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Food + Cooking

Learning to Love Brown Rice

For someone who once subsisted on cookies and soda, the road to a whole-grain, occasionally vegetarian life began with this staple.
hash brown rice

For years I felt as though I was leading a double life. In the late ’80s and ’90s I spent my days developing and testing all manner of recipes in Gourmet’s test kitchen—more often than not they contained butter, cream, meat, or all three—then ran home to a whole-grain, not-quite-vegetarian household. Rice for my kids was brown, not white, and we went through a lot of it. It was packed in the lunch bag when my daughters went off to day care and a container of it stood ready in the fridge for quick weeknight reheats.

I wasn’t always this way. If you had told me in college I was going to turn into a brown-rice mother I would have guffawed and waved my hand dismissively. Ask my friends and they’ll tell you I lived on chocolate chip cookies and diet soda. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I made the about-face, and even then it didn’t happen right away. Together we consumed our share of steak, bacon, and processed grains before he asked me rather plaintively one day whether I could do something good with brown rice.

It was a challenge at first. I started out with long grain brown rice, the obvious choice if all you knew growing up was Uncle Ben’s converted white rice (which is long grain rice that’s been partially cooked before milling). But hard as I tried, long grain brown rice and I just didn’t hit it off. Instead of tasting good to me it tasted simply good for me, and that wasn’t going to instill any love.

Then I tried short grain brown rice. Now that was a different story. Here was a brown rice I could get into. When it steamed away on the stove it emitted wafts of promise with its wonderful nutty aroma. What sold me, though, was its satisfying chew; it didn’t turn to a gooey paste after a few mastications. The fact that it is loaded with vitamins and minerals was secondary.

I won’t gloss over the fact that brown rice of any variety takes longer to cook than white rice, but consider the extra 20 to 25 minutes as free time for you to do something else. Brown rice keeps in the fridge for at least a week, so I usually make double to ensure there’s plenty on hand for what’s become a favorite weekend lunch: “Hash brown rice” and eggs.

If you think potatoes are improved by contact with some hot fat in a skillet, try short-grain brown rice. It cooks up much stickier than long-grain rice, and that sticky quality seems to translate into more crust when the rice spends time with a little hot oil. What’s great about the hash brown style is that there’s nothing tricky to it—no complicated shenanigans to keep it in one piece. You just wait until it’s golden brown underneath, then stir up and turn over portions as large or small as your spatula will hold. What you end up with is the most satisfying combination of crunchy, chewy, and tender. Add a poached or fried egg and some salsa and you just might find yourself cooking up more brown rice than you ever dreamed.