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  Corkscrew Issue 34, October 2005   
Matching Wine and RiceMatching Wine and Rice  Contents 
Issue 33, September 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 35, November 2005

Matching Wine and Rice

One of the most common cereals in the world, important resource for all human beings, is an extremely versatile and interesting food in the matching with wine

 Rice - the white cereal from which depends the daily survival of millions of people in the world - is a very precious resource for humans. Virtually spread in every country of the world, rice has a large and important use in the nutrition of humans as well as in other productions not usually connected to nutrition. Rice is among the most ancient cereals known by humans: it is believed it was already used for nutritional purposes 6,000 years ago; other theories support the idea the first forms of cultivation can be dated back to 8,000 years ago in the island of Java and in Cambodia. Despite this very long time has passed, rice is still today an essential resource for humans. This little cereal, with its apparent simplicity and modesty, is indeed characterized by a richness and versatility typical of simple things, simple things however capable of being big and important. Simple and humble in its shape, big and important in ensuring the daily survival of millions of people worldwide, something which - of course - cannot be considered as a little thing.

 Rice proves its incredible versatility in the gastronomical cooking of every country in the world, from recipes made of “simple” boiled rice, to the most elaborated and complex recipes where the rice is united to sumptuous flavors. The importance and the influence of rice is such that every country of the world has virtually created with this precious ingredient an endless number of recipes and, despite rice is originated and typical in the countries of the far east, this preparations are considered - undoubtedly - typical in the respective countries. Steamed, boiled or stewed, the use of rice in cooking seems not to have limits, saved the ones represented by the fantasy of the cook, something which can be said for every ingredient, of course. Rice is the main ingredient in countless recipes, as well as a fundamental companion for many foods. It is enough to think - among the many things - about the typical custom of Arab and Asian countries, where rice plays the role which is usually played by bread in the western world.


Red wine risotto: creamy, colored and tasty!
Red wine risotto: creamy, colored and tasty!

 Rice has conquered the cooking of the cultures of the world and it is now present in every recipe making a whole meal, from appetizers to desserts. Moreover rice is largely used for the preparation of those recipes considered as whole meal - that is a preparation which is served as the only course of a meal - as in the case of the famous paella typical of the Spanish cooking tradition. Authentic companion of the good cooking, rice expresses its magnificence also in the preparation of risotto - the famous recipe of the Italian cooking in which rice joins the flavors of other and rich ingredients - as well as in timbales, puddings and the joyous and tasty rice salads, served cold during the summer meals of Italians. Protagonist of endless soups - classic is the one made with cabbage - is also largely used in the preparation of desserts, from croquettes to pies. The use of rice in cooking is not limited to the whole grain, rice is also used as flour or starch to thicken sauces and condiments.

 

A White Grain Coming From the East

 Rice is a herbaceous yearly plant belonging to the gramineae family and - despite its origin is from the countries of Eastern Asia - today it is spread and common everywhere in the world, representing one of the most important resources for human nutrition. The scientific name of rice is oryza sativa, a species to which belong many varieties, however for human nutrition are used two varieties only: Oryza Sativa Japonica and Oryza Sativa Indica. To them is also added a third variety - Oryza Sativa Javanica - scarcely common. There is also another variety - belonging to the family of gramineae - that, despite its name could make believe differently, does not belong to the Oryza Sativa variety. It is the so called wild rice, a gramineae cultivated since thousands years in Eastern Asia and used as a vegetable. Wild rice was also particularly consumed by the native Indian people in north America: for this reason it is also known as American rice. The consumption of wild rice is also becoming common is other countries where the grains are used just like the Japonica and Indica varieties. It should be noticed that in the Eastern world are being consumed - after having been cooked - the trunks of wild rice as well.


