Trust what’s in the bag, not on it.
Published Feb. 1, 2015. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 9: Southern Stews
Brown rice is shedding its hippie image. It’s whole-grain, gluten-free, cheap, and healthy—and according to Nielsen, national sales of brown rice increased 58 percent from 2006 to 2011. Brown rice is booming.
We like brown rice plain as a side dish or in pilafs and salads. To find the best product, we surveyed supermarkets and chose seven national best sellers. We focused on long-grain rice, as it’s what we use most for its fluffy and discrete kernels. We first selected four top-selling dried products, and then because brown rice can take 45 minutes to an hour to cook, we added three prepared products to our lineup. All three are fully cooked and reheated at home in the microwave for 1 to 4 1/2 minutes, depending on the product; two are shelf-stable and one is frozen. We passed over the boxes of traditional dried instant rice; their grains are usually steamed and dried at the factory to make them cook faster, and we’ve always found them spongy.
We tried the rice three ways, including both styles—dry and microwaveable—in each tasting. First we baked the four dried products according to our Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Oven-Baked Brown Rice recipe, and for the second we simmered them on the stovetop, following package instructions. We microwaved the three quick products per their directions, comparing them with the baked and then with the simmered dry rice. Finally, we tried all seven products in a room-temperature rice salad; we boiled the four dried products according to the recipe and microwaved the three quick products, adding them to the recipe when it called for cooked, cooled rice.
We soon noticed our first pattern: Tasters always preferred good old-fashioned dry rice (when prepared right). It’s firmer, with a pleasant nutty bite. And convenience products, for the most part, aren’t worth it. “Did you accidentally cook the box?” asked one taster eating a shelf-stable product by one manufacturer. We looked into it and found that the rice is parboiled, just like the company’s dry instant rice; its grains were clumpy and mealy. Another flop was a frozen rice product. According to our science editor, the harsh process of cooking, freezing, and reheating causes some of the starches to form crystals that trap water, drying out parts of the grains. It also releases starch molecules called amylose, which makes the rice mushy when reheated.
One quick product, though, did turn out consistently decent; it isn’t perfect, but it’s a good fast alternative. Its grains were firmer than those of regular brown rice, earning comparisons to...
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