Indian restaurant-style basmati rice?
August 9, 2008 5:33 PM   Subscribe

How to make Indian restaurant-style (white) basmati rice?

I have googled this and found several recipes for 'Indian-style' basmati. However none seems to yield 'restaurant style'.

Every Indian restaurant I've been to in the US has similar rice: mostly white, with a lot of grains dyed half-red. How is this achieved?

I've tried adding saffron, which is a very red spice...but it turns all the grains yellow. I've followed several recipes exactly, and all turn out tasty...but none looks/tastes like what I get in an India restaurant.

posted by jjsonp to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The color is just from red food coloring (and a lot of it). Same way chicken tikka becomes red. You didn't think it was the spices, did you?

As for spices, I find that cardamom is the flavor most people miss. It's hard to get really fresh cardamom and it very quickly loses its flavor if it's ground up. If you can't get fresh cardamom, get cardamom pods and grind them up yourself.
posted by saeculorum at 5:52 PM on August 9, 2008

I simply buy bags of basmati rice from an international foods store.
posted by yclipse at 5:53 PM on August 9, 2008

Rinse the rise in water before cooking until the water runs clear. Cook it in salted water with a good chunk of ghee/butter, and toss a dozen or so whole peppercorns and four to six green cardamom pods. Let it sit off the heat for five minutes or so after cooking with the lid off to let the last of the water evaporate. Then toss in a few saffron threads and toss with the rice, adding more ghee/butter if necessary. You can get some of the red effect from the saffron's contact with the rice, but the flavor of restaurant rice is mostly rice, butter, salt and cardamom. Saffron in any quantity can be pretty strong.
posted by jocelmeow at 5:57 PM on August 9, 2008 [9 favorites]

Yep. Saffron for color/seasoning. That shop's other secret ingredients for other seasonings.

Don't add the saffron too early or it dyes all the rice, or add too much because it is expensive and even the cheap(er) saffron is pretty strong.
posted by Science! at 7:29 PM on August 9, 2008

A bay leaf and/or a piece of cinnamon bark in the rice also seems quite common.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:51 AM on August 10, 2008

Best answer: Everyone else is right about the flavours (cardamom especially). As for the colour, unless you're going to a super high-end restaurant, saffron is NOT being used. It's red food colouring all the way, and if something is yellow, it's either yellow food colouring or turmeric. To get the pretty effect of random red grains, cook the rice as noted above, take out half a cup of the rice, toss it with a couple of tablespoons of water mixed with drops of red food colouring, spread it out on a plate to dry for ten minutes, and mix it back in with the rest of the rice. That's what my Indian friend at work does when making rice for festive occasions, and she's a killer cook (She actually does three colours, red and yellow and green).
And according to my Madhur Jaffrey cookbook, you can also just sprinkle the colouring (food colouring for red or saffron or turmeric steeped in hot water for yellow) on top of the rice, leave it to soak in for a few minutes, and then give it a toss to mix the coloured grains with the rest.
posted by cilantro at 2:52 AM on August 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I should add that all this colouring and tossing should be done AFTER the rice is cooked, not before.
Also, for drier, fluffier rice with distinct grains (which I think is more authentically 'Indian'), consider baking it instead of boiling it. Rice, butter/ghee, and boiling water (in whatever ratio you would normally use to boil rice) go in a casserole dish with a lid or a tight foil cover which is then baked at 350 degrees or so for 30 minutes. If the water isn't absorbed by that time, just keep cooking and checking in ten minute increments. I find this method takes longer than boiling, but it's absolutely fail-safe and there's no chance that the rice will overcook and get mushy or sticky.
posted by cilantro at 3:09 AM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think there must be some regional variations here - I've eaten Indian food at every Indian restaurant in Utah, a few in Nevada, and a few in Southern California, and I've never seen any red grains.

Usually it's just white basmati, cooked with cardamom and maybe a bit of anise, and sometimes including a few green peas, white raisins, and almonds.

I get a pretty good imitation of Indian restaurant rice with jocelmeow's recipe above, although I usually don't bother with the saffron and I usually add a few anise seeds too. Maybe a few cumin seeds if I'm feeling adventurous.

Hint: saute' the cardamom pods, peppercorns, and anise seeds in the butter for a few minutes before you add the rice and water to release more of their flavor.
posted by mmoncur at 3:50 AM on August 10, 2008

For me, my favorite thing is the way it clumps together. (My old colander looked like it had been backed over by a truck, my mother convinced me to toss it and now I could almost slap her for it. *sigh* my ugly, magical clumpy rice colander...)

Anyway after experiments inspired by desperation, the hotter the water and colder & breezier the air is, and the swifter the water is drained off, the greater the level clumpy perfection my rice will achieve. (I have no colander at the moment, it's been demoted to flower pot and a temp. (of sorts) is standing in. Why did I listen to that woman??)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:19 AM on August 10, 2008

This is how our (Indian) family cooks Basmati rice for everyday meals.

Take 3 to 4 cups of rice. Rinse the rice three times in a medium or large bowl to remove dirt and starch. In that medium/large bowl, leave the rice in there and fill it up with cold water. Let the rice soak in the bowl of cold water for an hour or two.

Put on a pot of boiling water with a teaspoon of salt. The pot should be big, 4 quarts at least.

Put the rice in the boiling water. Cover with a lid. Continue to cook on high heat. When the water is about to spillover stop.

Pour the pot of rice into a strainer (to remove the water, but leave about 1/2 a cup).

Dump the rice back into the pot. There should be about 1/2 a cup of water in there. Keep the pot covered. Cook on low heat for about 10-15 minutes (enough time for the remaining water to be absorbed/steam and disappear).

This gives a rice that is not greasy, not salty and not sticky. This rice isn't eaten alone though.

Are you sure you're not trying to eat Biryani? That rice is baked with another dish (vegetable/meat) and you get all sorts of flavors and colors there.
posted by abdulf at 8:19 AM on August 10, 2008

Try looking up recipes for Pilau Rice. You may not get the bright red grains (which as has already been said are just dyed anyway), but you should get the fabulous spiced flavor.
posted by sascha at 6:21 AM on August 11, 2008

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