 

 The first cultivations of rice, of which we know about, are dated back to some thousands of years b.C. in Asia, and from there it spread all over the world. From Asia, Arabs introduced rice in Sicily, then arrived in Spain, introduced by Aragonese, and finally - in the fifteenth century - in Lombardy and Piedmont, regions in which are found the largest rice cultivations in Italy. The rice grain - after having been harvested - require specific procedures in order to make it edible and usable for nutritional purposes. Rice is generally cultivated in water and produces a small seedhead containing about 100-200 grains. The grain of rice, after harvesting, is called raw rice, it is covered by a non edible coriaceous skin, which will be removed during the first phases of processing. It will be after the skin is removed the grain will get its common aspect and will be called rice. The processing of rice which makes it white and brilliant, that is the aspect we are used to, requires many procedures. After having eliminated the skin and the external layers covering the grain, rice is processed with edible oils or vaseline in order to avoid grains damage. The grains are then covered with a thin layer of talc or glucose, an operation which gives the rice its usual brilliant aspect.

 According to the many phases of processing, are being obtained three types of rice: brown rice, white rice - or polished rice - and parboiled rice. Brown rice - with a darker color - is produced by simply removing the outer husk of the grain, a process which makes rice edible and it is not processed any further. Brown rice has a high nutritional value because it keeps a higher quantity of vitamins, proteins and fibers, however it requires longer cooking times. White rice is the produce of the whole processing and refinement, it is the rice commonly commercialized with a white color and brilliant aspect. Parboiled rice - with its characteristic amber color - is produced with the process of parboilization, a natural process already known by ancient Egyptians and Hittites. The technique consists in leaving raw rice in warm water for some days, then it is processed under pressure with a high temperature steam, then it is dried with hot air. At the end of this operation, the rice is processed with the same techniques used for the production of white rice.

 During the process of parboilization, vitamins and hydro soluble mineral salts, passes, because of the effect of osmosis, from the external part of rice to the internal one, therefore allowing rice to keep a higher quantity of nutritional substances, usually lost during the processing of white rice. Thanks to the effect of heat, it is obtained a gelatinization of starch which makes the grain more resistant, ensures a longer keeping and a better resistance to cooking. Despite its good nutritional qualities, parboiled rice gets a more elastic consistence after cooking and has a lesser capacity of absorbing condiments. Precooked rice undergoes a processing similar to parboiled rice, with the difference it is being used white rice instead of raw rice, therefore the finished product will be characterized by a lesser quantity of nutritional substances, however allowing shorter cooking times and offering a better resistance to cooking. At the end of the required processes, rice is being classified according to variety, shape and contents in starch. In Italy, the rice belonging to the Japonica variety, the most common type in this country, is classified as originario (short-grain) or common, semifino (semi-long), fino (long) and superfino (super-long).

 Originario rice (Cripto, Auro, Rubino, Balilla, Ticinese) has a small and round grain, an opaque aspect and a maximum length of 5.4 mm, requires a cooking time of about 12-13 minutes and it is generally used for the preparation of soups and desserts. Semifino rice (Italico, Vialone Nano, Maratelli, Neretto, Monticelli, Padano, Lido, R. Marchetti) has a round and semi long grain, a maximum length of 6.3 mm and requires a cooking time of about 13-15 minutes, generally used for the preparation of soups, timbales, side dishes and croquettes. Fino rice (Ribe, R.B., Ringo, Europa, P. Marchetti, Rizzotto, S. Andrea, Veneria, Europa) has a long and thin grain, a glassy aspect and a length of more than 6.4 mm, requires a cooking time of about 14-16 minutes, generally used for the preparation of salads and side dishes. Superfino rice (Arborio, Volano, Roma, Baldo, Carnaroli, Razza 77, Silla, Bonni, Redi) has a long and very thin grain, a glassy aspect and a length of more than 6.4 mm, requires a cooking time of 16-20 minutes, suited for the preparation of risotto, timbales and side dishes. Among the rices belonging to the Indica variety, are mentioned basmati, with a very long and very thin grain, crystalline aspect and characteristic aroma, and patna, with a long grain, compact and thin, which does not tend to stick after cooking. Both basmati and patna are very suited for steaming cooking and can be served as a side dish for meat and fish.

