busyfood.net – How to Make Sticky Rice, Thai Style
Thai sticky rice can be intimidating to those who don’t cook and eat it routinely. Even some Thai people who grew up eating it feel apprehensive about making it at home. But once you know how to make sticky rice properly, you’re set for life. The only remedy, as the philosopher Nike says, is to just do it—and do it often enough that the task doesn’t give you anxiety any longer.
For the best experience with Thai sticky rice (khao niao), three things are of utmost importance: getting the correct type of sticky rice, cooking it the right way, and serving and eating it the way it’s traditionally served and eaten.
How to Pick Your Rice
Getting the right type of rice is crucial. Unfortunately, in my experience writing about Thai food, I’ve noticed that this is where many people go wrong. When it comes to creating Thai recipes in the way that is true to tradition, this one initial misstep alone ensures a less-than-desirable outcome even though everything else downstream is done perfectly. Not all types of Asian “sweet” or “sticky” rice are the same, and I have not found a single variety that works well as a substitute for this particular one. Some may argue that all types of sticky rice are interchangeable, but try telling that to the Thai and Lao people who eat this rice as a staple.
The confusion around the identity of this rice variety and the difficulty in telling it apart from the many other types of Asian rice are common and understandable. The terms “sticky rice,” “sweet rice,” and “glutinous rice”—the best attempt on the manufacturers’ part to describe it in English—are simply too broad and generic to be helpful. What do you do, then, when you stand in the rice aisle of an Asian store, overwhelmed by packages of rice that are all labeled as such?
In the present time, most Thai and Lao sticky rice is imported from Thailand, so to be sure that you get the right type of rice, look for “sweet rice” or “glutinous rice” on the package, along with any kind of indication that this rice has been imported from Thailand, including the word ข้าวเหนียว. If you see the word “Sanpatong” on the package, that’s even better, as it means it’s the high-quality type named after San Pa Tong District in the Northern Thai province of Chiang Mai; this variety cooks up fluffy, tender, and fragrant, and it is much beloved in Thailand.
When raw, the grains of this rice variety are of medium length and bright opaque white; when cooked, they turn off-white, somewhat translucent, and shiny. When properly prepared, the grains hold their shape but stick together due to the high level of amylopectin, one of the main types of starch molecules in rice grains with amylose being the other (the amount of amylose relative to amylopectin varies among the many different types of rice; longer-grain varieties have higher ratios of amylose to amylopectin, which explains why they don’t cook up as sticky as shorter-grain varieties
What’s the Deal With Purple/Black Sticky Rice?
White sticky rice is by far the most common type of sticky rice sold and consumed in Thailand; when a Thai recipe calls for sticky rice, unless stated otherwise, white sticky rice is the move. However, another variety of sticky rice, khao niao dam (literally, “black sticky rice,” although the color is purplish-brown), is also a favorite among Thai people. In the past it was primarily reserved for sweet applications, but black sticky rice is now often served with savory dishes in place of the regular white sticky rice, mostly because black sticky rice is unpolished and, therefore, offers more health benefits.