Sticky rice (khaawehniiyw) is a Thai-Laotian staple. It is traditionally steamed using a basket that sits above a pot of boiling water.
To make sticky rice, it is essential to rinse and soak the rice before steaming. The soaking step reduces cooking time, and ensures plump and chewy grains of rice.
To enjoy this dish, you’ll need to use your hands–sticky rice is typically eaten with the fingers (although a fork can be used as well). For that reason, it needs to be prepared properly to avoid the rice sticking to itself or to your fingers. The best way to do that is by soaking the rice, then steaming it. You can make this at home with a bamboo steamer, but a large pot and a heat-safe plate with a rack or something to elevate it will work as well.
The most important step to making sticky rice is choosing the right variety of rice. It must be labeled “glutinous” or “sweet rice” and not regular short grain white or jasmine rice–it must also have the sweet, fragrant aroma of the plant from which it is grown. You can find these types of rice at Asian markets and some grocery stores in the international or Asian food section.
Rinsing the rice and soaking it are non-negotiable steps. Rinsing removes excess starch, which can create a gummy texture, and soaking softens the rice so it cooks more evenly and quickly. This is especially important when you are making a larger batch of rice.
While the water is boiling, wash the rice by placing it in a large bowl and filling the bowl with plenty of room temperature water. Swish the rice aggressively with your hand to dislodge any loose starch, then drain and repeat the washing 3-4 times until the water runs mostly clear. (It doesn’t have to be crystal clear).
Once the rice has been rinsed and soaked, drain it well and transfer it to a heat-proof bowl. In a separate pot, bring enough boiling water to just cover the rice. Steam the rice, covered, for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the quantity. Then remove the rice from the heat and allow it to sit, still covered, until ready to serve. If the rice gets too cool, reheat it by placing it in a microwave-safe bowl with a small amount of water and a damp paper towel over the top.
Unlike long-grain rice, which can be scooped and eaten with a spoon or fork, sticky rice is much better enjoyed with your fingers. You can knead it, letting the warmth of your hand help its texture to develop, then dip it into a sauce or brothy dish. It’s the main accompaniment to a wide variety of Isaan and northern Thai dishes.
To achieve the best results, stick with jasmine rice (see ingredients list). The name comes from the fragrance emitted by the jasmine flower as it grows. This rice, which is not the same as short-grain jasmine rice, has a slightly sweet taste and a soft, sticky consistency.
For the most authentic flavor and texture, you will want to use a steaming method that involves soaking the rice. This is how most Asian people cook their sticky rice and the method that yields the most traditional and delicious results. If you want to get the most out of your sticky rice, soak it for an hour or overnight in a bowl of covered cold water.
This will make the grains softer and more pliable, making them more easily coated with the sticky sugar mixture. The soaking also helps to release the starch so the rice will be less sticky after cooking.
While you’re soaking the rice, prepare your steaming apparatus. You can use a bamboo steamer, a metal one that fits into your pot, a basket for a large heat-proof bowl, or something else that will allow the rice to be raised above the boiling water. It should be lined with cheesecloth to keep the rice from sticking.
You will also need a pot of hot water to steam the rice in. Once the rice is fully cooked, drain it and immediately re-cover the bowl. You can eat it right away or wait for it to cool to room temperature. The sticky rice will be very fragile and will dry out if you let it sit for too long, so serve it as soon as it is warm.
The other way to cook sticky rice is by directly steaming it without soaking first. This is a quicker and less precise method that can still produce good results, but it’s not as authentic as the longer-soaking methods.
Sticky rice is served as the main starch for both sweet and savory dishes. It’s delicious with a wide variety of entrees, including stir-fries, and it also makes a great dessert on its own. To get the perfect texture, it must be steamed rather than cooked in boiling water. This is why you need a special type of rice for this recipe – look for long-grain sticky rice, also known as glutinous rice or sweet rice. You can find it at your local Asian or international grocery store, as well as online.
While the water is heating, wash the rice by placing it into a large mixing bowl and adding plenty of room temperature water. Swish the rice around aggressively to dislodge any loose starch, and then drain it. Repeat the washing process 3-4 times, until the water runs mostly clear (it doesn’t need to be crystal clear). Once the water is hot, pour it over the rice and let it soak for 20 minutes.
After soaking, rinse the rice again and drain it. You should have a lot of water left in the pot at this point – about an inch of liquid over the rice.
The best way to cook sticky rice is in a steamer, but you can also use a pot on the stove or an oven-safe dish set on a steaming rack. To make the most precise steaming, you should use a rice cooker that has a setting specifically for sticky rice or sweet rice (it’s usually indicated with markings on the inside of the pot).
To use your steamer, start by placing the rice into the basket and depositing it onto the steamer base. Cover the steamer and allow it to steam for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the rice is tender. You can also reheat the rice in the microwave by sprinkling it with water and microwaving it on high for 1-2 minutes. Alternatively, you can keep the rice on ‘keep warm’ and wait to serve it once it’s hot. It will still be perfectly fine for up to 2 hours this way.
Sticky rice is a special type of short-grain Asian rice that is solidly opaque in its raw form, gaining the gummy translucence that makes it unique after cooking. It falls into a separate category from sushi rice, which is made with entirely different kinds of long-grain rice. Unlike other varieties of steamed rice, sticky rice is best eaten when it is still warm. Once it reaches room temperature, it becomes dry and hard to digest.
The traditional method for making sticky rice involves soaking it overnight and steaming it. Soaking the rice is an important step because it helps to soften it up and to prevent it from clumping together in a sticky mess. It is then drained and deposited into a bamboo basket that looks a bit like a short, squat waffle cone. The basket is then placed atop boiling water, and the steam rising up from the pot cooks the rice.
If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, a metal basket with a tightly-woven weave that allows hot steam to rise will also work. You can also use a plate that is elevated on a piece of heat-proof kitchen foil, paper, or even cotton mesh (but be sure that the rice will not come into direct contact with any of these materials).
During the steaming process, a little extra water may need to be added to the pot from time to time to maintain its levels. When the rice has finished steaming, it should be kept covered and tepid for 10 minutes before it is served.
Once the rice has cooled down, it can be refrigerated in an airtight container for two to three days. It can be reheated in the microwave, though it is better resteamed to a piping hot state. If the rice is reheated in the microwave, it should be covered with a damp piece of parchment paper to prevent it from drying out.
Sticky rice is a wonderful accompaniment to many different dishes, including stir-fries and salads. It is also an ideal base for desserts such as this irresistible Coconut Sweetened Mango and Cream Rice or these delectable Thai-Style Fresh Fruit Rolls.