I've had this Thai glutinous rice sitting in the bottom of my cupboard for months, but never quite worked up the guts to make it into something until, a few weeks ago, the waiter at our little Laotian spot in the neighborhood told me that sticky rice may be the easiest thing on their menu to make at home. That doesn't necessarily say much, considering the menu includes items like crispy rice salad (involving rice that's cooked, mixed with other stuff, formed into balls, deep-fried, broken into pieces, and tossed with a gazillion other ingredients, which I know only because I've made it and whoa, pain in the butt doesn't even start). Still: "easier" was motivation enough not to let that rice sit untouched.
The waiter wasn't exaggerating: sticky rice really is simple to make, and if you can slice a mango and open a can of coconut milk, you're 3/4 of the way to dessert.
Here's what's so cool about Thai sticky rice: you steam it. Steaming lets the grains cook without becoming too moist, and you end up with a strainer full of rice that is fully cooked but dry enough that you can pinch a knob in your hand and dip it into sauce without it falling apart. It's a trick I'll use again and again: in fact, I'm planning to make another batch this weekend, to serve with Ottolenghi's wonderful sambal and sliced vegetables.
Along the way, you'll learn how they make that irresistible sweet-salty coconut cream that's on pretty much every Thai sweet. Half the price of the ticket, if you ask me - I cannot get enough of that stuff.
Mango Sticky Rice
From Gourmet (1994!)
This recipe uses glutinous rice, or sweet rice, which looks like arborio but whiter, starchier, and lighter for its size. You really do need that rice for this recipe, but it looks to be widely available online.
I used toasted buckwheat pearls ("soba-cha") that are intended for tea, but also for garnishing desserts. I got them at a fantastic Japanese restaurant in Dallas (Tei-An) and have been finding countless uses for them since then. Sesame seeds, though, are also a traditional garnish and more likely to be in your pantry.
1 1/2 cups glutinous (sweet) rice|
1 1/3 cups well-stirred canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted lightly
1 large mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into thin slices (at least 24)
Put rice in a bowl and cover with water. Using your hands, stir the rice back around in the water; this helps polish the grains and rid them of excess starch. Do this at least 2-3 times, until water is only minimally cloudy. Soak in cold water for a couple hours or overnight.
Drain rice in a sieve. Set sieve over a large deep saucepan of simmering water (sieve should not touch water) and steam rice, covered with a kitchen towel and a lid, 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender (check water level in pan occasionally, adding more water if necessary).
While rice is cooking, in a small saucepan bring 1 cup coconut milk to a boil with 1/3 cup sugar and salt, stirring until sugar is dissolved, and remove from heat. Keep mixture warm.
Transfer cooked rice to a bowl and stir in coconut-milk mixture. Let rice stand, covered, 30 minutes, or until coconut-milk mixture is absorbed. Rice may be prepared up to this point 2 hours ahead and kept covered at room temperature.
While rice is standing, in cleaned small pan slowly boil remaining 1/3 cup coconut milk with remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, stirring occasionally, 1 minute. Transfer sauce to a small bowl and chill until cool and thickened slightly.
To serve, mold 1/4 cup servings of sticky rice on dessert plates. Drizzle desserts with sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Divide mango slices among plates.