 

Cooking and Using Rice

 The use of rice in cooking is mainly determined by its resistance to cooking and its stickiness, that is the capacity of releasing starch during cooking. A rice with high resistance to cooking and a low stickiness will show - at the end of cooking - a more compact grain, whereas a rise with low resistance to cooking and high stickiness, will tend to flake and to lose consistency with cooking. Variety and classification of rice apart, a scrupulous observation of a the grain is useful in determining its consistence. If we carefully observe a rice grain, it will be notice a small white “stain” inside, called pearl: it is a non crystallized clot of starch that during cooking will tend to flake. By observing the size of the pearl it will be possible to understand the most appropriate use for rice, including its resistance to cooking. The greater the size of the pearl, the lower the consistency and resistance to cooking; the lesser the size of the pearl, the higher the consistency and the resistance to cooking. Therefore, rices with a big pearl - such as originario rice - are suited for the preparation of soups and desserts, whereas the ones having a small pearl - such as superfino rice - are suited for the preparation of rice, timbales and salads.

 Before proceeding with the cooking of rice, it is fundamental to make sure it is fresh: in case we put a hand in the rice and it gets covered by a very fine powder, it means the rice is old. Rice can be used for many preparations and recipes. Despite it is a common and suggested practice, it is preferable not to wash the rice before cooking because it would lose most of its nutritional properties. Rice can be cooked by using different techniques, of which the most common are boiling, stewing and steam cooking. Among the most famous stewing preparations is mentioned risotto, the famous Italian recipe in which rice is cooked by added small quantities of broth. In the preparation of this recipe an important factor is represented by the so called toasting, that is the phase in which rice is added in the pot with the onion stewed in butter or in oil. The effect of toasting is to close the pores of rice - therefore limiting the absorption of condiments - as well as determining the cooking time. Longer toasting times will make the pores to close too much, therefore limiting the absorption of condiments while increasing cooking time, a practice that would be avoided. A time of 3-4 minutes of toasting gives very good results and an appropriate creamy texture, although it should always be remembered risotto must be served all'onda (to the wave), that is having a good creamy texture and - very important - it must always be al dente.

 

The Matching of Rice with Wine

 Rice - because of its vast use in cooking - allows the formulation of countless enogastronomical matchings: defining a general matching rule would be pretty reductive and inappropriate. If we consider the taste of cooked rice with no condiments - because of the high contents in starch - it will be perceived a basically sweet taste. According to this preliminary analysis, we could end up by saying a good wine suited for the matching with rice should have a good acidity and effervescence, therefore white and sparkling wines. Despite the fact this could be a good choice, it is good to remember rice - even in case it is served boiled or steamed - it is always accompanied by other foods, therefore it is very unlikely rice is consumed in its most simple cooking form. The matching with rice is therefore conditioned by the cooking technique and by the ingredients used for the preparation of the recipe. Particular attention should be paid in those preparations in which wine is an ingredient of the recipe, such as in case of Champagne risotto of red wine risotto. In these cases it is appropriate to choose the same wine, however it is good to carefully evaluate its structure.

 In case rice is served as a side dish to a recipe, the wine will be chosen according to the main dish. This does mean in case boiled or steamed rice is served as a side dish for braised or stewed meat, the wine will be chosen according to the meat and to the preparation technique. As for the sumptuous fantasy typical is risotto, the same considerations are still valid, that is the choice of the wine is largely determined by the organoleptic qualities of the ingredients added to the rice: this does mean a good risotto with meat or complex sauces, can be happily matched to a good red wine of appropriate structure. The same considerations are valid for the many croquettes made with rice: the filling will largely determine the matching. A particular consideration should be done for timbales and rice puddings whose cooking is done in oven. Besides considering the ingredients making the recipe, it should also be remembered that for recipes cooked in oven are generally used rich condiments which increase the structure of the dish, therefore the wine should be chosen appropriately.

 




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  Corkscrew Issue 34, October 2005   
Matching Wine and RiceMatching Wine and Rice  Contents 
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