Making Perfect Glutinous (Sticky) Rice

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Mum made fabulous glutinous rice ("Loh Mai Fun") and this was one of her regular contributions to church potluck breakfast gatherings.

She will labor on it in her wok, working on it constantly with her 'wok chan' and adding water occasionally till it iscooked to perfection. It was hard work. She did not like to use the regular steaming methods. Those who have experienced cooking glutinous rice will understand why. She wanted the rice to be fluffy and separated, not in gluey wet blobs or clumpy.

The latter can dislodge your dentures.

It is notoriously difficult to achieve some consistency using regular steaming methods. This is especially so when you are making a large batch. Some parts will end up too soggy/sticky or under-cooked. And what happens most times is that the rice will end up being overcooked as no one likes bits of it which are still hard.

It is like the case of the Overcooked Hainanese Chicken when made at home. Red in chicken is often seen as poison. So, to avoid any red raw parts, it is boiled longer. It often ends up completely overcooked but imperfectly done. The same can be said about Roast Beef. You want it pink on the inside, not red. And in the process most roasts ends up medium-well or well done.

For roast beef, if it is "well done," it is not done well! 

For this reason, some will regard cooking a good glutinous rice as something that belongs to the "difficult" category. It is very "ma fun."

Introducing The Splatter Guard

So, let me introduce the "splatter guard" method. This is something I learned from Thai cooks (of course), who know a great deal about cooking sticky and glutinous rice. I read about this technique from the popular Thai Food Blog, She Simmers here.

My neglected splatter guard. Was.
Now, an indispensable steamer.
The splatter guard is used to prevent splattering of oil onto the stove  - or you- when you are cooking.

Last year, I received one as a gift from a good friend after he returned from an overseas trip. I really appreciate the thought. However, I was trying to figure out the practical uses for it. Perhaps it can be used...
  • as a table tennis bat (senior advantage version)
  • to swat a fly
  • as a fan in hand when the kitchen gets too hot
  • as a sermon illustration
  • as a gentle spanking tool for the modern mum who can barely hurt her child
When I was in Perth last year and had the "flies in your face" experience, I did think this may be of some use.

Understandably, it was left hanging on one of my kitchen hooks, largely unused.

Till I came across the blog post with a sticky use for it. Apparently, it makes fabulous and perfect sticky rice. 

Perfectly done sticky rice
The idea is simple.

Place the splatter guard on a boiling pot of water. Put the rice grains on it. Cover the guard with a, well, cover. The holes in the guard allow the rice to be steamed evenly across the boardguard. The same holes prevent water from "pooling" on the rice. Every grain of rice receives (almost) the same sauna treatment (heat and moisture). 

I can dwell on the "science" of this and impress you but the simplicity and logic of this should be obvious. 

Of course, there are other kitchen tools being used to steam grains perfectly. If you have them, there is no reason to use this. Or if you have mastered your technique using regular steamers. Unlike my other posts on Sous Vide and Pressure-cooking, this costs next to nothing assuming you have a (probably) seldom-used splatter guard.

Put the soaked rice grains on the splatter guard and spread it evenly. There is a kilo of glutinous rice here.
Cover and steam away

I love the simplicity of this technique and the fact that it uses what I already have. In my set-up as seen in the photo above, I was merely using what I already have. Remember that the splatter guard is already sized to fit a pot or wok of the same dimension.

I use the wooden salad bowl because it is the largest container I have which can cover the guard and wok nicely. Inverted, it acts like a wok cover. Basically you want a cover which keeps the steam in and circulates it efficiently.

Bamboo steamers cooking "loh mai kai"
on top of the same wok.
Another advantage of using the wooden salad bowl is that I can remove it without burning my hands. I also use the bowl to mix my rice later.

I keep the water level 2-3 inches from the guard. I left the rice (1 kg) to steam for 40 minutes. Of course it works just as perfectly for smaller portions. (You should know that glutinous rice needs to be soaked beforehand, preferably overnight.)

I use the same wok later to steam my "Loh Mai Kai" (Glutinous Rice with Chicken) on a bamboo steamer. I was making these bowls of goodness for a party of 20+ folks, which explains why I needed a kilo of it. 

As you may know, there are many dishes you can make with sticky or glutinous rice. You can stir-fry it, steam it further or simple use it in dessert recipes. The recipe also determines how cooked you want the rice to be before you proceed to the next step. And you have some confidence that it will turn out well as you started with a consistently cooked rice to begin with.

You can use the same set up to steam other things. Imagine and improvise. 

And of course, I need to let my friend know that I have been using his gift regularly, though not in the way intended. I hope it will last many bouts of steaming.

Some glutinous rice recipes will be coming up soon. Stay sticky. 

(Note: Be aware that floods are now raging parts of Thailand and rest of Indochina, some of the largest producers of glutinous rice. Spare them a prayer and some relief organizations some dollars if you have the opportunity.)

The rice nicely cooked on on the guard
Loh Mai Kai on the way

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  1. where did you buy your wok? Is it cast iron wok?

  2. From Takashimaya. Berndes SignoCast Aluminum Wok. On sale at SGD 199

    Pro: Great surface. Light. Good glass lid. Can use for both induction and fire. Versatile. Right pan-wok size.

    Con: hot handles..cannot use bare hands to touch

  3. 1. is there a reason why wooden salad bowl is used as cover instead of bamboo cover?
    2. what is diameter of wok, is it non-stick? Can use this wok to cook CS? thks for help

  4. As for cover, yes I can use the bamboo one. Tks for the suggestion:) did not think of it.
    The salad bowl does look more spectacular Though.

    Wok : 12 inch dia. Non stick. I won't use this for CS as I have another regular one which can stand careless scrubbing

  5. Ah I remembered why I preferred the salad bowl. The quantity of rice was more than usual (1 kilo) and I needed something which will not touch the rice.

    But for smaller quantities, I would imagine a bamboo steamer cover is easier to use

  6. OK tried your splatter guard method. Generally works fine, however need some input from those who have tried it. 1, The centre bottom part of the rice sticks to the guard. 2. The edges are the hardest part, anyone can share how to make the cooking of the rice more even? Thanks

  7. I do stir the rice from time to time to ensure evenness of the rice if I am making a larger quantity. Have not encountered stickiness at the centre as yet.

  8. any other method to steam the rice?

  9. I always steam my glutinous rice (600g) in a wok for 30-45 minutes. I put the rice in a deep plate. If the rice is soaked overnight or enough water is added, it is not necessary t stir the rice in between steaming.

  10. Thanks for sharing. I will try this method. I like the splatter guard method becaus of the consistency and separation of grains.

  11. oh, I forgot to add that I cooked the rice in a pan or wok until the water is dried up and the rice is sticky then put in a deep plate and steam. I add dried shrimps, mushrooms, chicken and chinese sausage to the rice to make the normal glutinous rice.

  12. This is genius! I love sticky rice and have very mixed results using cheesecloth and a bamboo steamer. I cannot wait to try this. Usually I soak my rice for far longer - often overnight - I wonder what effect this has?

  13. If it is "old rice", as the grains are drier and harder, they need to be soaked longer compared to newer rice. That's about it.