Sticky rice is a popular restaurant staple for a reason: It’s delicious. The texture elevates rice from a humble side dish to an irresistible accompaniment for most any meal. But the grain can be a bit perplexing when attempting to make at home. Here, we’ll give you the secrets behind how it’s made and insider tips on how to recreate this delicious dish in your kitchen.
What is it?
Sticky rice is a short-grained varietal also known as glutinous rice, sweet rice, or pearl rice. It’s found in Southeast and East Asian cuisines from Thailand to Japan to Indonesia, and has a far lower fat content than its medium- and long-grained cousins.
The secret to that scrumptious stickiness is its starch. Longer-grained rice has two types of starch—amylose and amylopectin—which keep the grains from sticking together. But sticky rice has only amylopectin, and since this specific starch is water-soluble, the molecules separate when it hits hot water, giving the rice that soft, delightfully sticky texture that we’ve come to know and love.
Where to find it?
Almost every supermarket will carry sticky rice, but if you’re having trouble finding the right type, look for a label that has “glutinous rice” on it. (Planning to make it often? Stop by your local Asian market and grab a 10- or 20-pound bag!)
The secret’s in the soak.
You can boil sticky rice if you want, but since it requires less water to cook than other varieties, many people prefer to steam it or use a rice cooker.
Whichever method you choose, the trick is to soak the rice before you cook it. Some recipes recommend soaking for up to four hours, but if you’re planning to boil your sticky rice on the stovetop, you can get away with skipping this step. If you’re steaming it, let the rice stand in several inches of tepid water for as long as you’d like. You can leave it for up to 24 hours if you have the time—the longer you soak it, the fluffier and more pillowy the finished product will be.
In a small pot, measure ¾ cups of rice, 1¼ cups of water, and a pinch of salt.
Place on a high flame, bringing the water to a boil, then stir once, turn the heat to low, and cover the pot. Make sure to leave the lid slightly off-center so that the pot can vent as the rice cooks.
Cook for 12 minutes without stirring, then check the pot by pulling the rice away from the center with a fork to create a hole. If this shows you there’s still water at the bottom of the pot, cook for another five minutes, or until the rest of the water has been absorbed.
Remove the pot from the heat, fasten the lid securely—no venting this time—and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Once your 3 cups of rice have been soaked for at least 30 minutes, pour drained rice into a steamer basket.
Boil several inches of water in a wok or large pot, and set the basket over it, making sure the rice isn’t actually dipping down low enough to soak in the water.
Cover, and steam for 20 minutes. When the time is up, you need to essentially “flip” the rice, stirring it over so that the layer that was on the bottom of the steamer is now on top.
Steam for five more minutes, and then it’s ready to serve.
Using a rice cooker
Most restaurant sticky rice is prepared in a rice cooker, due to the sheer volume they go through on a given day. Many rice cookers automatically turn off and switch to a warming setting when all the water has absorbed into the grains, so they are the easiest and most reliable option for home cooks.
Soak the rice right inside the cooker. Add 2 cups of rice and 2 ½ cups of water, and let it stand for as long as you’d like.
After it’s finished soaking, add ½ teaspoon of salt, and turn on the cooker. If your machine has an automatic timer, let it go until it shuts off. Otherwise, cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed.
Once it’s cooked, let stand f”or another five minutes, then enjoy.
“Do I need to add anything?”
Not at all. Many people confuse sticky rice with sushi rice, and assume they need to add in vinegar, sugar, or dashi. But all you need for sticky rice is a little salt.
We hope these tips and tricks leave you brimming with confidence to take on this delicious side dish at home.