Thursday, February 26, 2004

Thai Sticky Rice


Before I ever went to Thailand I was very fond of mango and sticky rice. In fact, when Lee and I would order Thai food to be delivered to our home, our choice of restaurants would often be influenced by which one had mango and sticky rice on the menu. In Thailand we ordered it every time we could.

At home I looked and looked for a recipe to stave off our dependence on Thai restaurants. The tricky thing is, while there are many types of rice on the market locally, it's virtually impossible to find sticky rice. I take that back. It's virtually impossible to find any rice labeled sticky rice. The rice you use for making sticky rice is often called "glutinous rice" which is odd since it is free of gluten, or it's called "sweet rice". After much searching I finally found a package of sticky rice called sweet rice in of all places a Smart and Final store.

In Thailand small baskets are used to steam and serve sticky rice with meals. Sticky rice is very popular in the north of Thailand and once I even had it packed into a section of bamboo stalk. It is very sticky and you can actually eat it with your hands. If you've ever had sticky rice you know that it is translucent when cooked and opaque when raw--the exact opposite of most rice you are used to. The rice is steamed, as is most rice, but it has to be soaked overnight and the method for steaming it is also different from typical rice. The rice does not touch the water. To cook it you can use almost any kind of steamer basket (bamboo, metal, etc.) lined with cheesecloth or linen but the traditional way is to use a Thai sticky rice bamboo steamer.

Finding a Thai sticky rice bamboo steamer is no easy task. I found them online but finding them in stock and in store locally was quite challenging though worth the effort. At the Wok Shop in San Francisco's Chinatown I found one for only $2.95. The distinctive pot was out of stock, but the staff highly recommended using the basket over any other deep pot and using a cover on top of the basket to speed cooking.

Because you don't have to measure the water, steaming rice using a Thai sticky rice bamboo steamer is actually quite easy. I used one and half cups of rice which made about four good portions. To make sticky rice you really do need the right rice, don't try this with any other rice, even Thai Jasmine rice, it just won't work. After letting it soak oavernight, I steamed it for just about 20 minutes and then mixed the rice with half a cup of coconut milk a few tablespoons of sugar and a big pinch of salt. The Thai believe that the salt is necessary in the dish and I tend to agree. The salt along with the fresh sliced mango served on the side cut the intense sweetness of the rice and coconut. You stir the mixture until the rice absorbs the sugar and coconut milk. A little extra coconut milk can be mixed with sugar or palm sugar if you have it, and drizzled on top of the rice as a sauce. The Thai people eat this with some crispy mung beans on top, but toasted sesame seeds are good too. If you are as addicted to this sweet as I am, I recommend indulging in it at home and you may find it is not only good for dessert but also makes a delicious snack or even breakfast.