Rice perfectly absorbs the flavor of any dish it's cooked in

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Rice is the most commonly used of all the grain products of the world. It is grown in many countries, but the United States has developed some of the finest types and varieties of rice, which have met with high favor at home and abroad.

American rice, in fact, commands a premium in foreign markets. In this country, rice is produced chiefly in the states of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and California. Arkansas is the largest rice producing state, with California right behind.

Cooking rice is easy

Some people are of the impression it is difficult to cook rice to make it fluffy with the grains standing apart. But this is a fallacy. Anybody can cook rice. It is the simplest food to cook.

There is really no secret. Simply rinse the rice in water to get rid of excess starch. For every cup of rice, add 1-1/2 cups water and bring the rice to a boil, uncovered, at medium heat.

Once it starts to boil, turn the heat down to medium low and cover. When it’s done, turn off the heat and leave the lid on to allow the rice to absorb the vapor in the pot. Then, take the lid off to release the remaining vapor; otherwise, the rice will become too sticky. Fluff up rice and serve. For best results, I recommend using long-grain rice.

How Rice Is Produced

Rice is planted with the husk on it and is spread over well-harrowed land (in the same manner wheat is planted), 80-100 pounds to the acre. It is then allowed to sprout and grow from two to three weeks to a height of about 6 inches. Then, water is pumped into the field, submerging the stalks about halfway, and remains half submerged in water for about three months while the rice grows and matures.

In some cases, the source of the water supply is a river or a bayou; in other cases, deep wells are the means of supplying the water. Some rice irrigation canals are 8-10 feet deep, 40-60 feet wide, and 30 miles long.

Value of Rice as a Food

Rice is the most easily digested of all foods because the elements making up the grain itself are fine. It is perhaps owing to the fact rice is so easily assimilated that the people of some nations are able to use it as their main diet.

It is quickly and easily consumed with little tax on the digestive organs. But while rice is a great energy producing food, it is not considered a balanced diet. It is, however, one of the best grain products to mix with other protein-bearing foods. It has the facility of absorbing perfectly the flavor of any food with which it is mixed.

Chicken Gumbo and Rice

4 cups cooked rice

1 large stewing chicken

1 slice ham, diced

2 Tbsps. butter

1 small onion, minced

1 green pepper, chopped

1 sprig thyme or parsley, minced

6 fresh or 1-1/2 cups canned tomatoes

4 okra pods, sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 bay leaf

Cut up the chicken as for stewing; season with salt and pepper. Heat butter in a soup kettle. Add chicken and ham, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add onion, pepper and thyme and allow to brown; add the tomatoes and sliced okra pods. Add 3 quarts of boiling water, cover, and let simmer for 2 hours.

Serve with a bowl of steamed rice or serve in soup bowls with a generous mound of rice. Makes 6 servings.

Chicken Chop Suey with Rice

3 Tbsps. butter

1 cup shredded green pepper

1 cup shredded onions

2 cups shredded, cooked chicken

2 cups shredded celery and leaves

2 cups bean sprouts (canned)

1-1/2 cups chicken broth

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

4 Tbsps. soy sauce

1 cup toasted almonds

1 cup diced mushrooms (optional)

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the green pepper and onion. Cook a few minutes, but do not brown. Add the shredded chicken and cook 5 minutes. Add celery, bean sprouts and broth, reserving enough broth to make a paste with the cornstarch. Add the paste and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring well. Stir in toasted almonds and soy sauce. Add diced mushrooms, if desired. Serve with hot rice. Makes 4-6 servings.

Arroz Con Pollo (Puerto Rican)

2 cups long-grain rice

3 lbs. chicken parts (or 2 small chickens, quartered)

1 cup vegetable oil

2 large onions, finely chopped

2 large green peppers, finely chopped

3 Tbsps. minced garlic

1 small can tomato paste

1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes

1 cup water

4 bay leaves

Salt to taste

1 Tbsp. vinegar

1 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 cups fresh or frozen peas

1/2 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed olives

Parsley for garnish

In a large cast-iron pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, peppers and garlic; cook until onions are tender. Add tomato, tomato paste and water; mix well. Add bay leaves, salt and pepper; stir. Add chicken parts and cover. Lower heat to medium and cook for 1 hour or until chicken is tender; add washed rice. Keeping pot covered, simmer for about 15 minutes, turning rice carefully to cook all evenly. When almost done, add vinegar, mushrooms and peas.

When ready to serve, remove chicken. Pour rice mixture in a mound on a large platter and arrange chicken around the edge of the mound. Garnish with pimiento olives and parsley. Makes 8 servings.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.