1.5.10 Sticky Situation
photos by george billard
As we become better acquainted, I hope to impart to you my love for Indian and Southeast-Asian cooking. I guess the first thing I would tell you is that you need to have a good source for ingredients. Many ethnic markets also carry requisite cooking tools, such as this sticky rice steamer you can pick up at almost any Thai market. Often, they'll even have a selection of mortars and pestles
(mortar and pestles?), a tool which comes in handy prepping this type of food. In New York City, I recommend a visit to the Bangkok Center Grocery in Chinatown, on Mosco Street between Mott and Mulberry. First of all they are the nicest people in the whole world and will always greet you with "Sawat dee." And then they have a wicked green papaya salad that you will take home and be unable to stop eating even when your lips are burning off. They also carry hard-to-find fresh produce, like wild lime leaves (also known as kaffi
Stock up on some cans of curry paste (the Masaman is flawless, served with a cucumber relish—recipe soon, I promise) and of coconut milk, and grab a bottle of fish sauce and you are in business for an easy, quick and delicious meal. You can simply follow the instructions on the can! I have gone to the effort of making my own curry pastes and, though they are quite good, I can't really say they're any better than the Maesri brand. But this post is really to tell you that making your own sticky rice at home is no big deal. All you need is the right steamer and the right rice.
uncooked sticky rice and bamboo rice paddle
As you've seen, the steamer is a two-part affair: a gourd-shaped metal pot and a conical woven rattan steamer that fits inside. You could probably improvise something, but these work perfectly and are not at all expensive. The rice has to be what is called "long-grain Thai sticky rice." Not jasmine, not Japanese sweet rice, not anything else. You might see it marked pin kao. Thus far, even though I've talked to the nice people at Whole Foods, I've never seen it anywhere but Mosco Street. Sticky rice is delicious (and essential) as an accompaniment to curries. It also makes an incredible dessert when cooked with coconut milk and mango. (If you're in Los Angeles, you probably know many Thai markets, but I can definitely recommend the one at Hollywood and Harvard as having a huge selection of fresh produce and pantry ingredients.)
— 3 cups Thai sticky rice
You will need to soak the rice overnight. (This imparts flavor, but if you insist on skipping this step, you can soak it in warm water for just a couple of hours.) Soak it in a bowl big enough that you can add about 3 inches of room-temperature water on top of the rice.
Fill the metal rice cooking pot with water about halfway up, just not so high that it will touch the bottom of the basket. The rice shouldn't touch the water. Place the steamer basket into the pot.
Now, drain the rice and dump it into the steamer basket. Cover the top of the basket with a clean dish towel (be careful the draped ends don't get close to the burner) and set to boil. The rice needs to steam this way for about half an hour. Make sure your pot does not run out of water!
You can use a wooden spoon or a little rice paddle like mine, above, to turn the rice a bit. (It's not really necessary but I like to poke at my rice occasionally to see how it's getting done.) Serve the rice warm or at room temperature, directly from the basket or from a covered bowl.