Jasmine Rice – Kao Hom Mali
by Kasma Loha-unchit
I was recently invited to teach in New Orleans. Staff at the cooking school did the shopping for me, but on the day of the first class, I was suspicious of the jasmine rice they supplied. Grown in Texas, the grains were fatter and lack the light translucence and fragrant aroma I am fond of in jasmine rice from its native Thailand. When steamed, I was convinced that this indeed wasn't jasmine rice.
The next day I rented a car and went searching for real jasmine rice in the Southeast Asian district outside the city and was relieved to find a bag of my favorite jasmine rice in a small Vietnamese market. I was determined that the second class I was scheduled to teach would be served the real thing.
There certainly was no comparison between the rice I purchased and the one supplied by the school. As soon as I opened the bag, the familiar fragrance spilled forth to validate its name and reputation. I ran my fingers through the grains and brought them up to my nose. Ah, what a pleasant, delicious aroma! The rice from Texas, on the other hand, smelled dusty and uninteresting.
So, if you've had jasmine rice before and did not find it to be anything special, it's highly likely that it wasn't a good grade of the rice. In fact, not all imported rice labeled as jasmine rice passes my quality control test. Good quality jasmine rice, when properly steamed, retains a wonderful fragrant aroma and delicious chewy texture so tasty that I often would eat it plain all by itself.
Even in Thailand, where this aromatic rice originated, the quality can vary considerably depending on where it is grown. The northeastern region of the country has the ideal combination of soil and climatic conditions to produce the best-tasting, most fragrant rice. China knows this and last I heard, Chinese agricultural authorities are trying to work out an agreement to lease a large tract of land in northeastern Thailand to assure that their growing affluent will be fed the best-tasting jasmine rice.
The same strain of jasmine rice, when planted in the wet central plains where most of Thailand's rice is grown, often yields a lesser quality rice, subtler in aroma and flavor. And when transplanted overseas to Texas and California, even less predictable results can be expected, the tasty aroma that gives the rice its name all but present in much of the American-grown grain.
My favorite label of jasmine rice is Golden Phoenix, packed most commonly in 25- and 50-lb. sacks, though you may also find it in 10- or 5-lb. bags in some stores. [Note: Kasma does not receive nor has she ever received any kind of remuneration from the manufacturers of any of the products she recommends. She recommends them simply because she finds them to be good products in her cooking. Period.] Make sure the sack identifies the grain as jasmine, fragrant or scented rice, as Thailand does produce other varieties of rice. Because of Thailand's economic woes, jasmine rice, which is an important earner of foreign exchange, has risen in price, so top quality jasmine rice is not likely to be found in large discount markets that carry their own labels.
Because of its slightly sticky quality when cooked, jasmine rice tastes best steamed. Steaming fluffs up the rice and retains the fullness of its natural fragrant flavor. Electric rice cookers can be used for steaming, but most of them do not truly steam, but rather, boil rice. Usually the rice at the bottom of the cooker is boiled and only the portion closer to the surface is steamed, which is why the rice closer to the top tastes much better than the mushy rice at the bottom of the pot.
But steaming rice without a rice cooker is easy, and here is an almost foolproof method to cook "perfect" rice each time - with no measuring.
Note: Kasma's referred brand is Golden Phoenix. (Kasma's Favorite Thai Brands)
See Also: Kasma's blog on Thai Jasmine Rice – Kao Hom Mali – Part 1.