You won't find a gentler way of cooking rice than with a bamboo steamer. Bamboo steamers have bottoms comprised of thin, parallel slats through which steam wafts and latticed lids that contain it. This allows moist convection heat to envelop and cook the rice grains inside without agitating them or releasing enough starch to cause stickiness. A few pieces of vegetable greens usually act as the barrier that prevents rice from dropping through the bottom of the steamer, but you can use parchment paper or an aromatic leaf, such as lotus, for support during the steaming process.
Soak the rice in a bowl of water for about 1 hour and rinse it in a sieve under cold running water. Set the rice aside while you ready the steamer.
Place a wok on the stove. Fill it about 3/4 with water, or so that the steamer sits an inch above the water line. You can use a pot if you don't have a wok.
Add whole spices to the water if you want to impart their aromas and flavors to the rice.
Set the heat under the wok to high. Line the steamer with cabbage leaves and place it in the wok. Cover the steamer.
If you want to use parchment paper instead of cabbage leaves, line the steamer with a circle of parchment paper about 1/2 inch smaller in diameter and with a 1/2-inch hole in the center. The steam will enter the steamer through the sides and the hole in the center and create convection.
Pour the rice on the cabbage leaves when the water boils, then lower the heat so the water simmers.
Steam the rice for 20 minutes. Taste the rice to check its tenderness. It shouldn't need more time, but if you like your rice softer, steam it in 2- or 3-minute increments until it reaches the desired softness.
Season the rice with kosher salt, if desired, and serve, or transfer it to a large plate if you need to set it aside. Spread the rice out in an even layer on the plate so it won't continue steaming.
- You use grape leaves, lotus leaves, banana leaves and corn husks to line bamboo steamer if you want to impart subtle flavors to the rice.
- You can also use the steamer to reheat the rice, simmering the water on low for 5 minutes.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.