All rice starts out as grains enclosed in an outer husk that's removed by threshing, and then a layer of bran that may or may not be milled away. In brown rice the layer of bran remains, giving the grain its distinctive color and characteristic chewy texture when cooked. Brown rice is available in three basic forms, long, medium or short-grained, which vary in length and thickness.
All rice starts out brown, and one rice plant can produce grains of varying lengths and widths. From a culinary perspective, the size of the individual grains influence their cooking time and what types of dishes for which they are best suited. Long, brown rice grains measure roughly 1/4 inch long, medium-grain brown rice is about 7/32 of an inch long, which is twice its width, and the shortest grains measure about 3/16 of an inch or less. Grain length is determined by several factors, including genetics and the air temperature just after the rice plants have flowered.
A single grain of unprocessed, or rough, rice is composed of six different parts. They include a small portion of the stalk, where the grain was attached to the stem and the germ, or embryo from which it emerged. The starchy part of the grain, called the endosperm, which we know as white rice, is enclosed in several layers of bran and an outer hull, whose bristles extend out from the top. During the processing of brown rice, only the hull and what is left of the stalk are removed, leaving the bran layers that give the rice its brown color.
Cooking Brown Rice
Brown rice must be cooked longer than milled white rice, because the bran layers that surround the endosperm are tougher and more fibrous. Using a ratio of 1 cup uncooked rice to 2 1/4 cup liquid, which can be water, juice or broth, results in rice that separates easily and doesn't clump together. You can add a teaspoonful of salt and a tablespoon of butter before you bring the water to a boil, but both are optional. It takes 1 cup of uncooked brown rice to produce 3 to 4 cups of cooked rice. You should combine the ingredients in a large 2- or 3-quart pot, bring it to a boil, and cook it covered for about 45 to 50 minutes. Add 2 to 4 minutes to the cooking time, if the rice is not quite done.
Results and Uses
When cooked, long-grain brown rice fluffs up readily and is not sticky, making it a good choice for pilafs, casseroles, salads and baked dishes, while medium-grain varieties are stickier and a good choice for paella, a pungent Spanish dish that incorporates seafood and meat and stuffing for vegetables. Short-grain brown rice has a somewhat creamy texture that lends itself well to dishes such as risotto rice pudding.
Rachel Lovejoy has been writing professionally since 1990 and currently writes a weekly column entitled "From the Urban Wilderness" for the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, Maine, as well as short novellas for Amazon Kindle. Lovejoy graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.