How to Cook Sticky Rice – A Laos & North Thai Staple


This is a very simple explanation of the technique to cook white sticky rice at home yourself. North Thailand, Isaan and Laos use sticky rice as a staple, and it is eaten differently to 'normal' rice, which is soft, fluffy and only a little clingy if cooked properly. Sticky rice is sexy, versatile and habit-forming. It clings together stubbornly and has a gloss and a toothsome quality that other rice can only dream of emulating. For me, it's the King of rice. Sorry about that. But I'm right. It is normally eaten with the fingers; up here in North Thailand it is rolled into balls and dipped in sauces or eaten with small amounts of the other dishes. Other uses follow the cooking instructions below.

Once you have tried sticky rice, usually in an Isaan Thai restaurant or Laos restaurant, you'll probably end up frustrated when you attempt to get it again at similar venues without success. The answer – make it yourself. It is SO easy.

You will need:

White sticky rice (Also called 'glutinous rice') Water A bowl to soak it in overnight A steamer or bamboo steamer basket It helps to have a clean (new) handkerchief, cheesecloth, gauze sheet, or non-fluffy tea-towel etc to cook it on and handle it with – but it's not really necessary. It's just less messy to handle, and it stops it falling through the holes of the steamer

Fool proof method

Put the dry rice in a bowl Cover it with cold water, enough to leave an inch or two of water covering the top of the rice. Leave it for 12 hours – overnight is normal. You can keep it in the fridge soaking if you want to. After it has been soaked, drain the water off – and keep a cupful * for adding to your next batch. Lay your cheesecloth or clean cloth / gauze in the steamer and put the soaked rice on top. Steam for 15-20 minutes. Taste. The rice should be clinging together, chewy and toothsome without any hard bits. If steamed for too long it will get soft and gluey – so just steam until it is cooked through.

Steaming in a cheesecloth or tea-towel

You can also use a traditional 'v shaped' woven flax or bamboo steaming basket on the top of the pot. Anything that lets the steam penetrate properly. Just a steamer is fine, but until it is cooked, the rice can fall through. If you use a cloth, make sure there are plenty of holes or a light weave to let the steam through


Time for the finished product. Awesome white sticky rice

If you steam over very rapidly boiling water, enclosed, it will cook faster than if you have a basket on top of a simmering pot. (pressure and volume of steam makes the difference)

Volume and shape of sticky rice makes a small difference too. Try and make sure it is faily evenly spread over the steamer, and not in a pyramid shaped mound 🙂

How hungry you are: It is a known fact that a watched pot never boils. The hungrier you are, the longer it will seem to take to cook.Prep it in advance. Don't wait for the rice – It can wait for you.

Keeping the soaking water from the rice – a trick of the trade:

Add a little bit (1/2 cup) of the old rice soaking water into the next day's batch of rice that you soak. The enzymes and good bacteria will go to work and make a better tasting, nicer textured rice. (an old local trick from the family up North!)

The good news: (No – not the bible!)

You can cook a batch in the morning and leave it (covered) all day and use it for breakfast lunch and dinner if you want. Just reheat in the steamer for a minute or two, or covered in a microwave (BRIEFLY!) Or – eat it at room temperature

The bad news:

DON'T sit exposed sticky rice in the path of a fan or air conditioner. Wind, air circulation or a fan will dry it out and make it nasty. In fact, just being exposed to any air for any length of time will dry it out. That is why it is served in small baskets lined with plastic, or by street vendors in plastic bags. You can serve it in plastic bags, wrapped in banana leaf, or in a small container too. Hell, you can even clingwrap the stuff or hand it around in condoms if your recipients find it amusing, or won't object. Just keep the air off it, and it is yours for the whole day, soft, supple, and ……… ooooh this sounds like a Mills and Boon novel !.

Even worse news:

In the eyes of Thais, I have become a peasant. Yes, thats right, A serf, a farmer, a ne'er-do-well. Jasmine rice, or "khao suai" is the 'superior' rice, and more expensive. It is eaten with a spoon and fork. (Whoopee!) The Isaan region is poor and a tad sparse, compared to the lush, wet, tropical central plains and jungle-clad South. Sticky rice is the staple of Isaan, and society here is a bit classist. Ergo, if you eat steamed rice – use a silver spoon, speak like a toff, and all is well. If you admit to a staple diet of sticky rice rolled into balls with your fingers, you are a peasant. I prefer sticky rice. Its awesome. I have no shame. Great Isaan dishes that have now become Thai food classics can only be served with sticky rice. These include hawker fried chicken, sun-dried beef or pork, som tam papaya salad, hawker charcoal chicken, Charcoal Barbecued Pigs Ears … and Nam Sausage! Show me a Thai that doesn't eat those, and I'll show you someone unworthy of their passport 🙂

It IS true that eating with the fingers is hard for a Westerner.

Indians, Laotians, Africans, Arabs and Northern Thais have a connection with their food that involves the tactile senses. Use of the hands and fingers. A sensuality and feeling for what we put in our bodies that we just don't get. Are we too uptight? We are taught from an early age to use utensils, have proper manners and follow a rigid etiquette of eating. McDonalds, though I am sad to admit it, brought 'eating from the hands' into mainstream use. It's just a pity about what they serve. Then came 'crab bibs' and the several hundred dollar meal check. Are we evolving back from too many rules to enjoying the sensation and freshness of real food from the utensils that we were born with on the end of our arms? Who knows. I've learned to sit on the floor and eat – but I still like my own plate ort bowl to spoon food into – and I still like my spoon and fork. But the sticky rice – yes, I've changed!

Other uses, now you have learned to cook sticky rice

It can also have other ingredients mixed in – as soon as it comes off the steamer from cooking. At this point it is soft, and can absorb ingredients and still stick. Then you can mold it into patties and panfry it – crisp on the outside and sexy in the middle.

You can add sauces and liquids into it when it is freshly cooked and off the heat also. Here in Thailand the standard dessert is sticky rice with hot coconut milk stirred in and served with mango.

Once the rice has 'set' (and that happens after only 4-5 minutes after you stop cooking) – that's it. Any additives will break it up and it won't stick. Visit my site an ask me any questions in the comments section if I have left anything unclear. Have fun, and say 'hi' from me to the counsellors at SRA when you get there. (Sticky Rice Anonymous). I have missed a few sessions, and I'm now in serial relapse. Yum.


Source by Shane Brierly

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