Steamed Sticky Rice

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: About 2 hours, largely unattended

Among the most incredible one-ingredient preparations in the world, sticky rice is popular throughout East and Southeast Asia. In Thailand, among other places, it’s eaten at just about every meal, like bread. It has substance, flavor, and chew, and almost everyone who tries it loves it. Nor is it difficult to make, as long as you plan ahead a bit.

Sticky rice imposes two challenges. One is in buying the right stuff: It may be called sticky rice, sweet rice, or glutinous rice but unfortunately not all sweet or glutinous rice is sticky rice. If you buy Thai sticky rice or Thai sweet rice, you’ll wind up with the right stuff. Another possibility and this is also quite reliable is broken jasmine rice. (There’s also black sticky rice, but that’s mostly reserved for desserts; see Long-Grain Rices.) Make sure you buy some cheesecloth too; you’ll need it for steaming.

The second challenge is simpler: Plan ahead. Sticky rice must be soaked for an hour before steaming, and longer is better.

11/2 cups sticky rice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper or soy sauce

Rinse the rice, then soak it in water to cover for at least 1 hour (24 hours is fine also).

Drain, then wrap in cheesecloth and put in a steamer above boiling water. Steam for about 30 minutes, until tender. It’s almost impossible to overcook sticky rice, so you can keep it warm over low heat for an hour longer or even more. (You can even cook the rice in advance: Keep it tightly wrapped and refrigerated, and resteam just before serving.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper or soy sauce before serving.

Variations

Sticky Rice with Soy Sauce and Coconut Milk. Making a good thing better: Toss the cooked rice with 1 cup coconut milk (to make your own, see Coconut Milk) and 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Rewrap and steam (or microwave) for a few minutes to reheat.

Sticky Rice with Shallots and Peanuts or Coconut. This is killer: While it’s cooking, toast about 1/2 cup peanuts or shredded unsweetened coconut in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Chop the peanuts (you don’t have to chop the coconut), then toss with 1/4 cup chopped shallot or scallion, 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice. Toss with the cooked rice and rewrap and steam (or microwave) for a few minutes to reheat.

Sticky Rice with Vegetable Filling. Especially nice when wrapped in a lotus or banana leaf, but that step is really unnecessary: When the rice is done, flatten it into a rectangle and spread on about a cup of any filling you like, tossed with a little soy sauce. For example, use Stir-Fried Vegetables with Sauted Mushrooms, (best with shiitakes). Fold the rice over the filling and rewrap and steam (or microwave) for a few minutes to reheat.