Long-grain and basmati rice: Long-grain rice is precisely that – and the longer and thinner the grain is, the better the quality. So the grains should be mega-slim, with needle-sharp points at each end: this is the type of rice needed for separate, fluffy grains, and the best variety is called basmati. This is more expensive than others, but since cooking is about flavour, it is the one to buy, as it has a far superior taste.
Although you will see dozens of varieties of long-grain rice, I believe it's well worth paying that little bit extra for basmati. Whether you are using the brown or the white, it's quite certainly the best.
Medium- and short-grain rice: Here the grains are not long and thin, but rounder and plumper. Italian risotto rice , sometimes called arborio rice, is superb, or for the finest-quality risotto rice of all, look for the names carnaroli or vialone nano. In creamy, almost soupy risottos the rice is stirred, which releases some of the starch, and it is this that creates the lovely, smooth, creamy mass.
The same kind of plump grain is used in Spain, and one of the finest varieties comes from the Murcia region and is called Calasparra, which is used to make paella, though here the grains are not stirred, so they remain firm and distinct but with a moist, creamy edge.
In Japan there are several varieties of short-grain rice, ranging from the mildly sticky to the very sticky rice used to make sushi (it makes absolute sense that in the countries where chopsticks are used, rice with a stickier, more clinging consistency is far more manageable). This is sometimes called 'glutinous' rice, but as rice does not contain any gluten, it's a false name and I prefer to describe it as sticky rice, which is much more accurate.
In Thailand and Southeast Asia the rice grown and preferred is sometimes called jasmine or fragrant rice. The quality is very good, and though it's actually a long-grain rice and when cooked, the grains have a firm texture and a good bite, they have a faint stickiness and tend to adhere to each other. I would say in this case the rice is both fluffy and sticky, and this is how it should be.
Carmargue red rice: Though other red rices are grown in America, this one, from France, is of superior quality. It is an unmilled short-grain rice with a brownish-red colour, and I would describe its character as earthy and gutsy, with a firm, slightly chewy texture and a nutty flavour. It is excellent in salads and combined with other strong flavours. Because it is a short-grain rice it is very slightly sticky when cooked and not meant to be separate and fluffy.
Black rice: Black rice (well, it's reddish black) is an Asian rice used for sweet dishes and puddings and turns purple when cooked. It's probably about to become as fashionable here as it is in Australia, where practically every smart restaurant has a special pudding made with cooked black rice dressed with a mixture of palm sugar, coconut milk and lime. If you manage to get some, follow the instructions on the packet, which vary.
Wild rice: This is not actually a rice grain at all but the seed of a special type of grass grown in the swamps of North America. However, it's called rice, so I've put it on my list because it is cooked and served in exactly the same way, but needs about 50 minutes. The seeds are very long and most attractive, with a shiny ebony colour, and have a subtle, smoky, nutty flavour. It's good in salads and with gutsy foods with strong flavours. When cooked, the seeds tend to burst and split slightly, but this is quite normal and not some failure in the cooking – though, as with rice grains, it's important not to overcook them.
The also-rans There are, of course, a million and one types of rice, and the list I've given you has what I
This inexpensive dish is a version of the famous Greek dolmades or stuffed vine leaves, given an English twist with minced beef but also true to the Mediterranean with the inclusion of cinnamon, marjoram and rice.
Doesn't this sound like the height of luxury? Well, it is and, thanks to a secret ingredient, plus ready-prepared lobster tails in brine, it's a risotto that anyone can make in minutes.
Prawns, lobster bisque, Gruyere cheese and sherry combine perfectly in this easy cheat's version of a risotto - baked in the oven, so no tedious stirring! Yet what could be more luxurious than this at a special meal for two?
Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike will love this really thick soup crammed with beans, rice and a host of wintry veg. All you need is some good bread and cheese to go with it…
If you're watching the pennies, shoulder of lamb is much more inexpensive than a leg joint or other cuts. Turn it into something really special with this flavoursome stuffing of rice, olives, onions and herbs.