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How to Cook Starchy Foods

By: Leigh Sexton - Updated: 27 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Cooking Recipes Starch Cooking Help Rice

Most people are beginning to understand that eating non-fatty starchy food helps us to reduce the amount of fat we eat because starches are a key component of a healthy diet and also reduce the intake of empty calories. In fact starchy foods should make up around a third of our daily intake of calories.

The Starch Food Group

The starchy food group includes: bread, all forms of pasta but particularly wholemeal ones, all forms of rice including rice-flour and rice cakes, couscous and noodles, more unusual grains such as cornflour and millet and quinoa and a range of vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams, and ordinary potatoes.

Starchy Food Cooking Methods

Traditionally starchy foods are cooking in one of two ways, in fat or oil, or in water – steaming is a third option that is less commonly used but very worth exploring. When a starchy food is cooked in oil it may be sautéed or roasted or fried like rice or chapattis. Many starchy foods that are boiled, such as rice, couscous and potatoes can also be steamed, and some are traditionally steamed such as idli, Southern Indian rice pancakes. Oven baking is a third traditional cooking method and is the commonly used cooking style for all forms of bread and bread type foods such as chapattis and soda bread.

Problems with Cooking Starchy Foods

It’s a problem that some cooks come across from time to time, without warning, the horrible experience of cooking a meal where the rice or potato part of the dish just doesn’t cook through or soften.

This happens because something inhibits the normal swelling mechanism of the starch granules in the food. When heated in a liquid, these granules both swell and soften, but if they are exposed to a liquid that has a high acid content, they simply cannot swell. Often this is the result of cooking foods in a liquid base that contains either tomatoes or citrus and it’s unpredictable because the acid content of these foods varies according to the season, the variety and the other ingredients that you’re including in the meal.

If this happens when you are cooking, there are a couple of simple remedies. The first is to strain or lift the rice or potatoes out of the dish, rinse them under hot running water, and put them in a fresh pan with simmering hot water in which you’ve dissolved half a teaspoon of sugar. Five to seven minutes cooking will usually break down the starch bonds so that the granules can swell. Then return the starchy ingredient to your main dish and all will be well.

Cooking Perfect Rice

Many people struggle to cook fluffy rice and believe they can never solve the problem, but the answer is simple. Learn to cook by the absorption method. The first rule of this method is to always buy good quality basmati rice: short-grain or mixed rice or rice that is simply called ‘white’ rice will not work perfectly every time, in the way that basmati will. The second rule is to use a fairly tall and wide pan so that water doesn’t bubble over the top. The third rule is to be precise about measurements.

To Cook Rice for Two People

You must use:

  • 175g basmati rice
  • 410 ml of cold water
  • Half a teaspoon of salt.

Put the rice in the cold, dry pan. Pour the water over it and sprinkle the salt on the top. Bring the pan to the boil with the lid off and then put the lid on, turn the heat to low, and cook for exactly 12 minutes. When the time is up, lift the pan with the lid still on and set it on a folded tea-towel or cloth for five minutes. When you lift the lid you will find perfect fluffy rice.

Do not take the lid off the pan at any time during the cooking process as removing the steam from the interior of the pan stops the starch granules expanding at a constant rate so that they remain tough.

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