another version I used to make a lot is a Korean version of brown rice. It’s healthier than white rice so on a prolonged health kick, I would only cook brown rice. Some of you may know that brown rice takes significantly longer to cook than white. And if you cook it on its own, the end result will be looser and nuttier in flavor. Koreans like their rice sticky so sweet white rice is generally added to aid in bonding. Per 2/3 cup of brown rice, add 1/3 cup of sweet white rice.
Like I stated brown rice takes longer to cook. If you rush, the results will be drier hard bits of rice grain. I’ve tried different ways of preparing it and the best results are either in a rice cooker that has a “brown rice” cooking setting, or in a thick ceramic pot over constant low heat.
I generally just give brown rice a single rinse, to clean out the “shwag”; mix in the portion of sweet rice and stick to a slightly higher water ratio (1.33 cups of water per 1 cup of rice); let the rice soak for an hour; place the pot over the lowest heat level on the stove; let the rice fully cook and it will be done when the cooking water has evaporated. For about 2 cups of rice, you’re looking close to two hours of cooking time. The cooking time is about the same in a rice cooker with the brown rice setting.
So there you have it. You now have a little background on Korean style rice, variations of it and the ways that they can be prepared. In my experience, styles of rice and the ways it is made vary depending on the person. Check this method here. And again here.
Make no mistake, even though you may spot uneaten clumps from time to time, the reverence for rice still runs deep for some.
- by Gene Lee, Food and More blog
– Gene Lee writes about International Cuisine for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Eat, Drink, Man… A Food Journal.