Small Plates: Rice Pudding
The Indian version, made with basmati rice, spiced with cardamom and garnished with almonds and sultanas is exotically delicious. The Portuguese version, which calls for short-grain rice, egg yolks and cinnamon, is a creamy Iberian dream. My Venezuelan grandmother’s recipe called for long-grain rice and condensed milk.
Both the grain and the cooking method impact the creaminess of the final pudding. Whereas my grandmother’s and the recipes from Portugal boil the rice in water first, kheer is cooked in the milk. The major disadvantage of cooking the rice directly in the milk is that it tends to stick to the bottom of the pan and requires constant stirring to keep it from burning.
The recipe I have concocted after traveling the world as a Destination Chef and after experimenting with several exotic grain varieties is the best of all worlds. It includes my grandmother’s condensed milk, the Portuguese egg yolks in moderation, toasted almonds, and it is made with sushi rice. It is also true to both my eating and culinary philosophy that you can turn almost any guilty pleasure into a small plate to better savor it without the guilt.
In a final twist against the grain, I serve it warm, rather than chilled.
The Long and Short of it
Not all rice grains behave equally under pressure. Of the short grain rice varieties I tested for this recipe the sushi rice, also known as japonica, turned creamiest in the least amount of time.
The other varieties I used are listed below, along with some of their most distinctive features.
Varieties of Rice in the World
This Italian short-grain rice is named after the town of Arborio in Italy’s Po Valley. It is often used for risotto and to make rice pudding as well. Because it is both creamy and chewy at the same time, arborio is great for rice pudding.
A medium-grain rice grown in the Vercelli province in the Italian Piedmont, carnaroli has a higher starch content than arborio. It is also a little firmer and the grain is a little longer than arborio’s. It worked great for the arroz con leche, but it takes about 40 minutes to cook and it is expensive.
The Japanese short-grain rice used for sushi is oftentimes called japonica. It takes years of practice and patience to make sushi rice that is suitable for a sushi roll. After taking a class with a master sushi chef and realizing I could not wait 10 years to make the perfect rice, I decided on a shortcut: Why not use sushi rice to make rice pudding? The grain is very short and it absorbs the milk beautifully. You may also use a sushi rice variety grown in California, known as calrose.
This isn’t a variety of rice, but rather a short-grain rice which has been infused with bamboo juice. This exotic grain has a lovely hue of jade and a slightly grassy taste reminiscent of green tea. It is also moist. I really hoped this would be my finalist because the color of the grain is lovey, the taste is subtle and the rice is full of nutrients. In the end, though, I found that to better appreciate its flavor subtleties this rice is better steamed or boiled. But if you want to indulge your inner panda, try it with white fish, sea scallops or chirashi (Edo-style scattered sushi).
Of the long-grain varieties, basmati remained the crunchiest, even after boiling it in 10 cups of milk. I was aiming for creamy, so this wasn’t the rice for me.
Grown in north central India and Pakistan, basmati is a variety of long-grain rice. It is often used to make biryani, pulao and kheer. It has a sweet aroma reminiscent of pandanus leaves.
Originally from Thailand, jasmine rice has a nutty taste and fragrant aroma. The grains will stick together when cooked, though it isn’t as starchy as the short-grain varieties. Of the two long-grain varieties jasmine made for the creamiest arroz con leche, but not as creamy as sushi rice.
The two secrets to this recipe are boiling the rice in water first and using sushi rice. Boiling the rice first also substantially reduces the overall cooking time. Because some of the starch is removed during boiling, I find this method keeps the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan as well.
To download and print a PDF copy of my Arroz con Leche Condensada y Canela recipe, click here.
Arroz con Leche Condensada y Canela
INGREDIENTSFor the Arroz con Leche:
2/3 cup sushi rice (4 ½ oz/125 grams)
6 cups water (48 fl oz/1.5 liters)
1/8 tsp salt4 cups milk (32 fl oz/1 liter) 1 tablespoon ghee, or clarified butter
1 cinnamon stick
1/3 cup sugar (2.5 oz/67 grams)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
½ cup sweetened condensed milk (4 fl oz/125 ml)
For the garnish:1/3 cup blanched almonds (1.3 oz/ 36 grams)
1 teaspoon ghee, or clarified butter
Arroz con leche:
- Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the rice and salt. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Drain.
- Warm the milk in a saucepan. Add the ghee, cinnamon stick, sugar and vanilla extract and cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add the drained rice, lower the heat and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the rice from sticking.
- Beat the egg yolk in a small bowl and add the sweetened condensed milk until combined. Gently stir condensed milk mixture into the rice and cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, for five minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Spoon arroz con leche into small serving cups and sprinkle with cinnamon. Garnish with toasted almonds. Serve warm.
- In a small non-stick pan toast the almonds in ghee over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until almonds turn a light golden color, about 4 minutes.
- Set aside to cool.