In Northern and Northeastern Thailand (where a large percentage of the population is ethnic Lao) the rice of choice – and of necessity – is khao niaow, literally “sticky rice”. Of necessity, because paddy rice cannot be cultivated in these dryer uplands.
Like most cultures where rice is the primary grain, its consumption defines the entire culinary culture, if not the culture as a whole – Laos refer to themselves as “the children of sticky rice”, and there, as in Northern Thailand, sticky rice, accompanied with one of several spicy sauces, is the foundation of almost every meal.
Chewy, deliciously nutty sticky rice, also known as sweet rice (although it isn’t particularly sweet) and glutinous rice (although it does not contain gluten), when properly cooked, sticks to itself but not to fingers, which is important because it is eaten with one’s fingers, not chopsticks.
This precise state of stickiness is best achieved using this unlikely-looking contraption, as follows:
Rinse, then soak the rice for at least 4 hours or overnight. Dump the rice into the basket and place a lid above it (the lid must be big enough to not touch the rice), and steam over a few inches of water in the metal part of the device (the water must not touch the bottom of the basket) for fifteen to twenty minutes.
Remove the lid, and taking care not to scald yourself, lift the basket from the pot, and using a upwardly jerking, slightly twisting motion, flip the ball of rice over inside the basket (it’s easier than it sounds – see the picture from one of our classes on our homepage) and cook for another 5 minutes or so.
(If the rice sticks to your fingers, reduce the cooking time a bit for your next attempt.)
When cooked, dump the rice out onto a cutting board and use a wooden rice paddle or spatula to spread the rice out a bit to help it cool, then form it into a ball, or balls, to serve. Traditionally, sticky rice is served in small baskets with lids, but using a square of banana leaf is also a nice presentation.
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