Adding variety to rice
Operators look beyond traditional white and brown to more exotic options.
Published in FSD Update
Rice has long been a staple of menus, but the usual white and brown varieties aren’t cutting it anymore. Many operators are incorporating more exotic varieties like basmati, jasmine and texmati to meet their clientele’s diverse dining needs. FSD spoke to several operators about how they are incorporating three of these rices into their menus.
Perhaps the most commonly used of the more exotic rices, basmati is a great option for a wide variety of Asian and Indian dishes. At Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, Eric Yung, executive chef, likes to use basmati in his pilafs because of how well the grains separate, so they don’t get sticky. For a recent Diwali celebration, the team used basmati rice for a pilaf that also featured saffron, fennel seeds, onions, celery, salt and pepper.
“For that pilaf, we’re just cooking it in water since many Indians are vegetarians,” Yung says. “Last year we used a vegetable stock, but it left the pilaf with a color that we didn’t like. The pilaf will be served as a side with a tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala and a saag paneer.”
Because basmati has such a distinct flavor it works well with anything that is anise based, Yung adds. He also likes to pair basmati with caraway seed for a non-traditional pairing, or saffron.
Saffron is also a key component in El Camino Hospital’s basmati rice, which is served as a hot side with several Indian and Asian dishes such as red lentil curry and grilled mahi mahi, according to Executive Chef Jacques Wilson at this hospital in Mountain View, Calif.
“Basmati goes with anything from Asian to American food,” Wilson says. “Our main basmati pilaf is sautéed with celery, onions and carrots. It goes well with spicier-type items.”
At Ohio State University, in Columbus, vegan and vegetarian options are in high demand at the café located in the fitness center, according to Lesa Holford, corporate executive chef. One popular wrap featured saffron basmati rice, garbanzo beans, carrots, peas and peppers. Holford says the department sold 674 in three weeks, which she says is a pretty good sell rate for that location.
“Another thing we did at that location was use a bamboo rice for a wrap,” Holford says. “Bamboo rice is a short-grain rice that has been infused with chlorophyll from bamboo plants that makes the rice high in vitamin B. We just made a wrap with it that featured Thai vegetables, bamboo rice and an edamame bean purée on a tomato basil wrap.”
“We have a very diverse culture here and they really like jasmine rice,” Wilson says. “We’re trying to wean people off basic white rice toward [other options] like jasmine rice.”
The side of steamed jasmine rice, which is offered every day, is served with dishes such as grilled salmon with spinach and artichokes and grilled mahi mahi with ginger, cilantro and lime.
At Miami University, Chef Yung’s team serves jasmine rice with many of the university’s Thai offerings, such as Thai chicken skewers.
“Jasmine is also really interesting to use for cold rice salads,” Yung adds. “When they’re cold, a lot of rices do not absorb flavor well. Jasmine is a good option for something that you want to continue to take on flavor. We use it in a dish called gado-gado, which is a central Asian dish that is their equivalent of a seven-layer salad. We used it as a cold layered salad that we did out of our Asian concept. It has a peanut dressing, shredded lettuce, the jasmine rice, chopped eggs and sautéed vegetables that are chilled.”
Ohio State’s Holford also uses jasmine rice in a cold composed salad. One popular option features purple jasmine rice with pears, dried fruits and a curry vinaigrette.
“It’s a real simple salad, Holford says. “The students really like the eye appeal of the purple jasmine. We’re trying to figure out how to incorporate some winter vegetables in it so it can go beyond the season.” Holford will add dried fruits when they are on hand.
Yung says texmati rice is good to try because it has great flavor profiles and is actually less expensive than basmati. Texmati is an American hybrid of basmati that is grown in Texas.
“We use texmati for dishes that we want to be able to take on the flavor of the dish,” Yung says. “In a lot of our Latin concepts we use it as our default pilaf and we combine that with cilantro and lime. We roll it up in burritos or serve it as a hot side. It takes on those flavors really well, plus it stays really fluffy.”
Yung is also planning to introduce another non-traditional rice: red rice.
“We’ve put together a really neat station to help our students who have food allergies and those who want good vegan and vegetarian options,” Yung says of the station. “We wanted to find a rice that wasn’t very traditional to make this place special. We brought some in and tested it out and [the red rice] has such an unusual flavor. It has a little wild rice nuttiness going on it that everyone really liked. Plus, it presents so well.”
The red rice will be prepared as a pilaf, with a vegetarian stock infused with an Asian profile.