Question: I recently was given some basmati rice. I would like to know how to prepare it in the traditional manner. Conventional methods do not produce the delicious rice I've tasted in restaurants.
Answer: The following information is from "Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking" by Julie Sahni (William Morrow and Co.: 1985, $22.50):
"The northern Indians do not eat rice on a regular basis; they are primarily wheat- and millet-bread-eating people. However, when they do, the preference (if they can afford it) is for the scented long-grain rice called basmati (literally meaning 'queen of fragrance'), grown along the foothills of the Himalayas. Cooked basmati has long, thin grains, like pieces of vermicelli, that are tender-spongy to the touch. Basmati exudes a special aroma, described as milky-nutty--musky, even when it is served all by itself, without even salt or butter. Basmati complements all northern, central northwestern and western regional dishes, particularly those of Moghul origin. Basmati needs to age before it develops the right cooking qualities (a non-chalky and fluffy texture with an intense aroma), and so the rice is stored in godowns (storing decreases the moisture content and intensifies its flavor). Basmati that contains few or no broken grains is preferred. Therefore, the number-one grade of basmati contains no broken grains and has been aged for at least six months--or better yet, two years. Although in India one can buy dozens of varieties, here in the United States, specialty stores, health food stores and Middle Eastern stores carry only one kind, called simply basmati. "
Sahni gives the following two methods for preparing basmati rice.
2 cups basmati rice
Wash rice in several changes water and place in bowl. Pour in enough water to cover rice by at least 1 inch. Let soak 30 minutes. Drain.
While rice is soaking, bring 3 1/2 to 4 quarts water to boil in 5-quart saucepan. Add drained rice. Stir rice 30 seconds to make certain rice does not settle at bottom of pan. Bring rice to boil. Cook basmati rice in rapidly boiling water, uncovered, 5 minutes.
Turn off heat and immediately drain rice in large sieve. Shake sieve to rid rice of water. Makes 6 servings.
2 cups basmati rice
Wash rice in several changes water until water no longer looks milky. Place rice in bowl and add 4 cups water. Let soak 30 minutes. Drain rice, reserving water.
Place reserved water in 2 1/2 to 3-quart heavy-bottomed pan with tight-fitting lid and bring to boil. Add soaked rice and stir carefully with fork to ensure rice does not settle at bottom of pan. Let water come to second boil.
Reduce heat to low and gently boil rice, partially covered, until most water is absorbed and surface of rice is full of steamy holes (10 minutes). Do not stir rice during cooking.
Cover pan tightly and steam rice until fully cooked by reducing heat to lowest level and raising pan about 1 inch from heat source by placing pair of tongs or Chinese wok ring over burner and resting pot on it 10 minutes or placing tightly covered pot with rice on center rack in 300-degree oven 25 minutes.
Let cooked rice rest 5 minutes, covered and undisturbed. Uncover and fluff rice with fork. Makes 6 servings.