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Rice: The Global Grain

Few ingredients cross over as many culinary borders as rice. These days, restaurant kitchens have many more types available from which to choose. “It’s important that the variety meets the needs of the foodservice operation and the specific dishes it’s intended for,” says Gary Reifeiss of Producers Rice Mill in Stuttgart, Arkansas. He contends that long-grain white or brown is a good choice for pilaf or preps like jambalaya, when you want a firmer rice. Reifeiss suggests stickier medium- or short-grain rice for sushi, risotto or rice pudding. Parboiled rice is steamed before the hull is removed, allowing it to cook up faster; it stays separate and moist for long holding times. Instant rice is milled, precooked and dried for quick rehydration.

Keeping up with trends

Whole grains and specialty rices are having a big impact on production. Rice is also riding the gluten-free wave.

“Chefs are adding more whole grain options to meet patron demand for healthy meals. Brown rice is 100 percent whole grain and can be used in a multitude of dishes,” Reifeiss notes. In the past, operators shied away from it because of a shorter shelf life, but parboiled brown rice is available with a longer shelf life and optimal cooking qualities, he adds.

Basmati, jasmine, arborio and Japonica, formerly imported only, are now grown on American soil; look for the new “Grown in the USA” logo on packages. “Aromatic rices like basmati and jasmine are grown in Arkansas, California, Texas and Louisiana,” says Judy Rusignuolo, director of foodservice marketing for USA Rice Federation. “Plus, growers are stepping up efforts to plant more crops.”

Mixing it up

Boldly seasoned rice mixes can add a high level of differentiation to the menu. Uncle Ben’s extensive line includes Asian Stir Fried Rice, Sun-Dried Tomato Pilaf with Whole Grains and Black Beans & Yellow Rice. All incorporate the company’s patented converted rice, which is milled and parboiled.

“We target specific varieties of rice for the longest, most consistent kernels,” says Tim Farno, VP of Mars Foodservices U.S., parent company of Uncle Ben’s. “Our conversion process makes it fluffier, thus increasing the yield and plate coverage.” R&D has been focusing on optimizing nutrition and the products have been reformulated with lower sodium and no artificial flavors, msg or trans fats. “We no longer rely on salt to carry the robust flavors,” he says.

Product cutting: Converted rice mix

Farno walks us through a product cutting of Uncle Ben’s Flavored Rice; each box (ranging from 24.6 to 36 ounces) contains parboiled rice, a seasoning packet and dehydrated vegetables.

  1. Examine the rice. The kernels should be bright, clean, peck-free (no discoloration or black spots) and intact; breakage should be minimal.
  2. Prepare rice according to package directions. (Combine rice and seasoning packet with boiling water in a hotel pan and bake.) Note appearance of cooked rice. It should look consistent in color, fluffy and clean, not sticky or starchy. Vegetables should be brightly colored and tender.
  3. Taste the product. The flavor profile should be authentic to the package description and you should be left with the full taste of the ingredients—not salt.
  4. Analyze the texture. It should be robust and nutty; tender and not crunchy.

The specs

Sizes: Plain white, brown, parboiled and aromatic rices are most often packed in 25- or 50-pound polyweave or paper bags; parboiled also comes in boxes. Specialty rices are available in smaller sizes

Storage: White rice is extremely stable and has a very long shelf life. For best results, “keep the bag off

the floor on a shelf or transfer the rice to an airtight container,” says Rusignuolo. “Keep the package dry and store away from aromatic foods, since rice absorbs odors.” Brown rice is more perishable because of the germ; store six months to a year, preferably in the walk-in.

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